Do We Have a License to Kill?

by Patrick J. Buchanan – June 18, 2002

In the old James Bond films, Sean Connery played Agent 007. The double-0 meant Bond was one of but a handful of British agents who were licensed to kill. So it would appear is George W. Bush.

According to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, President Bush has directed the CIA to conduct a covert operation to oust Saddam Hussein from power, and to use all available means, including the Special Forces. Adds Woodward, “Such forces would be authorized to kill Hussein if they were acting in self-defense.”

Now this may not be a presidential assassination order, but few could fault Saddam for thinking Bush intends to kill him. But when the president’s father tried to kill Saddam in Desert Storm, once with a devastating air strike on what turned out to be a civilian air-raid shelter, the Iraqi dictator allegedly reciprocated by trying to assassinate the ex-president in Kuwait in 1993.

Is the White House prepared for this kind of blowback?

For that is what they are inviting by authorizing CIA agents and Special Forces soldiers to kill foreign dictators “in self-defense.”

Some of us recall that when President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy put out contracts on Castro, it was the Kennedys who ended up assassinated, not Fidel. And there were reports that only days before he murdered President Kennedy in Dallas, Lee Harvey Oswald was seen entering the Cuban mission in Mexico City.

Do we really want to get back into this assassination business?

In the 1970s, Congress professed outrage that the CIA, under Ike and JFK, may have “terminated with extreme prejudice” Patrice Lumumba of the Congo and Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. But with Saddam in the cross hairs, Congress is happily going along.

Said Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey of the president’s CIA directive, “If, in fact, we have an opportunity to make the world safer … I’m sure it’s a wise and prudent thing to do.”

Minority Leader Richard Gephardt is also signed on: “It’s trying to bring about a change of regime, because they have continued to flout U.N. resolutions and international law. I think it is an appropriate action to take. I hope it succeeds in its quest.”

But Israel is violating international law by building settlements on occupied land and has flouted 10 times the number of U.N. resolutions as Saddam. By the Gephardt standard, does Iran have a right to bring about “regime change” in Israel? Would Iran be justified in authorizing Hamas to use “lethal force” on Ariel Sharon?

Where does President Bush get the authority to authorize U.S. forces to kill foreign leaders? And if he has the right to overthrow Iraq’s regime for acquiring weapons of mass destruction, does he also have the right to order identical operations against any other “axis-of-evil” nation, such as Iran and North Korea?

And if the president has a right to authorize lethal force to effect regime change in Baghdad, does he have the same rights in Damascus, Havana and Beijing? Exactly what constraints are there on this imperial prerogative of the U.S. president to dictate which regimes shall perish from the earth?

In April, the president gave his reasons for targeting Iraq: “The worst thing that could happen would be to allow a nation like Iraq, run by Saddam Hussein, to develop weapons of mass destruction, and then team up with terrorist organizations so they could blackmail the world. I’m not going to let that happen.”

But effecting regime change, like assassinating foreign leaders, is a game more than one can play.

None of this is said in defense of Saddam or Fidel, but it is said in contempt of a Congress that is alone empowered by the Constitution to declare war. Do members of Congress retain even a vague understanding at what is required of them by the oaths they all took?

Sen. John McCain endorses the president’s covert strategy but believes an invasion of Iraq may be necessary: “If we can do it on the cheap … then, that’s fine. But we have to be prepared to do whatever is necessary to bring about this regime change.”

Well, what is necessary is that the president convince his countrymen that Iraq’s regime must be overthrown, and that Congress authorize the president to go to war to overthrow it.

That is the constitutional way, and that way all those who favor a wider war can share in the triumph, and those of us as yet unpersuaded can hold them accountable if it turns into a debacle.