James Bond is not just our hero, but the model for our geopolitical strategy

I enjoyed Ian Fleming’s books about James Bond, and some of the movies too (esp. Casino Royale).  But should we base our geopolitical strategyon fielding teams of “00” agents (and special operators) to kill our enemies?  Will this make us safer, or make more likely what we most wish to avoid?

Consider this:

  1. Many (most?) nations have used assassination in exceptional circumstances.
  2. Some nations have made occasional use of assassination (e.g., our Phoenix Program in Vietnam).
  3. Some nations have made extensive — even routine — use of assassination (e.g., the USSR, Israel).

Since our entry into WWII, and esp during the Cold War, America moved from group 1 to group 2.  Now we are moving from group 2 to group 3.  This post discusses the history of assassination as a geopolitical tool (i.e., by government against foreign enemies), how we are making more use of it, and what this might mean for America.  At the end are links to the other chapters in this series.


  1. History of assassination
  2. Today’s news
  3. Implications of routine assassination
  4. Legalities
  5. Recommended sources  for an introduction to this subject
  6. Afterword and where to go for more information

(1)  History of assassination

Assassination as a tool of statecraft or war is nothing new.  In Chapter 13 of The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote:

Whether the object be to crush an army, to storm a city, or to assassinate an individual, it is always necessary to begin by finding out the names of the attendants, the aides-de-camp, and door-keepers and sentries of the general in command.

For a look at our time, here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry about the history of assassination (click through to Wikipedia to see the many links). 

However, the 20th century likely marks the first time nation-states began training assassins to be specifically used against so-called enemies of the state. During World War II, for example, MI6 trained a group of Czechoslovakian operatives to kill the Nazi general Reinhard Heydrich (who did later perish by their efforts – see Operation Anthropoid), and repeated attempts were made by both the British MI6, the American Office of Strategic Services (later the Central Intelligence Agency) and the Soviet SMERSH to kill Adolf Hitler …

The Cold War saw a dramatic increase in the number of political assassinations … During the Kennedy era Fidel Castro narrowly escaped death on several occasions at the hands of the CIA (a function of the agency’s “executive action” program) … The assassination of the FBI agent Dan Mitrione, a well known torture teacher, in hands of the Uruguayan guerrilla movement Tupamaros is a perfect proof of United States intervention in Latin American governments during the Cold War.

At the same time, the KGB made creative use of assassination to deal with high-profile defectors such as Georgi Markov, and Israel’s Mossad made use of such tactics to eliminate Palestinian guerrillas, politicians and revolutionaries …

Most major powers were not long in repudiating such tactics, for example during the presidency of Gerald Ford in the United States in 1976 (Executive Order 12333, which proscription was relaxed however by the George W. Bush administration). Many allege, however, that this is merely a smoke screen for political and moral benefit and that the covert and illegal training of assassins by major intelligence agencies continue, such as at the School of the Americas run by the United States.

… {M}any accuse Russia of continuing to practice it in Chechnya and against Chechens abroad, as well as Israel in Palestine and against Palestinians abroad (as well as those Mossad deems a threat to Israeli national security, as in the aftermath of the Munich Massacre during “Operation Wrath of God”). Besides Palestine Liberation Organization members assassinated abroad, {Israel’s military} has also often targeted Hamas activists in the Gaza strip.

Are attacks on military leaders during wartime called “assassinations”?  See the answer here.

(2)  Today — routine use of assassination

(a)  “Filling the skies with Assassins” by Tom Engelhardt, 17 April 2009 — Excerpt:

Our drone wars also represent a new chapter in the history of assassination. Once upon a time, to be an assassin for a government was a furtive, shameful thing. In those days, of course, an assassin, if successful, took down a single person, not the targeted individual and anyone in the vicinity (or simply, if targeting intelligence proves wrong, anyone in the vicinity). No more poison-dart-tipped umbrellas, as in past KGB operations, or toxic cigars as in CIA ones — not now that assassination has taken to the skies as an every day, all-year-round activity.

Today, we increasingly display our assassination wares with pride. To us, at least, it seems perfectly normal for assassination aerial operations to be a part of an open discussion in Washington and in the media. Consider this a new definition of “progress” in our world.

