Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Words Matter - But So Do Actions

When you talk about journalists as "enemy of the people" should you be surprised later on when one of them is murdered?

In recent years, we have seen a host of targeted assassinations by world powers.  Korea kills off a potential successor to the "supreme leader" by using a nerve agent.   Russia similarly poisons a former KGB officer in Great Britain.   Saudi Arabia murders a journalist critical of the royal family by luring him into a consulate - never to be seen again.

You can almost visualize the reaction in the royal palace in Riyadh to the world outcry over the last item.   "But Trump said they were the enemy of the people!  Why are they so upset when we take it to the next level?"

But that is exactly what is going on, sadly.  It is not much different from the rhetoric used in fascist regimes against minority groups.  You demonize and marginalize some scapegoat group and pretty soon, you've convinced a lot of people that the group in question is barely human - and thus worthy of only death.  Oftentimes, you don't have to do the deed yourself, you just energize others to do it for you.  It is not unlike the fatwas made by Islamic leaders - which also result in targeted assassinations as well.

But of course, there are other things going on here.   When it comes to targeted assassinations, well, the US has a pretty good track record of its own.  And of course, today, we use more sophisticated techniques than poisons (traditionally viewed as the passive weapon of choice of women - take that, Putin!), we have drones.    And of course, the people we are killing with drones, are, most of the time, enemy combatants or leaders of terrorist groups.   So it's OK for us to blow someone up in someone else's country, if they are a "bad guy."

The problem is, one person's bad guy is another person's good guy, or at least an innocent in their view.   We may view a traitor to the KGB as a "good guy" or at least someone who hasn't done anything wrong meriting death.  Vlad Putin may have other ideas.   Ditto for Kim Jung-un or the Crown Prince.  Their view of  good versus evil is not aligned with ours.

And this sort of thing is not new. During the Cold War, assassination of defectors was, if not commonplace, at least happened on occasion.  And while we may have raised concerns and made diplomatic noises, in the end, not much got done and the culprits ended up getting away.

So what's the point of this?  Perhaps nothing.   But I won't be surprised when nothing comes of this latest assassination, once the noise dies down and a few news cycles bury the story.  We are not about to give up lucrative arms sales to Saudi Arabia over some "journalist" are we?  And we certainly don't want to cut off the oil pipeline, just as oil is headed to $100 a barrel, now that sanctions are being imposed again on Iran, while the Venezuela oil industry self-destructs.

No, likely we'll make noises of outrage and then continue on, business as usual.  But I suspect as a result, you will see more incidents like this in the future - both here at home and abroad, by State actors and unhinged individuals.   We have given people license to kill, and be killed, through rhetoric and deeds.