Friday, June 17, 2005

In Defence of Assassination

It seems to me that the general prohibition against (wartime) assassination of enemy leaders serves only the leaders themselves. They fight "by proxy", sending out armies of other individuals at no personal risk to themselves. But why do we attack the pawns rather than the tyrant behind them?

Despite my general distaste for the Bush administration, I would like to echo Tom Bell's judgment that "Bush's embrace of assassination as a military policy... reveals wisdom, courage, and a sense of justice."


  1. I guess the question is are poeple who are fighting for a reason that we might judge as good more likely to be resilient to the asasination of their leader.
    I think probably yes.

    A few dali lamas and mother teresas might die but then again their goodness in part will be a measured by their sacrifice.

    Hmm you know (he says as he reads his own post) that martyr thing might actually be a problem...

  2. Yes, assassinating a popular leader would be of questionable wisdom. But I was more thinking of oppressive tyrants like Saddam, for whom most locals would probably be happy (or at least not terribly upset) to see them gone.

  3. Saddam was a stabilising force in the region, which is why the US supported him for so long.
    He was at least secular, and prevented the Shia's from uniting with their Persian brothers across the boarder and then holding the Arab world to ransom -Saudi Arabia has a very low population and lots of wealth, as does Kuwait, Oman, UAE etc...just way too tempting for an emerging superpower nearby. Imagine a Pan-Arabian Fundamentalist state stretching from one side of the Arab world to the other, and holding all that Oil. No more Israel, no more Suez Canal, no cheap oil for american SUV driving soccer moms.

    Hitler was a leader you would also have liked to assasinate, but his shear madness toward the end actually (it has been argued) only served to assist the allies.

    Bush's policy of attacking leaders is not a new one. What difference is a General like Rommell to a political leader like Saddam or Hitler that orders the army to go to war? The leader of a sovereign nation is always ultimately responsible for their troops on the battlefield -as the americans remind themselves of this when they play "hail to the chief" to their president.

  4. The point however is that if bush and hitler and saddam were betting with their own lives maybe they would either be more careful or be quickly removed from the equasion. regardless of whether they are fighting for good or for evil.

  5. I think if we made leaders slug it out in a duel to the death, the populous of the loosing side would just promote a different leader and the differences may well remain. The token win of the opposing side would be ignored -their position of power (having a powerful army) has not been weakened. Thus removing leaders can be effective in a morale sense, but it probably won't solve much. If an opposing nation doesn't have its powerbase removed, then there is no reason to accept the opponents terms of peace.
    Also the "presidents" become mere puppets/pawns in the above scenario, so it doesnt really change much.

  6. Again, I'm thinking of cases where it's the leaders who are responsible for the conflict. If, as you suggest, the two populations are set against each other, then that's another case where assassination wouldn't be much use.

    But I would expect that the "mastermind" is not usually the entire population, who set up a leader to serve as a figurehead or "puppet" driven by the will of the masses. That sounds exactly backwards to me.

  7. In the case of Iraq, just removing Saddam Hussein would still have left the complete Bath structure.
    Its weird but it was enforced democratisation.

  8. I think there is a difference between assasinating a Tyrant when your invading their country (ala the massive missle that took out the building right next to Saddam about 10 minutes into the Iraq war, although it failed to kill him) and assasinating a leader and letting their country slip into anarchy.

    I think the US has used assasination many times towards their own ends, and many times they have killed totally innocent "enemies" because it is expedient. Allende springs to mind.

    It's kind of like M.A.D. - if the US starts assasinating people like Mugabe and Qaddifi with no justification then those people will strike back.

  9. Allende was innocent??
    I have read stuff that places him somwhere between satan and statans right hand man.
    I expect hte truth lies somwhere between what I read and what you read and as such he is at least not "innocent".

  10. Yeah, he used to have death squads that massacred resistant villagers, and routinely used electrocution of the genitals as a torture technique. He kidnapped young children and trained them to be officers in his military and ruled over the country with an iron fist, backed by "beacons of freedom and democracy" Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

    Oh wait - that was some other guy.

  11. Stephen,
    I think he might have done that too.

  12. Besides your argument is flawed - I would not say hitler was innocent just because he opposed stalin (or vice verse).
    Worse yet jsut because the russian /chinese communists may have killed more people it doesnt mean they were more evil than the japanese government or the german one that they defeated - it jsut means that they had more time to get up to those sorts of things.


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