(b)  US choice hardly McChrystal clear“, Gareth Porter, Asia Times, 14 May 2009 — This has much interesting detail about General McChrystal; I recommend reading it in full.  Excerpt:

The choice of Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal to become the new United States commander in Afghanistan has been hailed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and national news media as ushering in a new unconventional approach to counter-insurgency.  But McChrystal’s background sends a very different message from the one claimed by Gates and the news media. His long specialization in counter-terrorism operations suggests an officer who is likely to have more interest in targeted killings than in the kind of politically sensitive counter-insurgency program that the Barack Obama administration has said it intends to carry out.

In announcing the extraordinary firing of General David McKiernan and the nomination of McChrystal to replace him, Gates said that the mission in Afghanistan “requires new thinking and new approaches by our military leaders” and praised McChrystal for his “unique skill set in counter-insurgency”.  Media reporting on the choice of McChrystal simply echoed the Pentagon’s line.

  • The Washington Post said his selection “marks the continued ascendancy of officers who have pressed for the use of counter-insurgency tactics, in Iraq and Afghanistan, that are markedly different from the Army’s traditional doctrine”.  {link}
  • The New York Times cited unnamed “Defense Department officials” in reporting, “His success in using intelligence and firepower to track and kill insurgents, and his training in unconventional warfare that emphasizes the need to protect the population, made him the best choice for the command in Afghanistan.” {link}
  • The Wall Street Journal suggested that McChrystal was the kind of commander who would “fight the kind of complex counter-insurgency warfare” that Gates wants to see in Afghanistan, because his command of special operations forces in Iraq had involved “units that specialize in guerilla warfare, including the training of indigenous armies”. {link}

But these explanations for the choice of McChrystal equate his command of the special operations forces with expertise on counter-insurgency, despite the fact that McChrystal spent his past five years as a commander of special operations forces focusing overwhelmingly on counter-terrorism operations, not on counter-insurgency.  Whereas counter-insurgency operations are aimed primarily at influencing the population and are primarily non-military, counter-terrorism operations are exclusively military and focus on targeting the “enemy”.

  • As commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) from April 2003 to August 2008, he was pre-occupied with pursuing high-value al-Qaeda targets and local and national insurgent leaders in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – mostly through targeted raids and airstrikes.
  • It was under McChrystal’s command, in fact, that JSOC shifted away from the very mission of training indigenous military units in counter-insurgency operations that had been a core mission of special operations forces. …
  • Special operations forces under McChrystal’s command also engaged in raiding homes in search of Taliban suspects, angering villagers in Herat province to the point where they took up arms against the US forces, according to a May 2007 story by Carlotta Gall and David E Sanger of the New York Times.

(c)  This is greeted with applause by some experts.  Such as Pat Lang (Colonel, US Army, retired), from a post at Sic Semper Tyrannis, 12 May 2009:

What is the message in this change? McChrystal’s background, his “issues” over supposed abuse of prisoners by his commandos in Iraq and a reputation for operational aggressiveness do not “telegraph” the coming of a policy aimed at a political settlement in Afghanistan.

This sounds like a paradigm shift in which Obama’s policy of destroying the leadership of Al-Qa’ida in Afghanistan and Pakistan takes priority over everything else.

I might like this.

(d)  Afghan Graveyard“, Ralph Peters, 14 May 2009 — Very much worth reading in full!  Excerpt:

The conflict in Afghanistan was a special-operations war in 2001, and it’s a special-operations war in 2009. Everything in between was deadly make-believe.

… Dave McKiernan didn’t fail the Army. The Army failed him. Sent to Afghanistan to herd NATO cats, he operated by the book. But the book the Army gave him was wrong.  That book — our Counterinsurgency Manual — was midwifed by Gen. David Petraeus, who did a dazzling job of turning around the mess Rumsfeld-era policies made in Iraq.

But Petraeus was nimble. When he hit the ground in Baghdad, he promptly surged beyond the prescriptions in his politically correct manual. Petraeus did what needed to be done. That included staying out of Stan McChrystal’s secret fight against al Qaeda and other bad actors in Iraq. We turned the blood tide during the hours of darkness, while journalists snored in their bunks.

