When bumping off a leader is justified - Macleans.ca

When bumping off a leader is justified

Barbara Amiel on options in the face of violence and genocide

When bumping off a leader is justified

Alessio Romenzi/Corbis

Sometime soon, the United States may kill President Assad. Because of the delay in taking this action, an estimated hundred thousand are dead and two million Syrians have been turned into refugees. Their only “crime” is to be part of the Arab world in which as yet there are no established, legitimate ways to change power or any institutions that allow ordinary people to have a say in running their own lives.

Assassinating a foreign leader is justifiable for only two reasons: if the interests of one’s own country are threatened or to prevent genocide (Rwanda) or use of chemical or nuclear weapons. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad gets a two out of two. He is the West’s avowed enemy through the conduit of Iranian funds to Hezbollah. Apart from murdering his own people, he has created havoc in the Middle East, including the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.  During a Damascus meeting between Assad and Hariri in August 2004, Assad told Hariri that if he did not follow orders he would pay “a high price.” To be more specific, Assad said, “I will break Lebanon on your head.” Assad being a man of his word, Hariri was blown up in downtown Beirut a few months later.

America is going into isolationist mode, which may not be all bad. But fleeing the playground in the face of bullies is not smart. After little Assad’s father, big bad Hafez al-Assad, was caught red-handed organizing the placement of a bomb on an El Al plane at Heathrow (in the luggage of a pregnant Irish woman by her Arab fiancé who took refuge in the Syrian Embassy after the failed attempt), prime minister Margaret Thatcher threw out the Syrian ambassador. Israel’s president Ariel Sharon gave the go-ahead for a series of targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders when they were sending their suicide terrorists into the coffee shops of Tel Aviv. The leadership of Hamas was not as keen to enjoy 72 virgins and the suicide bombings stopped.  In the event a post-Assad pro-al-Qaeda leader starts up trouble for America, he should be bumped off.  After a few assassinations, the message does get through.

In debates over Middle East violence and terrorism, a lot has been said about the need to reform Islam. It seems to me that the nature of Islam depends largely on the society in which it is practised. Indonesia has the largest population of Muslims in the world and like Turkey tolerates a degree of religious pluralism unknown in the Arab world. I can’t immediately see how one can “reform” Islam where there is a substantial adherence to a fundamentalist strain of the religion that sees the world through 12th-century eyes. The reform of Christianity was a gradual process over hundreds of years. Just how you now take groups of Muslims who truly believe in death to apostates into the modern world is baffling.

Most Arab countries have had independence from colonialism since around the end of the Second World War, they’ve had billions of dollars of aid, some sit on huge pools of oil and yet they still have no civil rights, little if any tolerance for religious minorities and have gone from one sort of dictatorship to another with extremes of wealth and poverty. Jordan is something of an exception but Jordan is essentially British: Winston Churchill drolly remarked that he invented it one sunny Sunday afternoon. Certainly the Arab Legion created there after the First World War to support the new monarchy was Sandhurst-trained. And when the monarchy was threatened by Palestinians, PLO supporters were expelled from the country in short order.

So long as Arab leaders blame other people—Great Satan America or Little Satan Israel—for their own inability to create a successful modern society, there will be a sense of deprivation and the mobs will rally to the side of demagogues telling them all their woes are caused by the West. “In those days,” said a Moroccan street trader after his country gained its independence in 1956, “we thought we Muslims would live the way Christians live, with villas, cars and servants but now we are no better off . . . now the Fassis [leaders of the nationalist movement] rule as the Christians used to . . . those of us who toil for a mouthful of bread have gained nothing.”

I am writing nothing that many courageous Arabs do not say: Saudi-born author Hani Nakshabandi speaking on Emirates TV last June said, “Everything written in our history books should be re-examined. We resent Europe as if it had been immersed in darkness and ignorance until we came along and ushered in an era of light . . . Wherever you go in the Arab world—in Egypt, Morocco—you see people that still live like cavemen.” This week, Egyptian political journalist  Ibrahim Essa wrote in the New York Times: “Under Mubarak I was threatened only with prison; under Mr. Morsi my life was in danger.” Many of the demonstrators against Mubarak did not anticipate the election of the Muslim Brotherhood and the consequent dilemma of electing a political party that was swiftly putting into place the machinery for an Islamist state. Ideally, Egyptians would have thrown out the Brotherhood next election but what if the new constitution with its ambiguities removed the possibility of a next election?  In poetry the lamb and lion lie down together but, practically speaking, any lamb trying that probably won’t ever get up again.

