Summary: One of Obama’s legacies is the normalization of assassination, despite its 8 years of failure. As a parting gift to America he expanded the powers and scope of our assassins. Bet on Trump to expand the program, both in the number of killings and the scale of its failure. We’re trying to set the world on fire. Perhaps we will succeed.
The Left’s amnesia about their Nobel Peace Prize President
“The demagogue who promised to kill terrorists along with their families is moving his own family into the presidential palace.”
— David Runciman (Prof History, Cambridge) in “Is this how democracy ends?“, London Review of Books, 1 December 2016.
Professor Runciman’s amnesia is astonishing since as he write Obama was giving a last gift to America, expanding the power and scope of the assassination program. “Obama administration expands elite military unit’s powers to hunt foreign fighters globally“. “Obama Expands War With Al Qaeda to Include Shabab in Somalia“. After eight years of assassination the jihadist insurgency is stronger than when he was first elected. So the rules of our mad War on Terror require that America double down on failure.
How did we get here?
Following decades of direct and indirect assassinations programs by the US during the Cold War, political assassinations were banned by President Ford’s Executive Order 11905 on United States Foreign Intelligence Activities, 18 February 1976. Carter’s Executive Order 12036 forbids indirect U.S. involvement in assassinations. Reagan’s EO 12333 reiterated these prohibitions.
The “war on terror” slowly rolled these back. On 24 December 1998 President Clinton signed a Memorandum of Notification authorizing the CIA to assassinate Bin Laden (CIA officials lied to the 9/11 Commission about this). In the days after 9/11, President Bush Jr. signed a “Finding” authorizing the CIA to kill bin Laden.
Obama began authorizing assassinations soon after becoming President. These eventually became a formal kill list, known by the Orwellian term “disposition matrix.” The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ has kept the process shrouded in secrecy. We can guess at its logic by one detail they’ve revealed: all military-age males killed are considered combatants (the same logic that inflated “body counts” during the Vietnam War).
Former professor of constitutional law Obama in effect approved bills of attainder on US citizens Anwar Awlaki and Samir Khan, which are expressly forbidden by the Constitutions of the United States and all 50 States. Accordingly both were executed In September 2011 by drone strikes in Yemen. Government attorneys prepared memos declaring these illegal acts to be legal.
Eight years of assassination
William M. Daley was Obama’s chief of staff in 2011. He said that the president and his advisers understood that they could not keep adding new names to a kill list, and wondered how much killing would be enough. “One guy gets knocked off, and the guy’s driver, who’s No. 21, becomes 20? At what point are you just filling the bucket with numbers?” Five years later we know the answer: there is no end to the killing. Assassinations fight terror like throwing kerosene on fight fires.
Al Qaeda is a wreck, destroyed by the world’s police and security services in the years after 9/11. But its “franchises” (they’re nothing like franchises) — national Islamic insurgencies — continue to spread and grow in sophistication. The latest model, ISIS, succeeded in moving to stage two in Mao’s model of guerrilla operations — holding territory. They are being pushed back by conventional military operations.
As I and so many others have said during the past decade, our assassinations have recruited more insurgents than they have killed. Worse, they have made the jihadist groups more effective, killing the slow and stupid of their leaders. See the analysis by the many experts that we have ignored.
We can close our eyes to the stain of this folly, but I doubt that historians will do so. Bet on Trump to continue or even expand Obama’s assassination programs, because our military strategy is to double down on failure. It’s been done before. It will end badly for us.
For More Information
To learn about Obama’s assassination programs see this series at The Intercept: “The Drone Papers“. Also see “Former Drone Operators Say They Were “Horrified” By Cruelty of Assassination Program“.
- Obama + assassination + drones = a dark future for America — by Mark Mazzetti.
- Assassination as Policy in Washington: How It Failed Then and Fails Now — by Andrew Cockburn.
- Should we use our special operations troops as assassins? Is it right, or even smart?
- Darwin explains the futility of killing insurgents. It makes them more effective.
- Stratfor asks Why al Qaeda survives the assassination of its leaders?
- 14 years of assassinations: Stratfor describes the result.
- Another assassination of a jihadist leader. Here’s what comes next.