Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Can The US Assassination Of Qasem Solemiani Be Justified?

We know from various Congressional folks that briefers of Congress have failed to produce any evidence of "imminent" plans to kill Americans Soleimani was involved with that would have made this a legal killing rather than an illegal assassination.  The public statements by administration figures have cited such things as the 1979 hostage crisis, the already dead contractor, and, oh, the need to "reestablish deterrence" after Trump did not follow through on previous threats he made.  None  of this looks remotely like "imminent plans," not to mention that the Iraqi PM Abdul-Mahdi has reported that Soleimani was on the way to see him with a reply to a Saudi peace proposal.  What a threatening imminent plan!

As it is, despite the apparent lack of "imminent plans" to kill Americans, much of the supporting rhetoric for this assassination coming out of Trump supporters (with bragging about it having reportedly been put up on Trump's reelection funding website) involves charges that Soleimani was "the world's Number One terrorist" and was personally responsible for killing 603 Americans in Iraq.  Even as many commentators have noted the lack of any "imminent plans," pretty much all American ones have prefaced these questions with assertions that Soleimani was unquestionable "evil" and "bad" and a generally no good guy who deserved to be offed, if not right at this time and in this way.  He was the central mastermind and boss of a massive international terror network that obeyed his orders and key to Iran's reputed position as "the Number One state supporter of terrorism," with Soleimani the key to all of that.

Of course, in Iran it turns out that Soleimani was highly respected, even as many oppose the hawkish policies he was part of.  He was viewed as crucial to the victory over ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in Iraq, much feared by Iranians. Shia take martyrdom seriously, and he is viewed as a martyr. It appears that even Trump took notice of the massive outpouring of mourning and praise for Soleimani there up to the point of people dying in a stampede in a mourning crowd in his hometown.  But, hey, obviously these people simply do not understand that he was The World's Number One Terrorist!  Heck, I saw one commenter on Marginal Revolution claiming Soleimani was responsible killing "hundreds of thousands."  Yes, this sort of claim is floating around out there.

A basic problem here is that while indeed Soleimani commanded the IGRC al Quds force that supported and supplied various Shia  militias in several Middle Eastern nations, these all were (and are) ultimately independent.  Soleimani may have advised them, but he was never in a position to order any of them to do anything.  Al Quds itself has never carried out any of the various attacks outside of Iran that Soleimani is supposedly personally responsible for.

Let us consider the specific case that gets pushed most emphatically, the 603 Americans dead in Iraq, without doubt a hot button item here in the US.  First of all, even if Soleimani really was personally responsible for their deaths, there is the technical matter that their deaths cannot be labeled "terrorism."  That is about killing non-combatant civilians, not military personnel involved in combat.  I do not support the killing of those American soldiers, most of whom were done in by IEDs, which also horribly injured many more.  But indeed this awful stuff happened.  But in fact this was all done by Iraqi -based Shia militias.  Yes, they were supported by Soleimani, but while some have charged al Quds suppplied the IEDs, this turns out not to be the case.  These were apparently made in Iraq by these local militias.  Soleimani's al Quds are not totally innocent in all this, reportedly providing some training and some inputs.  But the IEDs were made by the militias themselves and planted by them.

It is also the case that when the militias and Americans were working together against ISIS/IISIL/Daesh, none of this happened, and indeed that was still the case up until this most recent set of events, with the death setting off all this an American civilian contractor caught on a base where several Iraqis were killed by a rocket from the Kat'b Hezbollah Iraqi group.  Of course with Trump having Soleimani assassinated, this cooperation has ceased, with the US military no longer either fighting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh nor training the Iraqi military.  Indeed, the Iraqi parliament has demanded that US troops leave entirely, although Trump threatened Iraq with economic sanctions if that is followed through on.

As it is, the US datinrg back to the Obama administration has been supplying Saudi Arabia with both arms and intelligence that has been used to kill  thousands of Yemeni civilians.  Frankly, US leaders look more like terrorists than Soleimani.