Profoundly non-Western concepts such as tribal shame and honour influence the Arab mind (analyzed brilliantly in David Pryce-Jones’s book The Closed Circle) to be manipulated by political tyrants, religious zealots  and anti-democratic ideologies. We can only wait until Arabs themselves produce good leaders and pray they do not suffer the fate of Anwar Sadat who died under a lethal combination of 20th-century ammunition and 10th-century wisdom as exemplified by Iraqi poet al-Muttanabi: “High honour,” he wrote around 960, “is not safe from injury until blood is spilt over its flanks.”

Have a comment to share? barbara.amiel@macleans.rogers.com

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When bumping off a leader is justified

  1. Dear Barbara,

    How do you make sure you are “bumping off” the right guy? and if you think that this can be done with impunity, then I advise you to go live a little while in Israel and see how really efficient the Bumping Off doctrine has worked:

    Is Israel really safer?

    For every terror leader bumped off, it has been proven that a more careful and more radical one replaces him, and as a result, more Israeli citizens die.

    Maybe you should watch Munich by Spielberg to get a hint of what I am talking about.

    The solution has to be political and if force is to be used, it is in a last resort and with fully determined actions. But this is not what the US have in store for Syria. The declared aim is not to oust the dictator, but to warn him “not to do this again”. The message is: “it’s ok to massacre your people but with conventional weapons please.” Simply because the West has an interest in keeping Syria in a prolonged civil war.

    • Israel’s safety and security has been their choice(or maybe a small minorities choice like here) for years. If they left Palestine now, unfortunately the anger could last for a generation or more and they would still be in trouble.

  2. The argument seems to be that we need to encourage the Arab countries to establish the rule of law (western style) by thoroughly trashing the rule of law (western style).

    • This is cognition that heretofore was restricted to the Ruling Class. You will be punished for revealing this to the unlettered masses.

  3. The West has an interest in keeping Syria in a prolonged civil war? Do you subscribe to the Al-Jazeera channel? Middle Eastern leaders have been ‘bumping’ each other off for centuries now. Why are you so worried about having Bashar al-Assad retired? Maybe you’d like to be ‘detained’ in a prison cell in Aleppo in order to solicit a ‘confession’ of your complicity in aiding the rebels. Perhaps you’d like to be gassed in an attack by the Syrian army. If you’re trying to rationalize the cold blooded murder of unarmed civilians, of women and children, you’re doing a good job. Keep up the good work.

    • I do not give much of Assad’s regime. But you seem eager to see again the western allies try to fix anything in a region full of old grudges that pre-date our civilisation. And if you believe anybody in this world does anything without interests in mind, then I’d like you to send me whatever you smoke to feel the same.

      And of course, your idea of fixing the prob. is with more bombs. Brilliant stuff. Maybe you’d like to go get a job at a check point in Iraq as a regular GI and be useful as the others have been at separating the two loving and caring muslim communities of Shias and Sunnis….. soon maybe you could apply for such a job in Syria as well….

      • How’s life in the cowards brigade Popov? Apologists like you are a dime a dozen. Just a bunch yellow belly whiners like the Brits, led by the Labour Party, who voted down the motion for a surgical strike against a murderous Middle Eastern thug like Assad. Real men are needed to step up to the task of dealing with this civil war, not pathetic little boys like you.

        • The same real men that did such a great job in Afghanistan and Iraq?

          Your record on making a good effect in this region (or any as a matter of fact) by launching missiles and drones (weapons of real men indeed) isn’t really a success story mate.
          Good luck dealing with this civil war.

  4. The problem of “bumping off” the leader of a foreign nation is that it legitimizes the process. It put all leaders at risk of being bumped off by enemy states.
    There’s a part of me that thinks, just maybe, it might save lives. But I’m not at all certain of that – and I’m not sure throwing out the rule of law for such an uncertain outcome is worth it.

    • Ask JFK what happens when your attempts to bump off foreign leaders fail.

  5. “Assassinating a foreign leader is justifiable for only two reasons: if
    the interests of one’s own country are threatened or to prevent genocide
    (Rwanda) or use of chemical or nuclear weapons.”

    “Assassinating a foreign leader is justifiable for only three reasons” if
    the interests of one’s own country are threatened or to prevent genocide
    (Rwanda) or use of chemical or nuclear weapons or if they cross a red line”

    “Assassinating a foreign leader is justifiable for only four reasons” if
    the interests of one’s own country are threatened or to prevent genocide
    (Rwanda) or use of chemical or nuclear weapons or if they cross a red line or Israel requests it”.

    Wasn’t this based on a Monty Python sketch?

    • Anybody who mentions Monty Python gets my vote…

  6. There is a civil war in Syria. Civilians are being killed intentionally and by accident by both sides. Both sides are detestable but there is no genocide. Assad isn’t attacking the rebels because they are Sunnis but because they are in rebellion. There must be a Middle Eastern proverb about not stopping one’s enemies from killing each other. We should follow it.

