- A few weeks ago, in a widely publicized effort, US operatives
used a Predator drone to launch a deadly missile attack on six alleged
members of al Qaida in Yemen. This attack raised profound misgivings in
many places about apparent US adoption of a policy of assassination as
part of the War on Terrorism. The attack was launched with some knowledge
of Yemeni authorities. Even so the setup of the attack by the US Ambassador
and ClA agents as a covert operation on Yemeni territory apparently offended
Yemeni officials. The real shocker, however, was the suggestion by unnamed
officials and experts that this kind of attack could be mounted anywhere,
and the US was likely to do so without prior announcement to the country
whose territory may be so invaded.
- In a not surprising follow-up to the US action, according
to UPI, the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, now plans to attack so-called
terrorist targets in the United States as part of a hardening Israeli approach
to attacks on Israel and on Israelis in places such as Kenya. Since Sharon
and his war cabinet, including Mossad director, Meir Dagan, define as terrorism
any aggressive response or reaction to Israeli Defense Force or Mossad
attacks on the Palestinians, the floodgate is open to attacks on Israeli-defined
enemies anywhere in the world. This decision could be merely taking a page
from the US book, but former Israeli intelligence officers suggest the
matter has been under discussion for some time.
- The United States and Israel between them now are bent
on following a policy that is fundamentally destructive of the integrity
and stability of the nation state system. Sharon may think that the Israeli
lobbies in the United States are powerful enough to defend him and his
government against any adverse reactions from American leadership if Mossad
kills an individual or bombs a suspect building in the United States.
That could be so, even if Mossad screws up as it has in the past. The
Bush team seems to think that the United States can do likewise in unannounced
foreign countries without generating a firestorm of protest. In retaliation
for Kenya and Tanzania bombings, the US carried out pre-emptive attacks
in Afghanistan and Sudan that were hardly screaming successes operationally,
but they have become benchmarks in the declining credibility and respect
for the United States in much of the world.
- Potential impact of any serious pursuit of assassination
policies by the US and Israel will be neither subtle nor confined. There
is a certain arrogance and stupidity in the notion that these two countries
can pursue such a policy without encouraging any government with a grievance
against another to copy it. The notion that a government can send its agents
abroad to wipe out aggravating dissidents in their safe havens has already
been tried by such as Libyan dictator Qadhafi in the United States and
in Europe. Washington already has witnessed one such attack in the infamous
Chilean Letelier case. Pulling out the stops on this type of aggression
will have consequences that no one with any sense would want to see.
- Ironically, the United States will be the main loser.
Our international reputation already is being systematically destroyed
by the Bush administration. Pre-emptive strikes, remote controlled assassinations,
un-supported war in Iraq, and unquestioning support of Israeli actions
against the Palestinians are undermining decades of good standing America
has enjoyed in most of the world. But that is only the beginning.
- The Statue of Liberty is an enduring symbol of American
openness to the poor and the oppressed of the world. Ancestors of millions
of Americans owed their presence here to the reality of that invitation.
In recent years, hardly any of the 185 or so countries of the world have
not been represented in the business, tourist, spiritual, educational,
or migratory traffic to our shores.
- In those numbers are many dissidents and protesters of
the world. They include Sikh militants, Cuban exiles, members of the Lebanese
group Hizballah, Palestinian refugees, and countless other outcasts and
misfits. Up to now their safe-haven has been a protected place. Many of
them can be the natural targets of governments they or their friends and
followers have offended, or to whom they may be in some way threatening.
Unless the United States fights back vigorously against Israeli or any
other invaders seeking to murder their enemies here, that safe-haven will
- Pandora's box has little to compare with the mess either
US or Israeli policy on this issue will make. The smart thing for the United
States is to back away, right now, from any version of assassination or
remote execution. Our leaders should make clear to the whole world that
we have done so. The US then needs to inform Israeli leadership that any
attack against anyone in the United States will be met with whatever force
is necessary to repel, kill or confine the perpetrators. By all bilateral,
multilateral and international organization means, the US must encourage
all governments to deal with the root causes of terrorism in their societies.
Governments--including our own--must also be encouraged to deal with known
terrorists under a system of laws.
- Our system, with all of its problems, is still the best
there is. We should not bargain away our birthright, nor permit others
to erode it for the temporary, even illusory relief that assassination
might bring. Nor should we fool ourselves that it can be confined once
this genie is out of the bottle.
- The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
of the US Department of State. He will welcome comments at firstname.lastname@example.org