What If Herman Cain Had a Kill List?

More

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

Atlantic_situation_room_615.jpg
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.

Callista and I have always thought...

Acting on prearranged instructions to intervene as soon as Gingrich said the words 'Callista and I,' a Secret Service agent passes the former speaker a note saying that he's urgently needed for a remunerative consulting gig, where he'll help "fundamentally transform the National Zoo." BRENNAN: Before we begin, Mr. Cain, a question.

CAIN: (glancing at a note card) Islom Karimov!

BRENNAN: Huh?

CLINTON: (amused) That's the president of Uzbekistan.

BRENNAN: Jesus.

CAIN: I think that we ought to be able to kill 9 terrorists from 9 different countries in 9 minutes. Is there any reason we can't do that?

BRENNAN: That isn't exactly how it works, Mr. Cain, we can't --

CAIN: Excuse me, I was talking to my man Rich. As I said during my campaign, I'm going to rely on my national security advisers, and I'm not going to let Washington insiders keep making all the decisions. 

BRENNAN: I was just explaining that someone has gone to fetch the next batch of photos, so we have to at least wait --

CAIN: What about that guy? Looks to me like he's a fan of sharia law.

CLINTON: (texts "OMG" to Brennan).

LOWRIE: (whispering to Cain) Herman, that's a newspaper photograph of President Obama as a child in Indonesia.

CAIN: My advisor informs me that one isn't a terrorist. I can't verify that myself, but I take his word for it. Next photo?

Yes, it's very amusing to poke fun at all the dubious figures that run for president. Too bad that Obama has decided to aggrandize for every future winner the power to kill anyone on earth, subject only to the whims of whoever happens to be heading the executive branch at the time. If Democrats are uneasy handing that power to Republicans, now is the time to act. They've been warned.

Gingrich next enters the room flanked by John Yoo on one side and his wife on the other.

The ploy works.

Rick Santorum enters next with John Yoo. The session that follows is notable mostly for the discomfort of Harold Koh, who'd never permitted himself to ponder the scenario unfolding before him -- a committed social conservative showing more restraint and aversion to the unintended death of innocents than the liberal administration for which he works. He briefly considers resigning his position in the Obama Administration in belated protest, but realizes that he's already taken actions that have alienated his principled friends and acquaintances. Were he to quit now, the "pragmatic" people who've stuck by him, the only allies he has left, would shun him too.

The group is surprised by the vehemence with which the normally mild-mannered Yoo demands that they capture rather than kill at least one terrorist with high value intelligence information to redeem the use of the torture tactics for which he worked so hard to provide legal cover.

And then it is finally Herman Cain's turn. He is grinning as he enters the room, carrying enough Godfather's Pizza for everyone present -- and to everyone's horror, Rich Lowrie is there at his side.

Jump to comments
Presented by

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.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

What makes a story great? The storytellers behind House of CardsThis American LifeThe Moth, and more reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

Just In