Decapitation is a poor substitute for strategy.


Ralston remained skeptical. Clark wrote off his fellow four-star’s inability to grasp the obvious as evidence of “the military’s innate conservatism.” Yet far more striking is Clark’s attribution of the problem in Kosovo to the machinations of one particularly nasty individual. Bosnia had taught Clark that “quarrels in the region were not really about age old religious differences but rather the result of many unscrupulous and manipulative leaders seeking their own power and wealth at the expense of ordinary people.” By implication, removing or at least intimidating unscrupulous leaders offered the most direct path to giving ordinary people the justice they deserved.

Such a perspective, dismissing political or historical complexities that might impede the use of American power, was by no means peculiar to Clark alone. In hawkish circles, such thinking exerted considerable appeal. In September 1998, for example, a group of foreign policy notables—the sort that convened for luncheons at SAIS—published a full-page letter to President Clinton in The New York Times, urging more forceful action in Kosovo. The title of the letter summarized its message: “Mr. President, Milosevic Is the Problem.

Although nobody dared to propose openly that the United States should simply bump off the Serb leader, here we glimpse yet again the logic destined in time to find expression in a full-fledged policy of targeted assassination. Bad leaders were preventing good outcomes. Solution? Get rid of them. During the years to come, the United States would repeatedly test this proposition, without evident success. Decapitation was to prove a poor substitute for strategy. Whatever problems the United States was facing in the Greater Middle East, they went much deeper than the actions of a few evildoers.


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Filed under History, Notes on History, Politics

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