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.
But to engage in critical thinking we have to go beyond our own personal perceptions. In doing so I recognize that we did not have to focus on killing bin Laden. When the U.S. went after Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), care was taken to capture him instead of killing him. It is possible to capture these terrorists. But President Obama did not focus on capturing bin Laden. He gave orders that almost assured his death.
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 President Bush? I remember the calls for his impeachment because of his prosecution of the war. There were plenty of his critics concerned about the innocents who would be killed. There may have been other ways Bush’s war policy contributed to the death of civilians, but when it came to drone missiles he fired a fraction of the missiles that Obama has fired. I will leave it up to the conservative commentators to point out the possible hypocrisy of progressives not asking for Obama’s impeachment when they asked for Bush’s ouster from office. I think it is more interesting to consider why Obama has, in some ways, a more aggressive attitude towards war than Bush.
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.
On the other hand, a captured terrorist has no value for Obama. What happens if he captures a suspected terrorist? Then he would have to deal with questions of trials and civil liberties. If bin Laden had been captured then Obama has to decide if we use New York or a military base for his trial? Would we be able to get information from Bin Laden if we do not use enhanced interrogations? Does he get the full rights of other criminal defendants which is the right to remain silent? Why would the Obama administration want to deal with those hot potato political questions. Capturing bin Laden would start off as a great political victory, but it would bring about all of these complicated issues and could quickly turn into a public policy nightmare. Thus, a bin Laden with a bullet hole in the head is much better for Obama than a live one in a cell.
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.
Now people can argue whether a policy of killing terrorists is less or more moral than Bush’s subjecting them to “enhanced interrogation”. I am not picking sides in whether it is better to capture or to kill terrorists. Someone like Bin Laden or KSM needs to be either captured or killed. We cannot reason with such vermin. But the assumption that the Democrat administrations are softer on terrorists does not comport with reality. Political motivations to keep terrorists out of jails have ironically made Obama more bloodthirsty to terrorists than Bush.
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.