    BTW using “one’s own countries interests are threatened” as a justification for assassination is more a Bourne plot device than a rationale position. Perhaps Amiel meant “vital interest” which of course means there should be nothing done by the US WRT Syria as no vital interests are involved however that would mean Syria has every justification for assassinating the POTUS and if he’s not available then why not ambassadors or generals?

  7. “…….After a few assassinations, the message does get through……”

    Did you know that Burmese General Aung San was a Communist and collaborated with the Japanese during WW II. When the Japanese began to lose the war he switched his ‘allegiance’ to the British.
    In 1947, British-backed U Saw saw fit to assassinate him and a few of his comrades. The message was received.
    The sins of the father must be visited upon the daughter, Suu Kyi. High honour is not safe from injury until blood is spilt over its flanks for at least two generations.

    And I don’t like Mother Teresa much either.

  8. So in summing it all up. Everyone concerned with what’s happening in Syria will find a way out of having to do what’s right. Cowards always do.

  9. “Assassinating a foreign leader is justifiable for only two reasons: if
    the interests of one’s own country are threatened or to prevent genocide
    (Rwanda) or use of chemical or nuclear weapons.”
    Firstly isn’t that three reasons?
    But the main point is what was the point the writer was trying to make? The whole thing seemed like a mishmash of randomly positioned paragraphs with no real direction except to tell the Arab world to grow up and possibly root for the assassination of Assad or not.

  10. Let us take Gadhafi as it explains the corruption of politicians deciding who lives and dies.

    Everyone was all ok with Gadhafi for many decades as long as the oil flowed and he accepted Euro/USD fiat money.

    But when he started actions like a United West Africa that would hurt colonialism, and wanted value like gold for Libya resources as G8 money is losing value, western politicians vilified him out of political convenience.

    We cant trust our own crooked politicians as they can’t tell us the truth about Syria either. Just push the propaganda, BS and push it long enough the people believe it.

    Well, I am not that gullible. Lots of evidence of rebels using chemical weapons, you just have to be willing to look beyond the propaganda. Lots of UN reports on rebels using chemicals from Saudi/UAE counties, even a video from a few month ago on a previous attach.

    But no one is forcing Obama to ask a serious question, why is Obama supporting 9/11 like terrorists?

    • I guess that was Barbara’s point: Gadhafi or Saddam became inconvenient and threatened the oil business, so they got bumped off: “you want to sell oil using other currencies than USD?” Bumped.

  11. Leave Syria alone. There is no “good guy” in this fight. Only the Assad regime on one side and the Islamic extremists on the other.

    Normal everyday Syrians are the only victims here, and dropping bombs on them is not going to help them. An attack on them will only destroy their infrastructure, and cause collateral damage on their homes and businesses.

    Why, when there were clear “good guys” and “bad” like the situation in Mali did the West not intervene, but in this situation in the heart of the Middle East that will likely quickly spill over into other countries in the region, with NO good outcome possible, are they willing to create an international incident pitting Russia and America against each other in a shooting war?

    What good could possibly come of destroying Syrian homes do?

  12. There’s always a temptation to take the quick and easy fix – just bump off the bad guys, what if someone had done for old Adolph for instance? Some times it works, often it just leads to another cycle of agony or just delays it for a while. Playing god isn’t generally a good idea, and it’s so subjective…i wonder if BA felt the same way about the assassination that gave rise to Pinochet? One should be cautious when one plays god Ms Amiel.

    As for the stuff about Arabs needing to take charge of their own destiny and becoming good guys like us – what self serving drivel. The west actively connived in many of the most repressive and abhorrent episodes of modern Arab history…Mubarak only threatened jail, while Morsi threatened your life – what utter bilge.

    • Sometimes the worst of politicians make sensible comments. When Putin observes that the use of poison gas by the Syrian army to kill civilians would have made no strategic sense when it is winning the war, and would certainly have aroused the ire of the USA, he should be taken seriously. Why would the coldly calculating Assad authorize such a stupid move?
      One doesn’t need missiles or bombs to deleiver sarin. The desired results can be obtained by simply opening the valves on several cannisters. The Wahabist Saudis would have had the motivation, the means and the ruthlessness to organize such a thing to drag the US into combat. I suspect that Obama “gets” this, and that he is hoping that Congress will get him out of the trap that he set for himself with his idiotic “red line” remark.

  13. So many are outraged by (initially 300, now 3000, so pick your number) deaths by gas. How about 100,000 by conventional weapons? I’m sorry, but this whole mess would be done 1.5 years ago and with 1/10 of casualties if the allies didn’t send their support to the rebels. This is not the first time Assad is fighting the Brotherhood, last time it was 1984 (Hamas massacre). I’m not saying one side is better than the other, but at least it leaves 90,000 more people alive.