On Jan. 3, the President of the United States ordered a strike that killed Major General Qasem Soleimani, a leader in the Iranian military, which according to the BBC was “the second most powerful figure in Iran, behind the Ayatollah Khamenei.” To say that this is a big deal is an understatement. The assassination of Soleimani represents perhaps the American blunder in the Middle East since the Iraq War, which resulted in the deaths up to half a million people.
In the following days, Trump tweeted out that he had a list of 52 historically and culturally significant civilian sites in Iran that were targets in the event of retaliation. Striking these places in a conflict, in the absence of a pressing military need, would be a war crime that would be a modern Guernica on an even more horrific scale. Threatening war crimes via Twitter sounds like something that you would draw in a game of Cards Against Humanity, but it is yet another disappointing reality of the Trump administration.
Some defenders of the president, such as Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, argued that Soleimani was a bad man who deserved death and thus the assassination was justified. Pundits and politicians of the Republican party have said that he was the most dangerous man in the world, but who had heard of him two weeks ago? Osama bin Laden held that title for years, but Solemani only gained it posthumously it seems. Yes, Soleimani was a bad man, however, there are many bad people that one could argue deserve death. Do Americans such as George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and others deserve death for lying to the world in order to start a war in Iraq under false pretenses that resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties, destabilized the Middle East and cost trillions of dollars? These men have all committed or ordered morally abhorrent and internationally illegal acts. Do other nations have a right to kill them as punishment for their transgressions? Assassination is a tool that is rarely used for a reason: it opens a Pandora’s box and places our own people at the same level as those we targeted. Who knows what will be done in retaliation.
Iran won’t just capitulate to American rhetoric. It is a country fortified on three sides by nearly impassable mountain ranges with a well-trained, well-armed and well-funded military. The United States has been meddling there for decades after Iranians overthrew a U.S.-backed puppet government. They have realized that we are the biggest threat to them and have taken steps to ensure that they can defend themselves. If this blunder by the Trump administration does not result in war, it reinforces an irreversible precedent that says that the United States will not play by the rules it holds others to. The assassination marks a final departure from the notion that America is a city on a hill, shining a light of justice and democracy upon the world. We cannot escape the fact that this is fueled by Republican desires for an America-first agenda that disregards the rights of others and selfishly promotes the interests of those who stand to profit off conflict and chaos, even at the expense of ordinary Americans.
Killing a leader of a powerful regional actor, who controls access to a region that we have entrenched interests in, is tantamount to strategic idiocy. We face universal condemnation of the assassination and the vote of the Iraqi parliament to expel US troops from the country. Killing is, as usual, not the answer. Containing Iran is best done through diplomacy. Actions like the Iran deal that were successful—despite Republican efforts to scuttle it and brew conflict—until the Trump administration tore up the treaty that ended the Iranian nuclear program. You can reverse course on a diplomatic decision, but you cannot un-assassinate somebody. This is the latest in a long line of Republican efforts to lead the United States into a war with Iran that dates back decades. We will see what the coming weeks bring us, but at the time of writing, this war is on the horizon because of a president who is scrambling to distract from his impeachment and reelection campaign. Don’t lose sight of the timing of this—they’re counting on that.