The Trump administration’s assassination of Iran’s Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani on Thursday is a massive foreign policy blunder — one that takes away the power of the American people who supported in a bipartisan majority in June an effort to prevent an unconstitutional war with Iran.
The attack by a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone that fired missiles into a convoy carrying Soleimani was neither impulsive nor a retaliatory response. It was not undertaken to protect Americans. It was not an act of patriotism. It was not done to defend the U.S. embassy in Baghdad after the “dramatic but bloodless” siege. If anything, it was in response to Trump’s increasingly untenable situation at home.
Complex operations like this one aren’t planned and executed in a few hours. They take weeks and months: ample time for congressional approval.
This was not a response to a deadly provocation —not even to the attack on the Iraqi military base in Kirkuk last month that killed an American contractor. Trump’s clearly disproportionate response to that attack was five airstrikes in Iraq and Syria that killed at least 24 people and injured dozens more. (All of which enflamed the passions of protesters in the streets of Baghdad.)
Soleimani’s assassination was designed to confuse, distract, and create a “fog of war” around Trump’s increasing loss of support at home through an impeachment trial and the fracturing of his evangelical base.
Of course, Soleimani, father of three adult children, was no innocent victim of war. As a charismatic military leader and recognized religious hero of the nation, he has led Iranian regular and paramilitary forces that have killed thousands of Syrians, Iraqis, and even other Iranians, as well as U.S. and international forces in Iraq. He has been a driving force behind Iran’s military and political expansion for decades and is responsible for stabilizing or destabilizing the region to serve that Iranian agenda.
“As destabilizing as general Soleimani’s activities have been, the consequences for the people of the region of more intensive conflict are incalculable,” observed Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches. “But [Trump’s] attack and anticipated reactions to it threaten even wider and more disastrous conflict in the region,”said Tveit.
The U.S. maintains more than 5,000 troops in Iraq with a mission to contain ISIS and train Iraqi armed forces. Since Trump reneged on the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops have increased.
“The rise in rocket attacks comes amid escalating tensions over hard-hitting sanctions imposed by the Trump administration after it backed out of a nuclear deal with Iran negotiated under President Barack Obama’s tenure,” reported Stars and Stripes news service.
Over the past several months, Iraqis have been caught in the crossfire between Iran-backed government crackdown and the military pressure from the U.S., leading to hundreds of civilian deaths. Iraqis have taken to the streets to demand independence from foreign control forcing the prime minister to resign in November.
Instead of making nonmilitary investments to support the diverse base of the protesters demanding a stable and independent Iraq and pushing back on Iranian expansion, Trump’s military actions have played directly into the hands of the Iranian loyalists, including those in the current caretaker government in Baghdad. He’s shoved Iraqis into Iranian arms.
“This war-mongering should be as toxic politically as it is morally,” wrote Peter Certo, editor of Foreign Policy In Focus. “Trump rode into office promising to end America’s wars, winning him crucial votes in swing states with large military and veteran populations. Huge bipartisan majorities, including 58 percent of Republicans, say they want U.S. troops out of the Middle East. Trump is betraying them spectacularly.”
Trump’s calculation is that deadly chaos in the Middle East (with a concurrent national security crisis here at home) will maintain Republican lock-step in the Senate and unite his evangelical base with Manichean heresies about fighting evil and reheated apocalyptic fantasies for Christian Zionists on the restoration of Israel and the ushering in of the End Times. Trump’s “bombing and Bible-thumping” evangelical tour begins tonight at King Jesus International ministry in Miami.
There is still an opportunity to put Iraq back on a path to political and economic recovery, to buttress infrastructure for elections and reinvigorate a working economy. Many U.S. investments in Iraq civil society are now weak or symbolic, according to to Elie Abouaoun, Middle East expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “Economic assistance, technical assistance on governance and decentralization, political and diplomatic investment, such as rebuilding a network of allies, sustaining a strong diplomatic presence in both Erbil and Baghdad as well as more support for civil society are all needed. Not only financial aid but also political assistance. Iraqi civil society and government representatives need access to U.S. decision makers. The U.S. can help leverage relations with the government of Iraq to advance some of the issues that civil society is working for. All of this exists to some extent, but needs to be upscaled.”
But it will require a savvy American public to see through the “fog of war,” demand accuracy, transparency, and accountability, suspend belief in administration tweets about plots and threats, and recognize that military escalation by the U.S., the world's leading superpower, can only lead to asymmetrical annihilation. Civilians are always in the crossfire.
World Council of Churches’ Tveit appealed for all sides to “exercise maximum restraint, to refrain from further escalation, and to give priority to the welfare of all people of the region, and their right to peace and stability after so many years of violence and bloodshed.”
De-escalation may also require the removal from office of this capricious commander in chief surrounded by inexperienced appointees before the U.S. can re-establish diplomatic communication with Iran through third parties to stabilize the region.
A week before Trump ordered Soleimani’s assassination, Iraq’s leading Christian cleric, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, a supporter of the nonviolent civilian protests throughout the country, preached against killing. “A person is a project for life, not for killing,” said Sako in his Sunday sermon. “God wants to tell each of us: You are responsible for your brother.”
Reacting to the New Year’s Eve siege at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Trump blamed Iran and tweeted, “They will be held fully responsible.”
But who will take responsibility for Trump? As Americans, that’s our job.
[This article has been updated Saturday, January 4, 2020, 10:39 AM (EST).]