Of all the factors that enabled the turnaround in Iraq, the first was the speed with which al Qaedaalienated the locals. The second was the incisive, relentless elimination of terrorists by our special-ops forces: Killing works.

… Will McChrystal, our special operator without peer, be allowed to do what’s necessary — and to jettison huggy-bear programs that sound good but don’t work? Can he focus on the destruction of our enemies? Can he throw away the book?

McChrystal’s boss, Petraeus, remains the key. If this supremely talented man can overcome his preconceptions about the fight we’re in, he and McChrystal may be the team that rescues another failing effort. But Petraeus has to think like a Pashtun tribesman, not a Princeton man.

As this column has pointed out repeatedly, Afghanistan’s worthless in and of itself. Securing hundreds of premedievalvillages means local progress at the cost of strategic paralysis. To fight a mobile enemy, we need to be hypermobile. The dirt doesn’t matter.  That’s where special-ops come in. Our efforts should concentrate on supporting our black-program professionals. It’s their fight. We need fewer troops, but a clear vision and more guts.

… Getting it right in Afghanistan — and across the frontier in Pakistan — means digging fewer wells and forcing our enemies to dig more graves. I’ll bet on McChrystal to get it right. If he’s allowed to.

(3)  Implications of a world where assassination is a routine tool

(a)  Does it work strategically as well as tactically?

“Killing works” as a tactic.  Wars are won by good strategy, not just good tactics (or else everyone in Europe would be singing Deutschland Uber Alles before their soccer games).  Basing our operations on “killing works” not just violates most COIN theory, but might fatally compromise key strategic interests.

David Kilcullen (Lt. Colonel, Australian Army, retired) gently but clearly discusses on aspect of this in “Death From Above, Outrage Down Below, co-author with Andrew McDonald Exum (US Army, retired), op-ed in the New York Times, 16 May 2009 — Excerpt:

The use of drones in military operations has steadily grown — we know from public documents that from last September to this March alone, C.I.A. operatives launched more than three dozen strikes.

The appeal of drone attacks for policy makers is clear. For one thing, their effects are measurable. Military commanders and intelligence officials point out that drone attacks have disrupted terrorist networks in Pakistan, killing key leaders and hampering operations. Drone attacks create a sense of insecurity among militants and constrain their interactions with suspected informers. And, because they kill remotely, drone strikes avoid American casualties.

But on balance, the costs outweigh these benefits for three reasons.

  • First, the drone war has created a siege mentality among Pakistani civilians. …
  • Second {such strikes} offend people’s deepest sensibilities, alienates them from their government, and contributes to Pakistan’s instability.
  • Third, the use of drones displays every characteristic of a tactic — or, more accurately, a piece of technology — substituting for a strategy.

About the author:  For Kilcullen’s bio and links to his many articles about counter-insurgency, see The Essential 4GW reading list: David Kilcullen.

(b)  Does it encourage attacks on the US?

There is another possible result.  Our enemies can retaliate, and perhaps even reciprocate.  It’s not clear — except in the nightmares that substitute for strategic thought in the US — that any Afghanistan tribes have an objective interest in attacking America.  What would be the military objective, the potential benefit?  But each killing adds to the number of individuals with a reason to do so, among the friends and relatives of the dead.

Chet Richards (Editor of DNI; Colonel, USAF, retired) says “The pointlessness of attacking the US might not stop them from trying.  History shows that all sides in every war are vulnerable to the temptation of putting tactics ahead of strategy.”

Routine use of assassination might make inevitable what we most wish to avoid.  If so, it will be — unlike 9-11 — a legitimate operation of war.  America has made it so.

(c)  What does it do to us?

We are shaped by our actions as well as our aspirations and beliefs.  Assassination is a form of war, but it differs from war as we usually think of it in the West.  The effects of routine use of assassination on our hearts, minds, and souls might prove to be the most important long-term result.

With the routine use of assassination we join a dirty roster of nations.  Perhaps the most important factor to ponder:   few of the nations on this list are successful nations, by any standard.

