When it comes to the Middle East, and Israel Palestine, there are few writers who are more controversial right now than Peter Beinart. His new book, the Crisis of Zionism, has either elicted vitriol and praise among Israel/Palestine writers' circles. Even if one opposes Beinart's theses or approaches to make Israel a better liberal democracy, the book is still an important read. Yet, this week, Beinart published an article regarding the current crisis in Syria where President Bashar Al-Assad is killing his own people.
In an article forthe Daily Beast, Beinart claims "Let me be clear: I’m not proposing that we try to kill Assad," but rather asserts that "Given how far America has moved in that direction in recent years, trying to assassinate Bashar al-Assad doesn’t seem radical at all." However, throughout the article, Beinart displays a misunderstanding of America's history of assassinations.
First, Beinart explains "the United States has made it pretty clear—especially under President Obama—that we are willing to kill in order to stop regimes from butchering their own people." To assert his point, Beinart points to Kosovo, Serbia, and Libya and the fact that all of those instances the United States was willing to intervene. However, Beinart misses a crucial point; while the US did intervene, in none of those cases, did the United States kill the actual leaders of these movements.
Slobodan Milosevic, who was an instigator in the Kosovo and Bosnian conflicts was put on trial for his actions and died whilst awaiting trial. Libyan strongman Moammar Qaddafi was not killed by the Americans but rather was executed by a group of rebels and even then there was controversy, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a vocal critic of Qaddafi, saying the action discredited the legitimate desires of the Libyan people. In those instances, the US took on a supporting role, and committing an assasination would be taking a front seat role because by killing the leader, one becomes directly responsible for ensuring there is future leadership.
He continues in claiming that because the United States is willing to kill terrorists, they should be willing to kill heads of state. Yet Beinart's analogy is flawed. Whether the drone strikes or targeted assassinations are justified or even constitutional is besides the point-at least for this blog post; they are not committed against foreign heads of state but rather a group of terrorist thugs. Other than dealing with the ire of Pakistani or Afghan heads of state and the civilian casualties, there is no need to prop up a new provisional temporary person to take the place of these leaders, like there would be with killing Assad.
This point is proven by Beinart's further misreading of history when he says that the United States has lead coups that caused the deaths of heads of state, such as Salvador Allende in Chile, Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, as if these were all successful examples to point to. Yet what Beinart fails to mention is that all of these instances led to extreme difficulties for the civilian populations and Beinart shows a bit of intellectual carelessness by using the freshly-ended Iraq War as an example.
Furthermore, there is a great degree of hypocrisy in this claim. In it, he says "Fine, you say, but there’s an executive order against assassinating heads of state. That’s true, but we don’t exactly abide by it." Yet, with this Machiavellian statement, Beinart completely ruins any moral authority to preach the thesis behind the Crisis of Zionism, which urges Israel to live up to the democratic values as conceived by David Ben-Gurion, Theodor Herzl and Stephen Wise. In addition, in an interview with CBS' the Early Show, Beinart distinctly stated "Pro-American is what is in line with the principles of our constitution and declaration of independence not what our government does." If Beinart uses executives flouting laws to justify killing heads of state, how can he expect to hold Israel accountable to its own democratic ideals?