Killing Machine

The American Presidency in the Age of Drone Warfare

From the “devastatingly effective” (Andrew Bacevich) chronicler of American foreign policy, a scathing new assessment of the American presidency and U.S. global power

“Thomas E. Donilon, the national security advisor, remarked that what surprised him the most about Obama in office was that ‘he’s a president who is quite comfortable with the use of force on behalf of the United States.’” —from Killing Machine

With Obama’s election to the presidency in 2008, many believed the United States had entered a new era: Obama came into office with high expectations that he would end the war in Iraq and initiate a new foreign policy that would reestablish American values and the United States’ leadership role in the world.

In this shattering new assessment, historian Lloyd C. Gardner argues that, despite cosmetic changes, Obama has simply built on the expanding power base of presidential power that reaches back across decades and through multiple administrations. The new president ended the “enhanced interrogation” policy of the Bush administration but did not abandon the concept of preemption. Obama withdrew from Iraq but has institutionalized drone warfare—including the White House’s central role in selecting targets. What has come into view, Gardner argues, is the new face of American presidential power: high-tech, secretive, global, and lethal.

Killing Machine skillfully narrates the drawdown in Iraq, the counterinsurgency warfare in Afghanistan, the rise of the use of drones, and targeted assassinations from al-Awlaki to Bin Laden—drawing from the words of key players in these actions as well as their major public critics. With unparalleled historical perspective, Gardner’s book is the new touchstone for understanding not only the Obama administration but the American presidency itself.


“Lloyd Gardner is always worth reading. In Killing Machine, he has fashioned a devastating indictment of U.S. national security policy in the Obama era. Seldom has so much promise been squandered so recklessly and with so little attention to long-term consequences.”
—Andrew J. Bacevich, author of Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country
“Gardner delivers an engrossing blow-by-blow account of a decade of fierce debates and painful events that offer excruciating parallels with the Vietnam War.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Gardner’s treatment of this brave new mode of presidential war-making is admirably comprehensive.”
“A fresh, ripped-from-the-headlines history of the Obama era by one of America’s foremost scholars of foreign policy. Sharp-eyed and incisive, Killing Machine weaves together the sobering story of how American presidential power and the U.S. Constitution have been transformed in the age of drone warfare and asks the hard questions that Washington has thus far failed to face.”
—Nick Turse, author of Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam
“Gardner exposes the contradictions that have marked Obama’s foreign policies from their inception and charts the course that has led the United States from counterinsurgency to drone warfare. Killing Machine is a sustained and powerful analysis of the dangerous world we now inhabit.”
—Marilyn Young, professor of history, New York University

News and Reviews

The Boston Globe

Killing Machine is included in a round-up of "Seven Books on Drones"


Bookforum reviews Killing Machine


Read an excerpt of Killing Machine in Salon

Books by Lloyd C. Gardner

Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam
Or, How Not to Learn from the Past

Lloyd C. Gardner, Marilyn B. Young

The War on Leakers
National Security and American Democracy, from Eugene V. Debs to Edward Snowden

Lloyd C. Gardner

The Long Road to Baghdad
A History of U.S. Foreign Policy from the 1970s to the Present

Lloyd C. Gardner

Three Kings
The Rise of an American Empire in the Middle East After World War II

Lloyd C. Gardner

Goodreads Reviews