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What If Herman Cain Had a Kill List?

Many Democrats trust Obama to order assassinations anywhere on earth based on his judgment. Do they trust whatever Republican next wins?

Reuters, Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg

"What is wrong," asks Amy Davidson, "with the president sitting in a room, looking at lists and portraits of people -- a Somali man, a seventeen-year-old girl, an American citizen -- and deciding whom to kill?" If only it were a rhetorical question. In fact, Obama has assigned himself that macabre job, according to reports in the Times and Newsweek that note the enormous faith he has in his own judgment. "It would be more responsible, though, if he had less," Davidson argues. "If he thought that he was no better than any other president we've had or ever will. The point isn't just the task, or burden, he takes on, but the machine he has built for his successors to use. Perhaps, just to suggest a range, he could picture each of the Republican contenders from this past season being walked through the process, told how it works, shown some of those video clips with tiny people and big explosions, and taking it for a test drive." Yes, what if that happened?

White House Situation Room. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain wait to take their respective turns as head of the kill list, per an agreement with a lame duck Obama that his supporters are calling "12 dimensional chess" while his detractors insist he has once again rolled over for Republican demands. President-elect Mitt Romney goes first. The Obama team is pleasantly surprised by how much his cool-headed, unemotional approach resembles the manner of their boss, despite his insistence, before parting with the reporters in the hallway, that he is 'severely anti-terrorism.' Hard-working and methodical, Romney actually proves more efficient when acting as judge, jury, and executioner, insisting that the kill list be put into Excel and the photos of suspected terrorists in PowerPoint. He puzzled the Obama team only when, having already approved strikes against suspects that lived with their wives and small children, he refused to order a strike on a lone terrorist living in an animal hospital. "For Pete's sake, I do have an approval rating to worry about," he said, "and Gail Collins is just waiting to pounce."JOHN BRENNAN: I'm sorry, Speaker Gingrich, we can only permit you to bring one person with you. It's the most secure of rooms.

GINGRICH: I'm sorry, Professor Yoo. Come on, Callista.

BRENNAN: Okay, Speaker Gingrich, the individual photographed here is the first we'll tackle. He's a Yemeni --

GINGRICH: Now, wait a minute. Are you telling me that we've only got a black and white photo of this --

BRENNAN: I've got a color photo here, Mr. Speaker.

GINGRICH: Be that as it may, this is fundamentally the wrong approach to the visual display of information in this office. What Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt both understood is the importance of vision, and before I go any farther I want a a holographic image of the individual I'll be ordering killed, and a collateral damage mitigation strategy that minimizes civilian deaths by applying the Lean Six Sigma principles that should have been animating this process from the start.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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