WTF? Are We About To Go To War With Iran?
Two things can both be true. Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani was unquestionably a dangerous murderer who sought to do America harm. And also assassinating the head of Iran's army is a massive and possibly illegal escalation that might well put us in the middle of another hot war. No one knows what the hell is about to happen, but there will be blowback, and it will be ugly.
Uhhh, WTF Just Happened?
Last night an American MQ-9 Reaper carried out a drone strike on the convoy of the head of Iran's Quds Force as it was leaving Baghdad Airport, killing him and several members of Iraqi militias backed by Iran. Suleiman spent 30 years attacking US interests abroad and was responsible for thousands of American deaths by roadside bombs in Iraq. His Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was the pointy end of the spear for the Shiite axis of power in the Middle East, backing proxy factions like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Iraq, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip. He also worked with us to fight the Taliban and ISIS and Al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And this Tweet is just bullshit.
With Suleimani's help, Lebanon fought the Israelis to a draw in 2006, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would likely have gone the way of Saddam Hussein without the IRGC. Suleimani was a tremendously destructive force, much more powerful than Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi could ever have dreamed of being.
Are We Safer Now?
Not clear, because no one knows what comes next. The Iraqis are furious, and may be about to evict us from their country.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif says, "The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism," while the country's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei promises "forceful revenge." Suleimani's IRGC killed a lot of Iranians, too, but a lot of people in Iran are really angry, and really dangerous.
Former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Middle East policy Andrew Exum writes in The Atlantic, "This doesn't mean war, it will not lead to war, and it doesn't risk war. None of that. It is war." But even if it doesn't come to a full-blown war, Americans overseas, both military and civilian, are much less safe today than they were yesterday.
Let's put it like this: Israel could have taken out Suleimani any time over the past decade. But they didn't. And right now they're deliberately staying very quiet, except to make it abundantly clear that they had nothing to do with this killing. So if the strongest army in the region, whose own soldiers have been kidnapped by Suleiman and his proxies, didn't want to kick this particular hornet's nest, it's probably a sign that shit's about to get bad.
Well, that depends who you ask. There's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's explanation that we had to take out Suleimani to prevent an imminent attack on Americans.
[Suleimani] was actively plotting in the region to take actions, a big action as he describes it, that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk. We know it was imminent. This was an intelligence-based that drove our decision-making process. ... This is a man who's put American lives at risk for an awfully long time, and last night was the time that we needed to strike to make sure that this imminent attack that he was working actively was disrupted.
The Pentagon tells a slightly different story, referring to more generalized "plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region," and saying the assassination was "aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans." Which sounds like future deterrent, not exigent circumstances justifying an assassination and failure to brief Congress. (And since it published its original statement, the DOD has also managed to figure out that the "I" in IRGC stands for "Islamic," rather than "Iranian." So, good job, fellas!)
Or you could use your own two eyes and work out that this a massive escalation in the tit-for-tat battle we've been having with Iran's proxies since last Friday, December 27, when a rocket attack by Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah on a military base near Kirkuk in Iraq killed one American contractor and wounded eight American and Iraqi soldiers. America retaliated on Sunday by killing 24 Irani militia members in airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Then pro-Iranian protestors stormed the US embassy in Baghdad and burned a reception area on December 31. You don't have to be Pythagorus to calculate that an assassination three days and 13 miles away is probably related.
Who Should We Believe?
In the Trump administration? NOBODY. We're talking about people who lie about everything from inauguration crowd size to shaking down the government of Ukraine. Even before Trump got here, the military lied to the public for eighteen years about the progress of the war in Afghanistan. We're still fighting in Iraq because of the Bush administration's lies about yellowcake uranium and weapons of mass destruction.
Donald Trump is an erratic ignoramus who played golf while this was going down. He's surrounded by warmongers who think they're starting another crusade. Trust no one!
Is This Shit Even Legal?
That's really not clear. Trump didn't bother to inform the Gang of Eight, much less our overseas allies who are now scrambling to evacuate their citizens from Iraq. Although he did give Lindsey Graham a heads up, so obviously it's cool. Congress has the power to declare war, and Nancy Pelosi issued a statement demanding an immediate briefing on an action which "risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence," a sentiment echoed by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy.
The Trump administration responds that the State Department had designated Suleimani and the IRGC as terrorists, and that the president's Article II powers authorize the attack. They've announced no plans to brief Congress, either.
Here's a longer article from Just Security on legal justification for war, should the DOD ever deign to explain the legal rationale behind its action.
So, Now What?
Anyone who tells you they know is lying. But Pompeo and DOD have clearly not made Americans safer by assassinating Suleimani.
We're stepping into the void here, inviting a war with a 350,000-man army that has tens of thousands of proxy militia members spread over the entire Middle East, where they've been training for two decades to carry out asymmetrical warfare. And if there's anyone we trust less than Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld to steer the US course, it's Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo.
THIS IS NOT GOOD.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.