(5)  Legalities

After the revelations of our government’s legal justification for torture, there is no point in discussing the legalities of targeted killing vs. assassination, and the fine distinctions involved.  Plus we are in the long war, in which our enemies are both ill-defined and changing over time.  As has been shown in elaborate detail, both on this site and many others, essentially the US government now reserves the right to kill whoever it wants to, US citizens included (incidents such as Waco and esp Ruby Ridge demonstrated that to all but the exceptionally slow learners among us).  That is, self-restraint and fear of consequences are the major factors constraining government action.

Perhaps the key aspect of these laws and regulations is that the term “assassination” is not defined.  However, for you legal beagles:

Assassination section of the Lieber Code, U.S. Army General Order No. 100, 1863

Executive Order 11905 — United States foreign intelligence activities, 18 February 1976

  • (g) Prohibition of Assassination. No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.

Executive Order 12333 — United States intelligence activities, 4 December 1981

  • 2.11 Prohibition on Assassination. No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.
  • 2.12 Indirect Participation. No agency of the Intelligence Community shall participate in or request any person to undertake activities forbidden by this Order.

DoD Directive 5240.1 – DoD Intelligence Activities, 25 April 1988 

  • 4.4. “Under no circumstances shall any DoD employee engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”

Assassination Ban and E.O. 12333: a Brief Summary, Congressional Research Service (CRS), January 2002

(5)  Recommended sources for more information about assassinations

The two best reports I have found of these issues are the CRS report (above) and  Operations against Enemy Leaders, Stephen T. Hosmer, RAND, 2001 (151 pages).   This report was sponsored by US Air Force. I recommend reading it if you are interested in learning about these complex issues. From the summary:

An analysis of some 24 cases of leadership attacks from World War II to the present provides insights about the comparative efficacy of different forms of leadership attacks, the potential coercive and deterrent value of such operations for shaping future enemy policy and behavior, and the possible unintended consequences that may result from the ill-considered use of such attacks.

… With the single exception of the shoot-down of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s aircraft in World War II, all U.S. operations to neutralize senior enemy leaders by direct attack have failed.

(6)  Afterword

If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below.  You may find answers to your questions in these.

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Other articles about our government’s assassination programs

  1. James Bond is not just our hero, but the model for our geopolitical strategy, 18 May 2009
  2. Another nail put in the Constitution’s coffin, but we don’t care, 9 February 2010
  3. Stratfor looks at “The Utility of Assassination”, 26 February 2010
  4. Another step towards fascism: “Silencing the Lawyers”, 31 May 2010
  5. Code red! The Constitution is burning, 5 August 2010
  6. An Appalling Threat to Civil Liberties and Democracy, 8 August 2010
  7. Every day the Constitution dies a little more, 1 September 2010
  8. What do our Constitution-loving conservatives say about our government’s assassination programs?, 2 September 2010

58 thoughts on “James Bond is not just our hero, but the model for our geopolitical strategy”

  1. Assassination, torture, bribery kidnapping are not policies, they are tactics. Each is inherently repugnant which does not make their use impossible but without policies that are supported by the majority of the people they are not useful, simply divisive and incendiary because their use will be leaked. We have a good deal of experience with this. Saddam should have been killed and replaced by a conciliatory subordinate who would agree not to make aggressive war. That would have been a good use of American power. He needed to go because he could remain in power only by making aggressive war. But it is a felony to discuss this even in the White House. We last declared war in 1941. Since then we have replaced declarations of war with Presidents who invent with lies excuses to make wars. This is a disaster. There is little evidence yet that Obama is going to be any different. We need to overthrow our government and reestablish the rule of law and reason.

  2. The Lieber code prohibits outlawry, not assassination. It doesn’t prohibit targeting specific individuals, or even the Army announcing that it is targeting certain individuals. It prohibits announcing in advance immunity from prosecution for killing certain individuals.
    Fabius Maximus replies: It is usually included in lists of attempts to define and regulate assassination, to provide a historical context. Which it does in “SECTION IX.–Assassination.”

  3. You would have saved yourself a bit of bother and perhaps raised the discourse if you had more carefully crafted your definition and examples of ‘assassination’.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I have stayed with common usage of the term because I prefer not to make up definitions. The lack of an agreed-upon definition is an important aspect of the debate (much as with pornography).

