The politics of Iran has been on my radar since the Iranian Revolution when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown in 1979 and an Islamic republic replaced the monarchy.
I lived in Mainz, Germany that year. I was a mechanized infantry battalion adjutant in the Eighth Infantry Division, which, as part of V Corps, was training for a war in the Middle East over oil. Across the Rhine river from us was Wiesbaden, the evacuation point for American citizens fleeing Iran in the wake of the revolution. Our unit provided support to the Wiesbaden operation during the evacuation.
One of the choices I made during that time was which of my peers in the battalion would be sent to Iran during the aftermath of the Shah’s overthrow. I picked someone whose family wasn’t with him in Germany. My friend was never deployed to Iran and we were all grateful for that.
In this context it is natural that the United States assassination of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force would catch my attention. What I wasn’t prepared for was spending so much time following developments. When I write “developments” what I really mean is the slow, uneven release of information about what happened and what it means. Yesterday’s post is a list of the main questions raised early on in the discovery process. Answers have proven complicated and elusive.
I was reading the news right when I wrote Soleimani was a target of opportunity. That means the U.S. intelligence community had long been tracking his movements and after President Trump gave the order to slay him, when his movements at the Baghdad airport exposed him and his entourage, there was an opportunity to take action and our military did. While our president seems impulsive, in this case there was a developed plan to assassinate Soleimani.
Two things make this different. First, Soleimani was revered in Shia Muslim culture. His death by unmanned drone attack elevated him to martyrdom and could bring a ruptured Iranian society together in opposition to the United States. Second, he was part of the Iranian government the way Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley is. It is important to note Soleimani’s status was distinct from a figure like Osama bin Laden who was a rogue, non-state actor. People who make a proportional comparison between Soleimani and bin Laden are wrong to do so.
The politics of this have been predictable as Heather Cox Richardson pointed out in her daily Letters from an American:
Last night’s news about the assassination of Iran’s military leader Qassem Soleimani has today turned into a predictable split. Defenders of the president insist that Soleimani was an evildoer and the United States absolutely should have taken him out. They have no patience for anyone questioning Trump’s decision, suggesting that those questioners are anti-American and pro-terrorist if they do not support the killing of a man they insist has been one of our key enemies for years.
Those questioning the president’s decision to assassinate a member of a foreign government as a terrorist freely acknowledge that Soleimani was a dangerous man. But they are concerned that Trump appears to have ordered the man assassinated illegally and has, in the process, ignited a firestorm.
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Whether President Trump had constitutional or legal authority to assassinate a member of the Iranian government without consulting the Congress remains an open question. The administration claimed it was free to act under the 2002 Authority for the Use of Military Force enacted by congress in the wake of the 911 terrorist attacks. The U.S. named the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, of which Quds Force is a part, a terrorist organization. Friends Committee on National Legislation has been lobbying the Congress to repeal the 2002 AUMF. The incident yesterday in Baghdad highlights the pressing nature of Congress reasserting its authority over the executive branch of government in matters of war and peace.
In today’s Iowa City Press Citizen, Zachary Oren Smith posted the reactions of three people running for congress. Smith’s framing was “early reactions to the U.S. military strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani fell along party lines in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.“
Democrat Newman Abuissa, a native of Damascus, Syria, reacted to the assassination, “If the goal of the U.S. is a regime change or to negotiate a better deal, this attack makes both goals impossible to achieve. It strengthens the government of Iran and makes it impossible for them to sit down with the U.S. president.”
Both Republicans supported the president and Schilling was quoted at length, parroting long-debunked talking points.
What makes easy media narratives like Smith’s difficult is the decades-long context in which Thursday’s assassination took place. Simple comparisons serve little purpose and push a struggling news outlet closer to irrelevance.
My questions from yesterday aren’t answered. After spending too much time following the news, my work on other projects lagged behind. I need to keep moving. 2020 is here and there is much I want to accomplish.
I did make time to visit a friend whose spouse died Wednesday. She said of him, “at least he got out of here before all this shit happened.” It remains for those of us living to deal with it and carry on.