180 Off Course

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Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) has proposed a bill — House Resolution 19 — which would allow American presidents to assassinate foreign leaders.

Apparently, the United States has a case of murder envy: no other country on earth has the same restrictions that the US does. Currently, not only can the president not kill foreign leaders, but no government employees can either. When did America go so wrong?

Congressman Barr is quoted by Fox News as saying that "The president of the United States, whichever president it is, Republican or Democrat, ought always to have available to him the whole range of options."

First, what precisely is "the whole range of options"? It would seem that this must include torture, drawing and quartering, and perhaps tarring and feathering. If so, how does this fit with Congressional blathering about "human rights"? It appears that human rights only count if they are the human rights of the "right sort" of people, i.e. people whose plight, when championed in front of TV cameras, will keep politicians in power.

Second, what sort of world would it be if Bill Clinton — Mr. Scruples himself — had had the power which Barr seeks to give to whatever used car salesman happens to slink into the Executive Mansion?

Jon Dupre of Fox News displays a dry sense of humor in writing that "If the ban were lifted, the US government theoretically could knock off such enemies as Saddam Hussein of Iraq, who survived a crushing military defeat but is still a threat in the Middle East, and Fidel Castro of Cuba."

What would Hussein and Castro do if the assassins miss their mark? I seem to recall some discussion of Castro and JFK in this regard.

Also bad is what will happen should an assassin succeed: civil disorder is one possible result in a totalitarian nation which suddenly faces a power vacuum at the top.

It is also reasonable to expect that the inhabitants of a nation whose leader is killed by Uncle Sam will despise the United States for some time to come.

Even if an assassinated leader is unpopular at home, people have a funny way of reacting when meddling bystanders interfere in their own troubles. Imagine, for a moment, the anger that Americans would have felt if Bill Clinton — lecherous and mendacious as he was — had been assassinated by a foreign nation. Many who otherwise despised Clinton would nonetheless have responded to this attack on American sovereignty with great vengeance.

These are not good things.

Rather than engineer new ways to make the rest of the world hate us, the feds ought to think long and hard about the fact that foreign leaders might not hate us in the first place if Uncle Sam were not the bully of the world.

Representative Barr’s resolution is a recipe for starting wars, not ending them.

Mr. Dieteman is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

© 2001 David Dieteman

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