    Assassination Ban and E.O. 12333: a Brief Summary, Congressional Research Service (CRS), January 2002 — Excerpts:

    The term “assassination” is not defined in E.O. 12333, nor was it defined in the predecessor orders. … It is interesting to note that the Ford order referred to “political assassination,” a term which was not defined in E.O. 11905, while the Carter and Reagan orders use the term “assassination,” again without defining it. … In time of war, assassination appears to be distinguished in some discussions from cases of lawful killing, because the former is carried out in a “treacherous” manner. “Treacherous” is not defined in the Hague Convention IV …

    Operations against Enemy Leaders, Stephen T. Hosmer, RAND, 2001 (151 pages). This report was sponsored by US Air Force. Excerpt:

    “Over the years, commentators have disagreed about the scope of the executive order’s prohibition. These arguments have risen in the main because the executive order provides no elucidation on what constitutes an assassination.”

  4. This entire discussion demonstrates the folly of allowing lawyers to make decisions regarding the conduct of war.

    We’re not at war with Afghanistan; but we are at war in Afghanistan. We’re not at war with Pakistan; but we are at war in Pakistan. We wage war in these places (with, it should be said the tacit or overt support of their governments) because the governments of those countries do not have the wherewithal, or the inclination, to do our work for us and eliminate the sworn enemies of our country.

    This is why we don’t carpet-bomb whole villages; instead, we use munitions designed to target a specific, and small area. The plain fact remains that our enemies routinely completely disregard every single concept of an “honorable” war — indeed, the entire concept of “unlimited” war is near and dear to their hearts, hence, lest we forget, their destruction of our skyscrapers and embassies, and the capture, torture and execution of American/Western civilians.

    Any Western combatant who falls into Al-Qa’eda hands is assured of a grisly and horrifying death; the capture of a non-uniformed AQ terrorist means confinement in a prison, their human rights observed, a trial at the end of it, and — amazingly — a good chance that the POW will eventually be released and allowed to re-enter the fray.

    I understand the squeamishness involved in using precise methods to eliminate specific targets: it’s an argument we students of military history have heard often before, such as when decrying the use of snipers (most notably after WWI and WWII, when Western armies allowed or encouraged their sniper units to disband).

    Fabius Maximus replies: You do not seem to have grasped any of the salient points of this post. Perhaps you should read Kilcullen’s op-ed, Admiral Mullen’s remarks (comment #45), or any of the many comments above in which this was discussed.

  5. Joint Chiefs Chairman Criticizes Afghan Air Strikes“, New York Times, 18 May 2009 — Excerpt:

    In remarks to scholars, national security experts and the media at the Brookings Institution, Admiral Mullen said that the American air strikes that killed an undetermined number of civilians in Afghanistan’s Farah Province two weeks ago had put the U.S. strategy in the country in jeopardy.

    “We cannot succeed in Afghanistan or anywhere else, but let’s talk specifically about Afghanistan, by killing Afghan civilians,” Admiral Mullen said, adding that “we can’t keep going through incidents like this and expect the strategy to work.”

  6. Sorry, Fabius, but I read the post and all the links (and I’ve read just about everything published by the estimable Col. Kilcullen). So if I’ve missed the point, perhaps you ought to write more clearly.

    Comparing Predator strikes to James Bond-style assassinations is not only a stretch, but facile — as is your suggestion that I didn’t read or understand your article.

    FM: “Routine use of assassination might make inevitable what we most wish to avoid. If so, it will be — unlike 9-11 — a legitimate operation of war. America has made it so.

    We’ve done no such thing. Taking out the enemy’s leadership is a tactic as old as warfare itself. Killing the enemy’s chief or king was not only often pursued as a legitimate military tactic; it was recognized as a way to end a conflict quickly. But if the enemy removes his leadership from the battlefield, or, as is the current case, makes the whole world his battlefield, then he has little to complain about when we seek him out wherever he is.