I shall close by noting the major changes in opinion in both Iran and  Iraq regarding the US as a result of this assassination.  In Iran as many have noted there were major demonstrations against the regime going on, protesting bad economic conditions, even as those substantially were the result of the illegal US economic sanctions imposed after the US withdrew from the JCPOA nuclear deal, to which Iran was adhering.  Now those demonstrations have stopped and been replaced by the mass demonstrations against the US over Soleimani's assassination.  And we also have Iran further withdrawing from that deal and moving to more highly enrich uranium.

In Iraq, there had been major anti-Iran demonstrations going on, with these supported to some degree by the highest religious authority in the nation, Ayatollah Ali Sistani.  However, when Soleimani's body was being transferred to Iran, Sistani's son accompanied his body.  It really is hard to see anything that justifies this assassination.

I guess I should note for the record that I am not a fan of the Iranian regime, much less the IGRC and its former and new commander.  It is theocratic and repressive, with many political prisoners and a record of killing protestors. However, frankly, it is not clearly all that much worse than quite a few of its neighboring regimes.  While Supreme Jurisprudent Khamenei was not popularly elected, its president, Rouhani, was, who obeyed  popular opinion in negotiating the JCPOA that led to the relaxation of economic sanctions, with his power reduced when Trump withdrew from the agreement.  Its rival Saudi Arabia has no democracy at all, and is also a religiously reactionary and repressive regime that uses bone saws on opponents and is slaughtering civilians  in a neighboring nation.

Barkley Rosser


2slugbaits said...

Agree that it's important to distinguish between US combatant soldiers in a combat zone and innocent civilian in a wedding party. This is a distinction that I thought was settled 800 years ago with St. Thomas Aquinas, but apparently Fox News didn't get the memo. But there's another problem with the "Solemaini was a terrorist" chant. Back in the old days when people actually thought it was important to be careful about terminologies, a terrorist was defined as a non-state actor trying to achieve political objectives by frightening civilians who were usually from the same country. But that old school definition of a terrorist doesn't really apply with Solemaini. Solemaini was a state actor who used violence against other combatant state actors from a different country. We've gotten very sloppy with our language and now we tend to define as "terrorist" any group that uses violence against US interests. Osama bin Laden was rightly called a terrorist. OTOH, Saddam Hussein was every bit as brutal and evil as OBL, but Saddam should not have been considered a terrorist. And isn't it funny how Benjamin NutAndYahoo never wants to talk about the Irgun. said...

Three points, 2slug:

1) While Aquinas worried about these distinctions, the term "terrorist," or more precisely "terror" in a political violence context was first used during the height of the French Revolution by people who were for it, with the terror of the widespread use of the guillotine as a positive Reign of Terror to eliminate class enemies, although outside observers found it almost immediately to be terrible.

2) While the Shia militias of Iraq supported by Soleimani have largely focused on military targets, there have been periods when some of the groups supported by the IGRC have targeted innocent civilians, in short, engaged in terrorism. The most prominent of those has been Lebanon's Hezbollah, and it has been largely because of its activities that Iran became designated by US intel as a it not the top state supporter of terrorism. However, it all but stopped doing that over 20 years ago, basically when it became a major player within the Lebanese government, and just to bring this back to Soleimani, all their terrorist activities predated Soleimani commanding al Quds.

3) Regarding BN, his dad was in Irgun and also lived to be over 100, a great hero to BN, who indeed says little about him, this being pretty personal obviously. As it is,BN regularly engages in disproportional respoinses leading to the deaths of many civilians in Gaza in respoinse to provocations out of there against Israeli civilians, not properly terrorism per se, but looking perhaps somewhat like the Saudi bombing of civilians in Yemen that the US plays an important supporting role in. said...

