Targeted killings are an original way to create value by destroying it.
In an article for Al Jazeera examining the process of decision-making behind the killing in Malaysia of Fadi al-Batsh, a Palestinian scientist, journalist Ali Younes compares the methods used by Israel’s Mossad for assassinations with those of the CIA. He cites former CIA operations officer, Robert Baer, who explained, “The White House must sign off on any targeted killing operation, especially if it is a high-value target.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Of a quality that makes it worthwhile to suspend one’s normal moral judgment
All human cultures consider value to be positive, the result of human effort and discipline. Even if the object to which value is attributed belongs to a private individual, it is often seen as contributing to the wealth of society. The costly towers private families built to flaunt their wealth in San Gimignano, Italy, contribute to the splendor of the entire town.
In the modern economy — whose rules over the past four decades appear to have been redefined by Nobel Prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman — the notion of value has been reduced a simple criterion: corporate profit. In 2006, The Economist called Friedman “the most influential economist of the second half of the 20th century … possibly of all of it.” Writing in Forbes several years later, Steve Denning dared to hold Friedman responsible for “the world’s dumbest idea.” As he explained, “Sadly, as often happens with bad ideas that make some people a lot of money, shareholder value caught on and became the conventional wisdom.”
Once you follow Friedman and redefine value itself according to a purely monetary calculation, it’s time to admit that a major cultural shift occurs. For shareholders in this new ethos, eliminating your adversary’s value increases your own, opening market share and justifying higher margins. It is the triumph of zero sum thinking.
The Friedman model has proved very powerful. It now influences the way governments work. Even democratically elected officials have begun functioning as if they were the employees of shareholders (people with money to pay for campaigns, not voters). Politicians have become the managers of the national economy, which has taken the form of a virtual corporation, a subsidiary of a group of powerful economic interests, the same ones that finance political campaigns. Presidents and prime ministers of powerful Western nations go abroad to sell what they can — especially the weapons they manufacture — to improve the shareholder value of the corporation they call government.
Denning describes how corporate executives now function, thanks to Friedman’s logic: “[E]xecutives were only too happy to accept the generous stock compensation being offered. In due course, they even came to view it as an entitlement, independent of performance.” Politicians have increasingly followed the same logic, leading them to forget any notion of public service. Corporations finance their campaigns. And when they leave “public service,” the same corporations offer them lucrative employment, the carefully calculated dividends of politics.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) April 23, 2018
Although the Romans were far from alone in their awareness that nothing physical can last — Sic transit gloria mundi — all human societies have tended to seek ways to retain value as long as possible. People with valuable skills, like Fadi al-Batsh, represent an investment society has made in their education. Their ability to solve problems is a lasting asset for the society they live in, so long as they last, of course. Their skills add to the wealth of their nation and, in the case of science, to the wealth of the world.
Once upon a time, the CIA, collaborating with the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) on Operation Paperclip, was so convinced of this truth that, in the aftermath of World War II, it recruited every German Nazi scientist it could find to work on its defense program and eventually on the US space program. They deemed these men, including Werner von Braun, “high-value targets,” not to be assassinated but to be preserved and mobilized for their own purposes.
Times have changed, though there may be an easier explanation. There was more cultural affinity between Nazi Germany and the Cold War America in the aftermath of World War II, at least in their attitude toward the importance of science, than there is today between Israel and the Palestinians.
And, of course, one other thing has changed: Assassination has become increasingly banalized as the statistics show. George W. Bush authorized 48 targeted killing operations; Barack Obama, 353. Numbers for Donald Trump, more than a year into his presidency, have not been released, but many have pointed out that his policies promise exponential growth.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.