    I didn’t miss the salient points of your article. It’s kinda diffcult to do so when the title reads: “James Bond is not just our hero, but the model for our geopolitical strategy”

    In the first place, if that were the case, we’d be dropping Predator-guided bombs on the offices of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and NorK President Kim, to name but two people who are our self-confessed enemies. But we’re not: we’re targeting people who are part of a terrorist organization committed to our society’s destruction, and which has committed acts of war against our country and its people. It’s a not a geopolitical strategy, therefore but a military one.

    The James Bond analogy is a nice sound-bite, but it’s not really true, is it? So I suspect that you may have missed the point of my counter-argument. Or perhaps you just ignored it altogether, because I note that you did not attempt to refute a single point I made. Brushing me off with an airy “you missed the point” doesn’t win the argument, especially as your observation is incorrect.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I gave references to relevant experts explaining why this program of targeted killing is not effective. Both in terms of official US military doctrine, as in FM 3-24, and statements by relevant experts, such as Kilcullen and (today) Admiral Mullen. I don’t see that you have responded to any of this, other by airy assertions. That was the basis of my reply.

    (1) This comment provides specific examples of not having reading the post (or ignoring the content, fuctionally the same). The following looks at a single paragraph in your post, which gives a flavor of the whole.

    (2) “We’ve done no such thing.”

    Of course we have done “such things.” Both during the Cold War and during wartime (see comment #40 for war time examples).

    (3) “Taking out the enemy’s leadership is a tactic as old as warfare itself.”

    Yes, that’s the point of section #1 “History of assassination”

    (4) “Killing the enemy’s chief or king was not only often pursued as a legitimate military tactic; it was recognized as a way to end a conflict quickly.”

    Yes, that is the subect of the RAND report highlighted in section 5 “Recommended sources for more information about assassinations”. Note that the report says that this is seldom effective.

  7. It seems the major distinction from this article’s perspective that characterizes a killing as “assasination” is that the killing is done surreptitiously and outside of normal combat operations. (I freely admit that I just made that up, but it is the impression I get from both the content and comments) As such, though, I see the recently infamous drone strikes more akin to the failed “precission strikes” against Saddam in OIF than a James Bond style hit or even a sniper action. The unitended consequences of their failure does not, itself, argue against targetted killings (or, if you will, assassinations), but rather informs as to the more efficatious means of doing so.

    From a higher level, though, one key question you raise is if the appointment of Gen. McChrystal signals a greater reliance on “assassination” as a tool of national defence policy. Personally, I am more of a mind to believe that Pres. Obama sees Gen. McChrystal as the best way to get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. It is my perception that given his ‘druthers, the President would withdraw all but a token NATO presence as soon as possible, but he knows that with OBL et. al. unaccounted for that would smell of surrender and spell political disaster. I believe it is the President’s plan to tag OBL and a few other high AQ leaders, declare victory and then bail out. I also belive this to be a short-sighted strategy from a national security perspective, but a political strategy that, depending on timing, could even overcome domestic economic issues and taxes to get him his second term.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Do you have any evidence supporting your theory about Obama’s plans? His statements have been consistently pro-Afghanistan War. See this for quotes: How long will all American Presidents be War Presidents?, 21 March 2008.

  8. Joseph Somsel

    Mr. Maximus seems to not want to hear the arguments made by myself and many others that his proposition is false and his prescription is unwise. Removal of opposing leadership is and has been one way to win wars. Granted, not all wars can be won that way but many can be and most can see less net killing.

    During the Cold War, “decapitation” was the preferred terminology on both sides and embraced as an opening gambit on both sides. How that is different from “assassination” is not clear – I think it might be quantitative in some cases but not qualitative.

    Better to kill a few high value people than multitudes of cannon fodder. Civilians will die, unfortunately, in both case but the fewer the better.

    Will collateral damage work against us in current theatres? Little doubt but war is usually the choice of the least worst option. In a war against theological fanatics who regularly use suicide attacks, the sooner they die the better.

    Are current Predator tactics imperfect? Of course but I would expect them to improve in success rates and to decrease in false positives and collaterial damage.

    Will Predator attacks win the war alone? Of course not! Arguing that Predator attacks must be better integrated with ground troops and “hearts and minds” counterinsurgence policy might be a constructive point if some specifics are provided.

