Seeking consistent standards for using lethal drones, the Obama administration is drafting a manual to govern when such attacks can be unleashed. But the secret guidelines carry other risks, including the acceptance of assassination as a routine part of U.S. foreign policy, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.
By Paul R. Pillar
In one sense the Obama administration’s reported creation of a “playbook” establishing rules for killing alleged terrorists helps to meet calls from outside commentators — this one included — to clarify the criteria that are being applied to such assassinations.
Writing this kind of manual, however, has another side. It represents the institutionalization of worldwide assassinations as a regular, ongoing business of the United States government. As such it raises larger questions, which the playbook might not address at all, of how an assassination program does or does not conform with the pursuit of U.S. national interests.
Institutionalization of anything entails a bias toward its indefinite continuation, and maybe even its expansion. This tendency has often been discussed regarding other government programs, sometimes with a tie-in to what is outside government.
The military-industrial complex about which Eisenhower warned, for example, represents a bias toward big defense expenditures and military operations to justify such expenditures. Likewise, it has often been remarked that creation of a bureaucracy to run domestic program X immediately creates a vested interest in favor of continuing and even expanding program X. Why should such tendencies not be just as likely to appear with an assassination program? ....................(more)