Wednesday, August 24, 2005

 

Replace the armed forces with snipers

The call by Pat Robertson, the US televangalist, for President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela to be assassinated, was quite amusing. Not just because the USA is curreently embarked on a war on terror but because this is thelatest of several weird staements by the 75 year old. Last year he reckoned liberal judges to be more of a threat than al-Quaida; he recently stated that feminism encourages women to 'kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.' But his advice to his government reflects a widely held view that special forces can do what it would take a proper army to do, only much quicker and cheaper.

I recall a leftwing Labour MP in the late sixties, John Lee MP for Reading, I think it was, who recommended something similar: get rid of the hideously expensive armed forces and substitute a highly trained team of snipers who would be tasked with killing dictators the world over. I also recall that normally extremely realistic and clear thinking Dennis Healey, suggesting that invading Iraq was a mistake as Saddam could have been more easily picked off by special forces.

The problem with such thinking is that it is unrealistic. Firstly it would be in breach of international law. This might not deter some but governments do usually try very hard to stay within elgal limits- if only to avoid their members facing tribunals of enquiry followed by jail or worse at some point in the future. Secondly, dictators are usually very good at one thing: surviving. Saddam survived a number of assassination attempts and took very careful precautions like never sleeping in the same bed twice before moving to another location. His own bodyguards were also highly trained. Thirdly special forces opoperations only work like clockwork in Hollywood. In practice debacles such as those which happened in Iran in 1978 and in Somalia some years later, tend to happen all too often. The CIA, it is famously recorded, once tried to kill Castro and were reduced to considering an exploding cigar to do the job. It's a nice idea but seductively impractical.

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