The Right Coast

January 05, 2004
Targeted Assassinations and SDI
By Michael Rappaport

Ralph Peters makes an important and neglected point about the war in Iraq:
    Our president's courageous decision to target Saddam himself while sparing innocent Iraqis upset the traditional rules of warfare, according to which the draftees die while the ruler survives by signing a peace treaty. Even though our attempted "decapitation strikes" failed, the message sent to the world's dictators and sponsors of terror had far more force than Western pundits yet realize. And our ultimate, humiliating capture of Saddam left every remaining tyrant worried that he might topple next.

    As a result, Libya has opened its nuclear facilities for inspection, while Iran hastened to strike a no-nukes deal with European governments anxious to save face after their support of Saddam backfired disastrously. North Korea has grown remarkably subdued. Syria treads cautiously. No tyrant wants G.I. Joe as his houseguest.
Peters’s point about targeted assassinations reminds me of the arguments over the Strategic Defense Initiative. During the 1980s, conventional liberal opinion argued against SDI in favor of mutually assured destruction. The Reagan administration maintained, however, that SDI would be a more moral system because it would not hold millions of people hostage. In addition to these moral arguments, SDI turned out to be a strategically important tool that contributed greatly to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Conventional liberal opinion also criticizes assassinations of foreign leaders, defending the executive order that prohibited them. In my view, such assassinations are often more moral than imposing sanctions on a country that will harm its people or waging war which will cause significant collateral damage. Such assassinations, however, may also be a strategically powerful weapon (as the case of Saddam appears to have shown). The moral course is sometimes the most effective strategy as well.