In his commencement address, Bush described some recent and projected advances in U.S. military technology, placing particular emphasis on the growing precision with which it can apply lethal force. Moving from tactics to strategy, Bush added,
Technology changes the balance of war in another important way: We can now strike our enemies with greater effectiveness, at greater range, with fewer civilian casualties. In this new era of warfare, we can target a regime, not a nation, and that means terrorists and tyrants can no longer feel safe hiding behind innocent life. In the 21st century, we can target the guilty and protect the innocent, and that makes it easier to keep the peace.
To "target a regime" does not, of course, mean to blow up its flags and filing cabinets. It means to "kill enemy leaders." And to judge from the smart bombs lobbed (albeit ineffectually) at Saddam Hussein and his sons, Bush means what he (almost) says.
I do not point out Bush's embrace of assassination as a military policy to criticize him. To the contrary, I think the policy reveals wisdom, courage, and a sense of justice.
It reveals wisdom because it recognizes that disincentives matter. Most politicians, to say nothing of tyrants such as Saddam, care far more about their own deaths than the deaths of their soldiers and citizens. The U.S. military can now credibly threaten to assassinate foreign enemy leaders. Bush's announced policy puts that useful tool to work.
Bush's embrace of assassination military policy reveals courage, too, because it invites in-kind reprisal. Given the overwhelming advantages possessed by the U.S. military, granted, Bush faces far less of a threat from foreign enemy leaders than he can pose to them. Still, Bush has in some measure put his own life on the line.
He has done so for the right reasons, however. Bush's assassination military policy stands reduce the salient injustice of warfare. As Bush said, "we can target the guilty and protect the innocent. . . ." I'll add that Bush's assassination military policy also tends to spare less-than-perfectly-innocent parties such as soldiers acting under orders, instead focusing on their undoubtedly guilty superiors.
I am of course not condoning all of Bush's military or foreign policies. I think, however, that Bush merits praise both for targeting foreign enemy leaders and for admitting (if in less direct language than I've used) that he has adopted an assassination military policy.