BTW, the figurw most identified with advocating the French revolutionary Reign of Terror was Robespierre. While most of us view that Reign of Terror as an awful moment of excessive civic violence and extremism, that these matters remain debatable in deeply politically split France is seen by the fact that Robespierre remains an admired figure there in certain circles, and one can find towns and locations even now that have streets named for him.

Peter T said...

The label terrorist has pretty much lost all meaning, given the ubiquity of drone-strikes. Soleimani was a gifted general carrying out the policies of the Iranian government. Sometimes those policies aligned with those of the US (as in the fight against ISIS), sometimes they were opposed. That's Iran's right as a sovereign nation.

From outside the US, the assassination marks another step down in US power. The reactions of France, Germany and China are all interesting; clearly these capitals accept that the US is now a rogue power, to be soothed but not trusted. They will all be looking to accelerate processes that limit US leverage through financial flows, maybe boosting defence and defence independence. I don't expect this to be a quick process, but 5-10 years down the track the world will look rather different as a result.

Not Trampis said...

Revenge is an evil concept. I would have thought all Western nations would not enter there.

If one person has ensured the future is with the hardliners it is Trump.

ken melvin said...

We hear talk of asymmetric warfare. Economic sanctions, a most cruel form of warfare hitting the civilian populace hardest, are asymmetric in that those being sanctioned can hardly strike back in kind. Carter, I think, said, that in the end, all wars are economic. What do economists think of economic warfare?

Surely, we've learned by now that you can't colonize, occupy, ..., bully nations into doing something they find antithetical.

ilsm said...

Not justified, my pacifist inclination not withstanding, Aquinas' standard of "certainty" is not present.

If Suleimani were carrying a diplomatic letter and scheduled to meet with the Iraqi PM, he should have been protected by "right of embassy".

"Right of embassy" goes back to 17th century Europe (as fractured as the Middle East today?) , a time without nuclear weapons, and veto power in the UN Security Council.

Another escalation in the US' immoral cycle of disrespect and violence.

Economic sanctions are a blockade imposed by bankers and customs officials. said...

And US has now put more economic sanctions in place.

Many Iranians have now protesteed their own government's bungled shooting down of the Ukrainian airliner. But I cannot stop thinking that they would not have been on such a high state of alert if Trump had not assassinated Soleinami, not to mention the others.

ilsm said...

The Iranian high “alert” levels contributed to the Ukrainian Airliner disaster , and would not have been so if the Suleimani /al Muhandis escalation had not occurred.

No excuses for the awful mistake, however, the battery ‘fire controller’ probably had less than a minute to decide his protected area was at risk. I suspect the unit was on "high alert" since the Iranian missile strike was a few hours old. They were on the highest of 3 or 4 levels of air defense alert. Years ago US/NORAD had 4 levels.

In the air defense and response business (threat warning attack assessment) the object is "don't miss the war, but don't start one". Those challenges require absolute reliability of people, equipment, integration of complex parts, fast analysis, rational thinking and luck. Iran being strained in many dimensions has a high probability of its command and control chain leaking to the point a relatively low level officer, without broader situational knowledge/awareness or even trust in the data he has, had to decide and erred on the side of “not missing the war”.

If the reports are correct the surface to air missile was a derivative (copied or bought) of Russian SA-17, track vehicle mounted, shorter range surface to air missile system that "protects" a limited area, often a specific high value target or a large military unit in a set location. The radar on a tracked vehicle is also relatively short range. I suspect in Iranian concept of operations the fire battery controller locally had responsibility for the systems "kill chain". The ‘decision window’ for the controlled was likely very tight.

Sandwichman said...

Trump's "four embassies" embellishment of the "imminent threat" combined with Esperanto's equivocation that he "didn't see" specific intelligence to that effect makes the question of justification moot. You can't retroactively legitimize a claim you have already lied about.

Anonymous said...

"You can't retroactively legitimize a claim you have already lied about."

Absolutely so.

ken melvin said...

It was a war crime. He did it because he could.