Has there ever been such a chilling launch to a re-election campaign? I take the kickoff to be April 27, when Obama produces his long birth certificate at a White House press conference. He says it’s time to abandon such idle distractions and face the big, serious issues. He knows something we don’t—that serious issue number one is a killing.
The Navy SEALs are on standby, primed with Obama’s orders for the summary assassination of Osama bin Laden. There’s cloud cover over Abbottabad, so bin Laden gets an extra couple of days puttering around the house listening to his old speeches. William and Kate won’t have to share Saturday’s headlines with the head of Osama.
Had all gone well, Sunday’s newspapers would have been freighted with the news that Muammar el-Qaddafi had been killed in the course of a NATO bombing strike on a “command and control” site in Tripoli. It had been in the cards from day one; indeed, on April 29 the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service leaked an accurate forecast to Rex, a Russian online news agency, whose Kirill Svetitsky quoted an anonymous source within the intelligence service: “There will be an attempt to kill Muammar Qaddafi on or before May 2. The governments of France, Britain and the US decided on it, for the warfare in Libya does not proceed well for the anti-Libyan alliance.”
When Ronald Reagan ordered nine F-111s on a bombing run over Qaddafi’s compound on April 15, 1986, he prepared some pro forma public remarks to the effect that Qaddafi had not been the intended target. Since the 1986 raid would clearly have been illegal had the United States invoked a principle of retaliation, Reagan cited Article 51 of the UN Charter, claiming the right of self-defense against future attack, evidence for such an attack being a bomb detonated under murky circumstances in a West Berlin cafe frequented by US servicemen. In fact, Article 51 was in no way applicable. Its function is to give the right of self-defense to any UN member state actually sustaining attack, until the Security Council can take appropriate action.
The April 30, 2011, bombing attack, made in the direct aftermath of Qaddafi’s call for a cease-fire, was not burdened with fancy talk about Article 51. UN Resolution 1973, which simply established a no-fly zone, was the sole legal pretext for targeted assassination.
Obama would certainly have been briefed on the attack and likely signed off on the assassination bid, in the same way that he had already given the green light for attempts to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki, the US-born cleric believed to be in Yemen. Legal underpinning? All it takes is “specific permission” for an American citizen to be placed on the hit list for extra-judicial killing. This “specific permission” is given by the president, or someone else under his authority in the executive branch, the entire process being emphatically not subject to outside review. It’s the position of the Obama administration, led by a former professor of constitutional law, that a president can unilaterally decide to have a fellow American done to death, along with whatever non-Americans—like Osama—he deems similarly deserving of that fate.
The Pentagon says a bid on Awlaki’s life was made on May 5. Success would have crowned Obama’s carefully planned “We nailed him” schedule, starting with the revolting late-night speech from the White House not long after Osama’s corpse had been dumped in the North Arabian Sea; the even more revolting interview with Steve Kroft of CBS, in which the president declared several times that justice had been done; and the excursion to Ground Zero. If Obama’s efforts to prove that he’s no wimp continue, we can expect as many bodies on the hustings as decorate the final scenes of Titus Andronicus.
Obama is certainly not the first US president to have taken a keen interest in assassinations. We could start with the bid on Zhou Enlai’s life just before the Bandung Conference in 1955. Then we could move on to the efforts, ultimately successful in 1961, to kill the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba.
The Kennedy years saw the first of many well-attested CIA efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro. In his Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Bill Blum—one of Osama’s favorite authors—has an interesting list of US targets, starting in 1949 with Korean opposition leader Kim Koo and going on to Indonesian President Sukarno, Kim Il-sung of North Korea, Mohammed Mossadegh, Philippines opposition leader Claro Recto, Jawaharlal Nehru, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Norodom Sihanouk, José Figueres Ferrer, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, Gen. Rafael Trujillo, Charles de Gaulle, Salvador Allende, Michael Manley, Ayatollah Khomeini, the nine comandantes of the Sandinista National Directorate, prominent Somali clan leader Mohammed Farah Aidid, Slobodan Milosevic…
In sum, assassination has always been an arm of US foreign policy, just as in periods of turbulence, like the ’60s, it has always been an arm of domestic repression as well. This is true on either side of the executive order President Gerald Ford issued in 1976 banning assassinations. “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination,” stated Executive Order 11905, now inoperative.
Line up Obama with his fellow assassins, from Eisenhower through Bush, and I believe he’s the most repellent of the bunch, down there with Woodrow Wilson. None of his rivals quite match the instinctive egotism that allows Obama effortlessly to affect the earnestness of a man taking the moral high road while executing a cynical program of electioneering-by-assassination.