Source: E. Jeffrey Ludwig
The assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani is an unusual, possibly aberrant, event. The killing of this individual leader of a sovereign state may lead to all-out war between Iran and the U.S. — or, on the other hand, the assassination may bring an end to the cycle of Iranian violence countered by U.S. and world diplomatic flatulence and appeasement.
Assassinating the leaders of terrorist organizations — i.e., non-state actors, such as Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — did not lead to a greater war footing against the USA because, as terrorist organization leaders, not heads of state, they are automatically considered rogue, even by sovereign state leaders sympathetic to their goals. Al-Qaeda and ISIS, despite any claims to territorial governance, are non-state actors. Thus, despite ISIS’s former control of land areas, ISIS was despised for its aggressions but was not considered a serious threat to the power of leaders of other Muslim-dominant states within the region. The Middle Eastern Muslim states that may, to a certain degree, be sympathetic to ISIS’s dreams of a re-established caliphate such as existed for hundreds of years nevertheless did not intend to defer to the leader of ISIS as that caliph. Despite Islam’s socio-political backwardness in today’s world, the glories of Islam’s earlier history loom large in the consciousness of most Islamics. ISIS did not appear to Islamics as the proper heir of that presumed glorious history.
Iran’s listing as a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. State Department puts it into a special category. Iran is a behind-the-scenes puppeteer of Hamas operating in Gaza, Hezb’allah operating in Lebanon, and the Houthis operating in Yemen as well as a variety of groups in Iraq. Not only did Iran held 52 Americans hostage for over a year after the ayatollahs overthrew the Shah in the 1970s, but the Iranians were crucial in the bombing of the U.S. military barracks in Lebanon (1983), the bombing of the Khobar Towers and American troops in Saudi Arabia (1996), the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (1998), the bombing of the USS Cole (2000), and the attack on the World Trade Center (2001). With this nefarious history, acting through proxies to undermine the security of the West and the U.S. in particular, Iran’s designation as a terrorist state — living in the gray area between sovereign legitimacy and terrorist aggression — is warranted and necessary.
In essence, the Iranians have been in an undeclared war with the U.S. since the ayatollahs and their religiously inspired and power-mad henchmen took over the reins of government from the despotic but pro-American Shah in the seventies. However, fear of being perceived as declaring war on Islam has kept us from a direct declaration of war on Iran even though the Islamic world is divided between the Shiites, represented by Iran, and the larger majority of Muslims, who are Sunnis. George H.W. Bush was considered a master diplomat because he managed to garner large-scale support and allies in the Islamic world for his attack on Iraq and Saddam Hussein after Saddam successfully invaded Kuwait. Bush was able to accomplish this feat because he was acting — on the surface — in defense of an Islamic country, Kuwait, from the depredations of a vicious dictator, Saddam Hussein. However, Bush refrained from capturing or executing Saddam or deposing Saddam and taking control of Iraq. He carefully refrained from asserting hegemony over an Islamic country.
Why were Soleimani and other evil players not targeted over these many decades of Iranian murders and plots to murder? As noted above, there was a fear of being perceived as anti-Islamic or as advancing a “clash of civilizations” agenda, even being so perceived by Islamics who were anti-Shiite. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat from Michigan who worked as a CIA analyst and Pentagon official on Middle East issues under both Bush and Obama, stated that “what always kept both Democratic and Republican presidents from targeting Soleimani himself was the simple question: Was the strike worth the likely retaliation, and the potential to pull us into protracted conflict?”
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was the head of the Joint Special Operations Command in the Bush administration, in a 2009 article for Foreign Policy recounted his decision not to attack Soleimani’s convoy in Iraq one night in 2007. He wrote that while “there was good reason” to attack Soleimani over the deaths of U.S. forces by Iranian-placed roadside bombs in Iraq, “to avoid a firefight, and the contentious politics that would follow, I decided that we should monitor the caravan, not strike immediately.”
We can see, then, that appeasement of the Iranian fanatics did not begin with the sell-out Iran deal completed by President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry. Rather Obama’s deal with Iran was full blown appeasement and bribery of Iran the likes of which have taken place since the administration of Pres. Jimmy Carter. (It is worth noting here that billions of dollars of frozen bank accounts were released to Iran as an important part of the deal for the hostage release on January 20, 1981.) Despite violent aggression against the U.S. by Iran, we have continued to look the other way in order to avoid a wider conflict with Iran that might threaten our ally Israel as well as American interests or lead to conflict with other non-Shiite players in the Muslim world who might be offended or incensed by our retaliation.
By assassinating Soleimani, President Trump has broken with the conventional wisdom regarding the need to appease Iran in its covert war against the U.S. However, 9/11 was a game-changer that has not been properly acknowledged by the USA. The present administration has been taking a more proactive and pro-America policy line in foreign affairs. Diplomatic flatulence has been replaced by a policy of emphatic diligence in behalf of our safety and prosperity. Emphatic diligence means more pushback against foreign policies that send mixed messages about our commitment to stand against political or economic tyrannies. Pushback is affirmed by the Trump administration, but not desire for conquest.
Bad deals and bad players in our world often are disguised as being multilateral and thus serving a wider good. But those depictions such as TPP, NAFTA, the Iran deal, the Paris Climate Accords, WTO trade deals with the People’s Republic of China, and even to some degree NATO can be self-serving to placate the crowd that loves being served hors d’oeuvres by fawning servants in Geneva, Brussels, and other prestigious capitals.
Trump’s assassination of Soleimani is taking us out of this diplomatic quagmire. He is signaling that the years of appeasement of Iran are over. Hiding behind terrorist proxy groups has worked for Iran since the ayatollahs took over in the 1970s. This strike against the head of the Revolutionary Guards may cause the cowardly leaders of Iran to reconsider their modus operandi on the world stage, or it may lead to a lashing out. Whichever path they take, our resolve to stop participating in the cycle of terror attacks and subsequent appeasement of a rogue state is now affirmed.
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