License to Kill


According to The Washington Post, Bush administration officials still refuse to concede that last night's cruise missile salvo failed to kill Saddam Hussein. Maybe his televised speech was recorded ahead of time, they say, even though it mentioned March 20 as the day the war started. Or maybe it was a Saddam double who gave the speech.

Another interesting question raised by the attempt to kill the tyrant of Baghdad: What took us so long? Why does the U.S. government continue to reject assassination as a legitimate foreign policy tool? It's hard to understand why it's acceptable to kill foreign heads of state only as part of a broader assault in which many other people die.


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  1. Saddam is wearing a uniform and acting as CIC. According to the Rules of War, he is legitimate combatant. But maybe I am living in the 19th century…

  2. So, in theory, could we have declared war on Iraq without a single man based in Saddam’s range and legally make assasination attempts at will? Since only the ships in the Gulf and the assasins we send would be within Saddam’s reach, we could get the same result with little risk and without all out war, right?

  3. but so what? His monkey sons would be in charge, or some other goon in the police state apparatus. The entire regime should be eliminated — probably 3-4 levels (at least) of the Baathist Party.

    Looks like we will leave the Regular Military somewhat intact, which is good as they may play a hand in helping us bag the Baathists and later administer post-war Iraq.

  4. No one has ever been able to explain to me (convincingly) how a full-scale war in which thousands of peon soldiers and innocent civilians die is morally superior to the assassination of one leader. Ford’s executive order prohibiting assassinations is among the dumbest moves in the history of the republic.

    Though Laz makes a good point about needing to take out most (or all) of the Baath party, killing Saddam at the outset will almost certainly lead to more divisions of the Iraqi army surrendering. No tyrant in charge, no reason to fight. If we nailed him last night, this will save lives on _both_ sides.

    Here’s hoping the bastard’s dead.

  5. “Maybe his televised speech was recorded ahead of time, they say, even though it mentioned March 20 as the day the war started.”

    Yeah, how would he be able to predict ahead of time when the war would start? It’s not like there was a deadline or anything.

  6. oh yeah, assassinations are really easy. We still can’t find Bin Laden, what makes you think we’ll be able to send a couple of spied into baghdad and blow this guys head off. Its unfeasible. Saddam is one of the most paranoid people on earth. All assassination attemps do is fail and piss off the mark big time. If we try to blow his head off and fail and it turns into an international incident, that’ll tell every nation that hates us that its okay to make an attempt on the president’s life. Any SS agent will tell you that a trained, determined assassin who is willing to die to get their mark will be able to get through. The only way to get him is to invade his country, or get lucky with a few timely bombs. And you can’t just bomb bunkers and palaces in baghdad without declaring war.

  7. One reason why it’s a good idea not to assassinate leaders of other countries is that it might lead those countries
    to assassinate our leaders preemptively.

    Being a pretty open society (at least for the time being) our leaders would be far easier targets than paranoid dicatators like Saddam.

  8. “One reason why it’s a good idea not to assassinate leaders of other countries is that it might lead those countries to assassinate our leaders preemptively.”

    So it’s a win-win, then.

  9. One reason not to go around assassinating world leaders is we’re so bad at it. How many shots did the CIA take at Castro? And he’s still walking around. It’s embarassing. Better to forgo the whole thing and claim the moral high ground.

    A more philosophical answer is that if we were any good at it, it would be too easy. It takes a lot of work for a US President to meddle in a foreign country’s affairs by sending in troops, even if he’s willing to ignore public opinion. So we can’t do it very often, relatively speaking. It takes hardly any pain at all to make the necessarily secret decision to dispatch a single assassin, so the temptation would be great to do that all the time. And hence to meddle in foreign affairs by killing people, all the time. That’s a hideous temptation.

  10. The ban on assassinations doesn’t stem from the idea that killing conscripts is more moral than killing dictators. It was a reaction to specific abuses, and a recognition that such a doctrine is an invitation to abuse, because there are so few checks on the President’s authority. An actual war requires a certain level of public approval. If Bush wanted to invade a country because he opposed the policies of its democratically elected president (for example), there would be rioting in the streets and massive political costs for his party. Assassinations, on the other hand, are secretive and may not even be noticed by the public at large. Thus, there would be much less politcal cost for a president. There’s just too much potential for abuse.

    I know there are some weaknesses in the argument, but that seems to be the thinking at the time, and there were certainly enough sleazy covert ops going on in the 60s and 70s to justify such a ban.

  11. i think it should be done, if we could have kncoked out saddam in the gulf war, sure, he would have kept getting pissed off, but better to have him dead or captured sooner than later.

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