    As to the legal citations, these are but noise. Like some wise man said, the Constitution is not a death pact for our government and if these laws and regulations fail to preserve our freedoms, then they must be changed.

    Personally, I consider that McKiernan’s replacement might be a move to undercut Petraeus. If Petraeus asked for his replacement with McChrystal then all is well. We need to remember that Petraeus is considered an enemy by the US Left and Obama is thinking ahead as Petraeus as a potential political actor. Obama has an interest in cutting Petraeus down.

    A partial historical analogy would be Lincoln’s removal of McClellan. I don’t think Lincoln removed McClellan for political reasons but rather for inactive generalship – a well-founded complaint. Yet McClellan came back and was the challenger to Lincoln’s second run for president.

  9. HaloJones-Fan

    “I have stayed with common usage of the term because I prefer not to make up definitions.”

    Ahem. Your entire essay is predicated on a specific definition of the term “assassination”. And even if you take the “common usage” argument, then you fail, because the “common usage” of “assassination” implies killing outside of the context of declared hostilities against combatants. Don’t ever cite “common usage” again. You’re wrong.

    Your sources in #40 are not useful, because–as I said in my post–they use the term “assassination” in an adjectival sense (and in an ex post facto manner, at that.) You, in this blog post, are attempting to establish a legalistic (and derogatory) definition, and to apply that definition to contemporary US military activities.

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  11. Do you have any evidence supporting your theory about Obama’s plans? His statements have been consistently pro-Afghanistan War.

    No, as I clearly said this is just a personal thought; it is not even strong enough to be called an “accusation.” My personal observations of Pres. Obama, though, leave me little reason to be comforted by what he may or may not say. This is a man I would never want to play poker with and who has a history of making legalistic, syntactically imprecise statements with which any audience can can be comforted if they so wish.
    Fabuis Maximus replies: While I agree with your last sentence, close reading of his statements suggests to me that he has in fact largely done what he said he would do. The hopes of many Obama supporters perhaps resulted from listening to the music, not the words, of his song.

  12. I hope you have not stopped responding. Thank you for your response to my earlier comment.

    Many of us have pointed out that the footsoldiers simply do not justify death sentences as most are conscripts. This works better, with lower loss of innocent life.

    Your only response to this point, made by me and by others, is that the attacks are not as well targeted as you would like them to be. Would you therefor be in favor of what you are calling “assassinations” if we could achieve perfect targeting?

    Is that the essence of your argument? That they are not targeted enough? It certainly seemed like you were making the opposite point in the original post.
    Fabuis Maximus replies: I do not understand your comment about “footsoldiers.” The primary objection to the large-scale use of targeted killing (by whatever means) is that it kills many civilians. Non-combatants. This makes the raids strategically ineffictive, perhaps even damaging. This is repeatedly ignored in the comments (such as yours). It is a simple and well-founded objection, supported by a wide and increasing number of experts (most recently, Admiral Mullen).

  13. Sorry if I was unclear. Let us focus on the final question, they are what I intended to ask.

    You claim that they are not targeted enough, that they kill many civilians in addition to their target. If these attacks could be improved so that they only killed the targets, and not civilians around them – would you approve of them?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Great question. The post raises 3 concerns.

    (a) Does it work strategically as well as tactically?

    More precise targeting probably removes this concern. Note it will never be precise. Police in America, with their expert knowledge of their communities, often make “no-knock” on wrong homes (shooting the inhabitants) either by mistake or on the basis of bad intel. Conducting these in war zones in which our people are total strangers, the incidence of this will be much much higher.

    (b) Does it encourage attacks on the US?

    Targeting enemy leaders inherently raises the odds of this. President Kennedy’s attempts to kill Castro raise the suspicion that Castro had a role in the Dallas shooting. While unproven, tit for tat happens. This is of course one reason why Kings consider regicide a crime, and why western leaders in the past have seldom approved assassination of enemy leaders.

    (c) What does it do to us?

