A new book (Double Down: Game Change 2012, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann) claims that US president Barack Obama told his aides during his last election that he’s “really good at killing people.” He’s right.
For example, last Friday a drone strike targeting Hakimullah Mehsud of the Tehreek-e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP) reportedly ended his life and at least 25 other lives. As if to provide further proof of the president’s status as a successful killer, the death toll from that decision might reach much higher than those directly affected. That’s because that strike was in direct violation of reported promises to Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab Province, that the United States would not perform any drone strikes during their peace talks with the TTP. Apparently those talks hinged on this promise, and the TTP immediately withdrew, saying they want no peace with “US slaves.”
The United States State Department’s response was to claim that the peace talks were “an internal matter” for Pakistan. “Internal matter” or not, it was a hope for peace in Pakistan, and it takes quite a calloused soul to call in the strike in spite of that.
You might be saying to yourself that even with his ongoing program of drone killings across the Middle East, at least Obama has slowly moved away from United States involvement in Iraq. If you did, you spoke too soon. The same day that he gunned down hopes for peace in Pakistan, Obama met with Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. The focus of these talks — curiously not prevented by a drone strike from either side’s allies — was on how the US government could help “push back” against al Qaeda in Iraq.
Along with his general wisdom about all topics related to killing, Obama gifted al-Maliki with additional military aid. Among Obama’s contributions to that cycle of violence will be F-16 fighter jets placed in the prime minister’s hands.
Of course, all of this came Obama’s suggestion that those dead from the Iraq War would be most honored if Iraq became more of a functioning democracy. Presumably, this means being like the functioning democracy that started the war.
Obama might rest assured that al-Maliki will use this gift of military strength to usher in a new era of peace and freedom, but the citizens of Iraq have reason to feel differently. It doesn’t seem unlikely that the growing disorder in Iraq is partially due to his own kleptocratic and authoritarian behavior.
To give al-Maliki the weapons he needs might be one way of combating al Qaeda, but it’s also one way to ensure the continued violent repression of Iraqi civilians.
This highlights one of those things that make Obama so truly excellent at killing people: even when he can’t bring the bloodshed directly, he can at least help some other government do it their way. Often, there are also domino deaths resulting from the blowback or social unrest his more direct involvement causes, as in the earlier mentioned strike on Pakistani peace.
However, this technical prowess isn’t unique to him. It’s not just Obama who’s “really good at killing people.” Hiroshima and Nagasaki know all too well how good Truman was at it. Lyndon Johnson’s campaigns in Viet Nam, too, are hard to compete with.
Beyond just the United States, other heads of state (such as the aforementioned al-Maliki) aren’t too bad themselves. There are plenty of examples so obvious I don’t even need to name them. Yet it also applies to every head of state, especially in the operation of their police force, as long as they want to keep being a head of state.
There are plenty of areas of reasonable debate about whether government is effective or ineffective. Killing isn’t one of them.
If you value people dying in large numbers without any end in sight, keeping the governments of the world in power is your best bet. If you value people not dying in large numbers without any end in sight, working against government might not solve it, but it probably wouldn’t hurt.