Kill and Let Die

NEW YORK – By a strange but fitting coincidence, US President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, held their final debate – which focused on foreign policy – just as the new James Bond film, Skyfall, had its world premiere in London. Although 007, who turned 50 this year, is a British-born global brand, his influence on the American political psyche – and that psyche’s influence on Bond – is obvious.

Indeed, the latest production is a British-American partnership, and the violent special-operations action hero that Bond has come to embody reflects US assumptions about foreign policy and the rule of law. The presidential debate merely reinforced the dominant real-time plotline: Assassinating people (including US citizens) solely on the president’s orders, once considered a war crime, has become an applause line.

That is as true for Romney as it has been for Obama. Romney asserted that his foreign policy was “pretty straightforward.” It was, he said, “to go after the bad guys, to make sure we do our very best to interrupt them, to kill them, to take them out of the picture.” In other words, he would “kill them” where they were found, not only on the battlefield, but also in other sovereign countries, such as Pakistan, without charge or trial.

Obama, for his part, scored points by shaming Romney for having opposed the illegal raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. Later, he championed the drone-strike strategy that he has used to “kill bad guys” without charge or trial. Romney cheered. Neither candidate mentioned that, by some estimates, the drone strikes have killed far more civilians than “suspected terrorists.” The most authoritative study puts civilian deaths from drone strikes between June 2004 and mid-September 2012 at 474-881, including 176 children.