I remember learning the details about the killing of Osama bin Laden. At the time it was reported that is was a mission in which the military could capture him if that was possible. But, the way I heard it was that they were to shoot him unless there was no possibility he could engage in violence. I guess if they caught him coming out of a shower naked they could know he had no weapons upon him, but otherwise, there was a pretty good chance he was going to be shot down. It was clear to me that the soldiers were there to kill, and not capture, him. This may have been a capture or kill assignment but it was much more on the kill than on the capture. For most Americans that was perfectly fine. If there ever was a villain in the minds of Americans it was bin Laden. Very few Americans mourned his passing. I certainly did not lose any sleep over it.
Why am I bringing back the killing of bin Laden? It is timely in light of what we are learning about Obama’s “kill list”. The leaked document indicates a fairly eager attitude to kill possible enemy combatants. This is not an issue I have looked into deeply but from what I have heard Obama has used hundreds of drone missiles in attempts to kill terrorists or potential terrorists. It goes without saying that some of the misses, and even some of the hits, have resulted in the death of innocent individuals. President Obama may be very progressive on domestic issues, but when it comes to issues of war, he is quite a hawk. No one can mistake him for a pacifist.
Remember that Bush was president when KSM was captured. I believe Bush wanted him captured, unlike Obama’s desire to have Bin Laden killed. If Bush was president it seems to me likely that there would have been more of an emphasis on capturing Bin Laden than killing him. Why? There is a different motivational structure for Bush. Since Bush had no problems using “enhanced interrogation”, or what some people call torture, on captured terrorists, he wanted to capture individuals for information. (We can argue whether or not information can be gained through such techniques. But that is a side point. The main point is that Bush believed that information would be gained through enhanced interrogation and acted on that belief). This made a captured terrorist someone who was valuable to Bush. That terrorist can provide information Bush hoped to use against the terrorist’s organization.
Is it not ironic? Obama may be the most progressive president we have ever had but he is the opposite of a pacifist. He may have pulled American troops out of Iraq and may soon do so out of Afghanistan, but his policies are still killing people at a high rate. Bush had no qualms about killing terrorists, but he wanted to capture certain ones more than kill them. If you are a terrorist your life expectancy is shorter under an Obama administration than a Bush government. Not necessarily because Obama is a more effective terrorist fighter, but because Obama is more motivated to kill, and not capture, terrorists.
Ultimately, this is more than about Bush or Obama. This is about our society. If we ever need proof that the United States is a militarist society then we have it. Obviously there are still pacifists in the United States. But they have no real power in the public policy of the United States. Even among the more progressive political party, a Dennis Kucinich is not going to get nominated. We are a militaristic society. Pacifism is not an American value. If Obama feels obligated to engage in an aggressive militaristic foreign policy then we should expect any future president to the right of Obama to be just as aggressive. And as I stated before Obama is probably the most progressive president we have ever had.