Is there a way to punish leaders but not the people?

december has just started a thread asking how the world community should respond to events in Zimbabwe. I was going to post to it, as the Zimbabwe situation has intrigued me for some time, but as I started to type, I couldn’t think of a thing to say (mark this date in history!). So rather than hijack that thread, I decided to start this one to discuss a more general question.

We see the scenario all the time - Evil Leader oppresses people. Often, Evil Leader causes trouble for neighbors. Also quite often, Evil Leader’s oppression causes severe economic problems in his country, leading to poverty, famine, etc.

The world responds with sanctions that either have the side effect of harming the people under Evil Leader’s thumb, or are essentially ineffective - 'you’re such a bad man that we’re gonna recall our ambassador. That’ll show you!!" Compounding this, if the people need help and the world provides it, it often has the effect of propping up Evil Leader - his people are getting food, so they are less likely to revolt, etc.

Any thoughts out there on effective responses to Evil Leaders that don’t screw the population?


Well the obvious – and in many cases the best – solution would be assasination. Your ethics may vary.

I’m interested in this topic, but I don’t know what else to say about it just yet. I’ll probably be back.

– Jer

Always proof-read: assassination.

Another vote for assina… assassasina… asinas… killing the guy.

And two more morally questionable approaches:

Overthrow the government using our military, which worked in Grenada.

Support an indigenous revolution, which didn’t work in Cuba.

There is always constructive engagement. Try to trade with the people, send them movies and tv, improve the standard of living and the dictator’s power might erode… but I also vote for killing the bad guy too. The problem with assassinations is that you often don’t know who or what will replace the void. Are the people better off with the dictator or the civil war that follows his removal?

I don’t think you can say there is one single proper response for all cases.

Why are you assuming that the people shouldn’t be punished?

It seems obvious that many thugs in power enjoy(ed) widespread popular support among their key constituencies: Saddam Hussein; Mohammed Farrach Aidid; Slobodan Milosevic.

Even if you find a way to punish the leader directly, you’ll probably not have solved the essential problem, which is an entire community that refuses to see things our way.

At this point, I’m going to put in a naked plug for the thread I just started that’s dropping like a rock, about the effect on our foreign policy of such communities:

88 views and no replies. Do I smell bad? Do I stand too close to you when I talk? Really, you can tell me.

The trouble is that assassination is a difficult policy to carry out in an open society. The asssasssin…er, killing, has to be carried out in secret in order for it to succeed. But such an important procedure has to be subject to public review, the asssss…sss…hitmen have to be accountable to the public, their methods have to be accountable, etc.

You can’t have an open vote in the House and Senate on whether such and such a scumbag should be killed, otherwise he’s going to get wind of the operation. And our constitution prohibits bills of attainder, so legislation saying such and such a person should be killed without due process of law would be unconstitutional anyway.

The fact is, the tool of assassination isn’t well suited to liberal societies unless we are in a state of war.

Well, lemur your legal arguments against assassination are unavailing. Constitutional prohibitions do not apply to a foreign citizen located in a foreign country.

Rhum Runner - has “constructive engagement” actually ever worked? Not a criticism - a question.


I was under the distinct impression assassholination of heads of state was prohibited un der US law.

It is, but only by Executive Order. A new Executive Order could be issued nullifying the one in question.

For instance, the US president enjoy a large popular support in the US. So, if I consider US policies to be thug’s policies (and one can easily make such an argument), I’m perfectly justified in killing some thousands americans. Right?

Personnally, I’ve way way way much less issues with political assassinations. If the country’s policy is actually morally wrong, the political leaders carry a responsability that no 20 y.o. tank gunner on the battlefield has. Even if the country which ordered the assassination is the one which is wrong, at least, one can argue that the leader assassinated choose to take the risks involved in his position.
Personnally, I wouldn’t shed many tears over the assassination of Hussein, Sharon, or Bush. I’m more worried by the death of some kid in uniform who was burned alive in his truck during the gulf war.

Hello-didn’t the US do this in the past? Only they made the excuse that the leader of the country was a “communist”, because they didn’t like that he didn’t roll over for their businesses. So they overthrew him.

Very, VERY bad idea!

Yes, it’s a bad idea. But bombing the shit out of people with the same purpose in mind is an even worst idea, IMO.

Well, d’uh.

The problem is, once you start allowing the assassination of foreign leaders, it’s open to abuse.

Abuse? Abuse? Will we go over our alloted Leader Assassinations for the month? Will we start killing every leader whose flag we don’t like?
I mean, there are certain things I think the government’s doing somewhat ineptly but I have full faith that the “group of foreign officials we plan on assassinating” list would be kept well under control.

To answer the OP, I think even assassination directly affects the population. As others have said, the new leader could be worse.
But…and I’m just throwing this out here…what if we assassinate the leader and then take over the country? Annex it and, you know, rename it Puerto Rico II or something? I mean, if we see the leader of the country as being that terrible, then surely being a part of the USA couldn’t be worse, right?

I don’t know. I think China is as close as we have come to trying to engage a repressive regime, (I know, not exactly the same thing as a cult of personality dictator) and it does seem to be working. I know China is far from being a good world citizen, but there are signs of progress.

In the long run good responsible government has to come from the governed. It requires an educated population who have an interest in seeing their nation prosper. Encouraging the growth of a middle class is a key factor in acheiving that goal. The problem with military action to overthrow a dictator is that foreign powers make poor nation builders. The dictator is removed, but there is no native infrastructure left behind to support a good governement and little progress is made.

Engaging the “enemy” in trade of goods and ideas is a slow but steady way to erode their power and foster reforms.

Of course there are no perfect solutions to these problems, and if a dictator is murdering thousands of people, it may be that slowly trying to bring them around won’t work, in which case force/assassination and other options should be examined.

Certainly this is a difficult topic. Hard to account for all the potential variables!