Passport

Obama Doesn't Have to Dream of Sushi

President Barack Obama kicked off his four-nation Asian tour with a stop in the Tokyo underground alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with whom the president visited the legendary sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, which was made famous by the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Not much is known about the menu on offer, which runs at $300 for a tasting course prepared by the chef, Jiro Ono. And Obama wasn't giving away any secrets as he left the restaurant, only telling reporters, "That's some good sushi right there."

Here's video of Obama arriving at the restaurant alongside a pair of aides: National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Japan:

But in the (admittedly short) history of presidential culinary adventures in Japan, Obama's pilgrimage to the temple of Jiro falls far short of an episode that's been somewhat forgotten. Given Obama's journey to what is often described as the world's best sushi restaurant, we can't help but revisit President George H.W. Bush's 1992 visit to Japan. During that visit, Bush was treated to a state dinner at the home of Japanese Prime Minsiter Kiichi Miyazawa. And it was during that dinner that Bush the elder fell ill and by all appearances vomited and passed out in Miyazawa's lap.

The incident was captured on video, and it's exactly as good as it sounds. First Lady Barbara Bush rushes over and attempts to cover her husband's mouth with a napkin, but the president is lost to his illness and capsizes into the lap of Miyazawa. Watch to the end for SNL's treatment of the vomiting incident, which is cast in the mold of an Oliver Stone conspiracy flick:

And if you haven't watched David Gelb's magical portrait of Japan's aging sushi master, here's a taste. Fair warning, it will make you hungry:

 

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Passport

How to Translate a News Story About A Drone Strike

Over the past three days, more than 50 suspected members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have been killed in a spate of mysterious attacks in Yemen. But what really happened? That very much depends on the news story you read.

The Guardian attributed the attacks to "several air strikes -- presumed to be carried out chiefly by U.S. drones." The Associated Press and Reuters both cited a statement from Yemen's Ministry of Defense announcing the attack before noting that the United States has been known to use drone strikes in the area targeted this weekend, but both stopped short of saying the attacks were carried out by drones. These and other news stories leave room for the possibility that the attacks were carried out by the Yemeni Air Force -- which is strange, given that Yemen has no credible way of carrying out such strikes with its crippled fleet of aircraft.

"The Yemenis were always big on the [drone] program and maintained the fiction for the longest time that it was the Yemeni Air Force that was doing it, these strikes," former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke told Foreign Policy in a recent interview.

The U.S. drone campaign in Yemen has been an open secret for years, despite the Yemeni government's efforts to take credit for the airstrikes and Washington's consistent refusals to comment on them. A now infamous Jan. 10, 2010 cable released by WikiLeaks describes a meeting between Gen. David Petraeus, then-head of the military's Central Command, and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in which Saleh "welcomed the use of aircraft-deployed precision-guided bombs."

The cable goes on to explicitly describe the underhanded tactics employed by Yemen and the United States to mask the use of U.S. drones in Yemen:

"We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours," Saleh said, prompting Deputy Prime Minister Alimi to joke that he had just "lied" by telling Parliament that the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa were American-made but deployed by the [Yemeni government].

Since 2002, it is estimated that the United States has carried out more than 100 strikes in Yemen, killing between 775 and 1,018 people, according to data compiled by the New America Foundation. "A large part of the media, the mainstream media just sort of bought it for a long time," Clarke said. "‘Oh yes, the Yemenis' air force was doing this.' The Yemeni Air Force can hardly get a plane off the ground."

Yemen has a fleet of 79 combat aircraft, but they are plagued by parts shortages and equipment malfunctions. Last month, BuzzFeed reported that the U.S. military was considering sending armed crop dusters to Yemen to give the Yemeni Air Force the capability to carry out missile strikes -- but even if the United States did send these durable, easy-to-fly planes to Yemen, they would be flown with American co-pilots, according to the proposal.

Even the Yemeni government, now led by Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Saleh's former vice president, has admitted its role in the drone campaign. In a Sept. 2012 interview with the Washington Post, Hadi said that he personally approved every U.S. drone strike on Yemeni soil.

Nonetheless, the Yemeni Ministry of Defense persists in its policy of not attributing a source to the airstrikes or claiming them as Yemeni operations, and the U.S. government still does not comment on strikes carried out by the CIA or the military's Joint Special Operations Command.

As a result, initial reporting about U.S. drone strikes remains mired in frustrating innuendoes and code words. Here at FP, we want to help. So here's how to translate drone reporting into English.

Airstrikes
Reports of airstrikes against AQAP targets in Yemen typically do not identify the nationality of the aircraft that launched the strike. They do so not because the United States will not confirm or deny that its aircraft carried out the strike. Though this often hints at the long-standing false reports that the Yemeni government conducted the strike, the Yemeni Air Force is virtually incapable of conducting airstrikes. Reliably, these strikes prove to have been conducted by the United States.

Suspected al Qaeda militants
The (U.S.) airstrikes over the weekend killed "suspected militants." But those suspected militants have at times proven to have been something else, as when, on Dec. 12, 2013, a U.S. drone strike targeted a wedding convoy that had been mistaken for AQAP fighters. After that botched strike, the pace of U.S. strikes in Yemen slowed dramatically -- until the release of the AQAP video last month, which was followed by a strike on April 1 and the series of strikes this weekend.

The White House has a broad definition for who counts as a "suspected al Qaeda militant." According to a 2012 New York Times report, White House policy "in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants ... unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent." At least 81 civilians have been killed in U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, according the Peter Bergen, director of the International Security Program at the New America Foundation.

Senior al Qaeda leaders
Many reports, including some published about these most recent strikes, suggest that the strikes targeted senior figures in AQAP. But out of 753 to 965 AQAP casualties inflicted by U.S. drone strikes, only about a dozen have been senior figures in the organization, according to estimates by the New America Foundation.

While drone strikes have killed AQAP's deputy emir, Said al-Shihri, and its chief propagandist, American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, other notable figures, many of whom have fought with AQAP since it was reconstituted in 2009, remain at large. Even when the United States has claimed to have killed some of the group's senior leaders, they have had a habit of reappearing alive months later.

The bottom-line: Take initial reports about American drone strikes with a large grain of salt.

Senior Airman David Carbajal/DVIDS