Had Gaddafi, rather than his son, died at the weekend, and the regime had then collapsed, how many of us would have wept? If it was assassination, rather than targeted "command and control", so what?I have a lot of sympathy for this argument. But what if taking out (to use a euphemism) Gaddafi were to save lives? Or to put it another way, what if mealy-mouthed adherence to the rule of international law would lead to the deaths of Libyan (or Syrian) rebels (or freedom fighters, if you prefer)? I genuinely don't know the answer; and I don't envy those who have to struggle with the problem.
The overwhelming answer must be just two words: international law. The law may sometimes be an ass, and particularly when we are dealing with bloody and complex global issues, riven with hypocrisy and double standards. But it is all we have. The UN may be an infuriatingly slow, compromising and mealy-mouthed confederation of tyrannies, democracies and kleptocracies. It's all we have. Cast it aside, cast aside international law, and there is nothing but might is right, arms, oil and profits.
Nor am I sure that the assassination of Osama bin Laden is an occasion for rejoicing. Maybe he deserved it, but is such an action a legitimate tool of statecraft? Yes, al-quaida has no qualms about murdering people but are we not supposed to be better?
All very difficult.