Qasem Soleimani, a top-level military official within Iran, considered to be second in terms of esteemed figures in that nation (with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei the only person ranked ahead of him, unofficially), was killed Thursday in a drone airstrike on orders from President Donald Trump.
Soleimani’s death, from an American perspective, is likely justified. Very few will say that he was a friend to the U.S., as he was responsible for a number of American servicemembers being killed by IED attacks in the Middle East. In short, he was not a “good guy” by any stretch of the imagination.
With all of that being said, there are three glaringly obvious reasons why his assassination, as ordered by the president of the United States, creates more problems than it solves. Some of them relate to our system of government and violation of norms through the action itself. Others involve the repercussions of choosing to assassinate such a high-level target — including the possibility of another war in the region.
Doesn’t deter future violence against Americans
Soleimani’s death could be justified by some as a means to stop future violence against Americans, particularly soldiers already serving in the Middle East. But rather than eliminate a threat, his death almost appears as a martyrdom, with Ayatollah Khamenei vowing revenge against the U.S.
“[H]arsh retaliation is waiting for the criminals whose filthy hands spilled his blood,” the Supreme Leader said, per reporting from NBC News.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) noted in a tweet on Thursday night the real dangers that are created by the decision to kill Soleimani.
“The justification for the assassination is to deter future Iranian attacks,” he wrote. “One reason we don’t generally assassinate foreign political officials is the belief that such action will get more, not less, Americans killed.”
The justification for the assasination is to “deter future Iranian attacks”.
One reason we don’t generally assasinate foreign political officials is the belief that such action will get more, not less, Americans killed.
That should be our real, pressing and grave worry tonight.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 3, 2020
As a result, cities such as New York are already planning to up their security games, as the threat from Iran is being taken very seriously.
No Congressional approval, consultation
A major criticism of the whole ordeal from Democrats has focused on the process of attacking a known enemy. No indication of an impending attack was given to the intelligence version of the “Gang of Eight,” although Trump did have time to discuss things over with Sen. Lindsey Graham (who is not a member of that group) when he was in Mar-a-Lago this week.
That is highly unusual. Even when President Barack Obama had authorized use of military force (AUMF) to kill Osama bin Laden, his administration kept the Gang of Eight apprised of the situation on the ground, alerting them to the terrorist’s whereabouts whenever they were made aware of them. The group of bipartisan lawmakers was also made aware of the planned raid against bin Laden before it happened, and alerted to its completion after the mission had succeeded, before Obama announced it publicly.
Such courtesies were not afforded to the Gang of Eight in this situation. Congress itself, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, only learned about it through media reports.
Pelosi is now demanding a full report of the matter be made to Congress. “The full Congress must be immediately briefed on this serious situation and on the next steps under consideration by the administration, including the significant escalation of the deployment of additional troops to the region,” she said in a statement, according to The Week.
What happens next/is there even a strategy?
What happens next is not really clear — which brings into question again, why the assassination was necessary in the first place. Yes, his death is a good thing for a number of reasons. But ultimately, we have to question whether it brings about more problems than it solves. As of right now, it’s hard to see how it created a net positive.
We’re now sending thousands of troops over to the Middle East, due to the perceived rise in tensions between the U.S. and Iran. The term “World War III” is trending on Twitter, and it’s clear the potential for a real war with Tehran is climbing higher.
Conservative pundits and supporters of the president can justify this attack and assassination. In some ways, they’re right to do so. But once again, we have to consider the “net gain” versus the “net loss” of such an attack. Did things get better for the U.S. in the long-run, or are we in the early stages of yet another conflict in the Middle East?
Trump is now claiming his airstrike was made in order to avert a war with Iran. It’s hard to see how that could be. Some are even wondering if this is a “wag the dog” moment for Trump, an attempt by him to avert attention away from his impeachment and possible grow support for himself through a foreign policy crisis.
What’s unfortunate is that we’re unable to tell, one way or another, whether that’s true or not. This is a president who regularly acts in his own self-interest, often forgoing the American people’s interests in the process. What we can gather from this latest escapade is that not much thought was put into the consequences of Trump’s choices, one way or another. That alone is worrisome enough, without consideration of whether it was a purposeful distraction or not.
Featured image credit: White House/Wikimedia Commons