The Stephanopoulus Option.--

The excerpts from George Stephanopoulus's December 1, 1997 Newsweek column ("Why We Should Kill Saddam") that I've seen on the web come from Newsmax. Yet there is a lot that is interesting in the rest of the piece, besides the portions already quoted. I have been unable to find a link for those who don't have LEXIS/NEXIS (or perhaps WESTLAW).

For example, Stephanopoulus says that he raised the idea of killing Saddam Hussein in a meeting in the Clinton Oval Office, but it was immediately ruled beyond discussion:

IN THE MIDDLE OF A CRISIS WITH IRAQ DURING PRESIDENT Clinton's first term, I wondered aloud in an Oval Office meeting about the prospects of killing Saddam Hussein. Before I could finish the sentence, the then national-security adviser Tony Lake looked up to the light fixtures and said: "He was just kidding. We're not planning anything like that." Of all the words you just can't say in the modern White House, like "shred this," none is more taboo than "assassination."

For good reason. Most of our cold-war efforts to kill foreign leaders like Fidel Castro (we planned to use exploding cigars and poisoned scuba suits) bordered on the comical — and rarely worked. So in the wake of the Church Committee's revelation of CIA abuses in places like Cuba, Chile and the Congo, President Ford signed a sweeping, one-sentence executive order: "No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination."

But what's unlawful — and unpopular with the allies — is not necessarily immoral. So now that I'm not in the White House, I can say what I couldn't say then: we should seriously explore the assassination option. Even though the current crisis may be subsiding temporarily, we don't know what the future holds. A direct attack on Saddam would no doubt be politically risky — the president, concerned about his place in history, would be torn between the desire to get rid of a bully and the worry that an assassination plan gone awry would embarrass him late in his term. But the president should think about it: the gulf-war coalition is teetering and we have not eliminated Saddam's capacity to inflict mass destruction. That's why killing him may be the more sensible — and moral — course over the long run.

Stephanopoulus then goes into just-war theory and the practical problems with getting Saddam. He even expresses doubt that a massive US war with allies would be able to topple Saddam's regime:

Experts like former CIA director Robert Gates have said that assassination is a "non-option" because Saddam is so elusive and well protected. That's the strongest argument against assassination. But it loses some force when stacked against the alternatives: an indefinite extension of the sanctions that punishes the most vulnerable Iraqis without weakening Saddam or eliminating his ability to build weapons of mass destruction; or a massive military campaign that will crack the gulf-war coalition, risk allied troops and kill innocent Iraqis without ensuring Saddam's fall.

Next he notes that President Reagan used a "targeted airstrike against the homes or bunkers" of "Libya's Muammar Kaddafi."

Stephanopoulus ends:

A misreading of the law or misplaced moral squeamishness should not stop the president from talking about assassination. He should order up the options and see if it's possible. If we can kill Saddam, we should. [Quotations from LEXIS]

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. The Stephanopoulus Option.--
  2. Assassination as a Tool of Foreign Policy: