Patricia Zengel

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The availability of assassination of foreign leaders as a means of achieving United States foreign policy objectives is an issue that has proven in recent years to be a recurring one. However, it does not arise in isolation; instead it is almost always part of a larger political controversy over United States foreign policy objectives and whether force of any kind should be used to pursue them. Certainly this was true with regard to the controversies that surrounded United States policy, including alleged involvement in assassination plots toward Cuba, Vietnam, the Congo, and the Dominican Republic in the 1960s, and toward Chile in the early 1970s. It is also true, though to a lesser degree, of more recent debates concerning the United States air strike against Libya in April 1986 and the role of the United States in Panama prior to the December 1989 invasion. In each case there was, or later developed, significant disagreement over the appropriateness of United States policy toward the nation involved and over the use of force to induce changes in the nature or activities of its government.

Inevitably, such disagreements have tended to distract attention from the manner in which force might be applied; if the chosen objective appears not to be a legitimate one or if the use of force seems unjustified, the relative merit of an -attack on a military installation, for example, as seriously or productively considered. The recent war in the Persian Gulf has again revived the controversy and provided a new opportunity for debate. This time, however, the issue appeared more starkly framed than previously. Public doubt as to the legitimacy of the immediate objective-the ejection of Iraq from Kuwait-was for the most part absent, and although there was disagreement about the timing and amount of coercion to be used, force was generally perceived as a legitimate option. The American public perceived Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, hardly a sympathetic image, as probably the least ambiguous villain of the second half of the twentieth century. Unchallenged by any significant political opposition prior to the war, he appeared as the sole instigator of Iraq's seizure of Kuwait, as well as the cause of its intransigence in the face of international insistence that it withdraw.