    Here we move into deep speculaation (aka wild guessing). Cultures view ssassination differently. I suspect (guess) that Sun Tzu would consider it an effective and clean way to handle war. Western culture traditionally considers it a dirty way to fight, the opposite of the direct open combat style perfected by helots jousting in countryside of Greece. Let’s just say it is a change, and changes often have unfortunate side-effects. Most likely: our government has a history of applying methods originally develop for use against foreign enemies to domestic “threats.” From this has come a wide range of illegal surveilance activities and dirty tricks. Might assassination follow this pattern?

  14. Jay: “You claim that they are not targeted enough, that they kill many civilians in addition to their target. If these attacks could be improved so that they only killed the targets, and not civilians around them – would you approve of them?”

    So Jay is asking “if we could, with 99.9% certainty, identify and kill only our enemies, would assassination be right?” The correct answer is that this is yet another seductive hypothetical. There is no such thing as consistently precise targeting; the imprecision necessarily introduced by our limited knowledge and understanding of who our enemies are, the disconnect between a deadly weapon and an “operator” thousands of miles away from the place where it strikes assure that we will continue to make mistakes—if only because we are human. The notion of “precision” in warfare is dangerous nonsense; killing is necessarily messy (and “surgical strikes” aren’t).

    We don’t employ these weapons and tactics because they spare non-combatants; we employ them because they give the impression that something is being done, without incurring the media onus of heavy casualties among our own soldiers. This is not a tactic that can be improved—let alone perfected. This illusion is precisely what keeps it going, of course: we’ll get it right next time. Right.

  15. This reminds me of an original “Star Trek” episode; the one with a parallel universe inhabited by “bad Kirk”, and “bad Spock”. Bad Kirk owns an alien assassination machine, that allows him to see his enemies on screen, and kill them by pushing a button. In our pop culture anyway, we define good from evil by noting that no such machine exists in the “good” universe, and “bad Kirk” sticks out like a sore thumb lunatic to the good guys.
    FM note: This episode is “Mirror, Mirror“. One of the Star Trek classics!

  16. I don’t have enough information to judge whether our Predator strikes qualify as “assassination”. That is, are we acting on high-quality intelligence about the whereabouts of dangerous individuals known to be actively plotting to harm our country, or are we just whacking groups of people who someone thinks maybe harbor evil thoughts about us?

    However, even the purest example of assassination mentioned in this series of comments—the killing of Reinhard Heidrich—serves as an illustration of the morally dubious ground that is entered by anyone who uses this tactic, even in war-time against a well-identified and odious enemy.

    It is an enduring mystery just why and who ordered the assassination of
    Heydrich. One reason for this is that the British government still has not
    declassified many of the relevant documents. Some things, however are
    known. For one, the Czech underground (the people actually working against
    the German occupation in Prague, as opposed to the Czech “government-in-exile” in London) vehemently opposed the planned assassination of Heydrich when they learned of it. Why did they oppose it? Because they knew what would happen as a consequence—a bloody wave of reprisals by the SS. The British were made aware of these objections, as was the head of the exiled Czech government, Edvard Beneš. Indeed, common sense should have made all parties aware of the probable consequences of such a high-profile assassination. Despite this, both the British and the Beneš government pushed Operation Anthropoid through to its “successful” conclusion.

    Heydrich, who incidentally was not a member of the German military as stated above, but head of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and carried the grandiloquent title “Protector of Bohemia and Moravia” had, indeed, earned himself the title of “Butcher of Prague” by hanging dozens of Czechs upon his acquisition of power
    there. However, what followed upon his assassination was the murder of
    thousands, including the entire village of Lidice.

    One could say that these were “unintended consequences” of the
    assassination. But were they? As I said, the British government, as well
    as Beneš, had been warned. That leaves an obvious possibility: these
    deaths were intended consequences. The Czech underground had not been particularly energetic in its activities; perhaps Anthropoid was
    intended to provide them with more incentive. (If so, Anthropoid was unsuccessful, not because of its human cost, but because of its failure to intensify Czech resistance—the entire Czech underground organization was rolled up by the Germans in a matter of weeks after Heydrich’s death.)

    Wikipedia is, by the way, a less than totally reliable source about Anthropoid. Most of the cited documents derive from the Czech Republic State Archives—as the spiritual heirs of Beneš, the Czech government is not exactly impartial in these matters.

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