Top Democrats are reportedly “stunned” that Trump impulsively ordered the killing of “the commanding general of a sovereign government,” Iran’s Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. The imperial assassination of Soleimani is a criminal act of war guaranteed to provoke a reaction that could produce a regional war involving U.S. forces in the Middle East.
Liberal politicians, talking heads, and pundits are alarmed at Trump’s statements that a war with Iran “would be over very quickly”—a clear suggestion that he might employ nuclear weapons—and his promise of massive retaliation when Iran strikes back.
But there’s no basis for establishment shock and surprise. Trump is an amoral militarist and faux-isolationist who opened his presidency by going to the CIA’s headquarters to complain that the United States had gone too long without “winning wars” and to say that the U.S. might have another chance to invade Iraq and “get the oil.”
Trump has complained that he doesn’t see why the United States has a giant nuclear arsenal if it can never use it and has advocated giving nuclear weapons technology to the arch-reactionary and absolutist Saudi Arabian regime.
Trump has out-paced his predecessor Barack Obama as the all-time targeted assassination drone-killer. And impulsivity has been a hallmark of his presidency from day one.
Trump is also concerned about his low approval rating and an imminent impeachment trial heading into the 2020 presidential election. He has a strong incentive to move the headlines off of his domestic political trials and try to “unify the nation” around the flag and fog of war.
At the same time, Democrats and their media allies have little moral ground to stand on when it comes to criticizing Trump’s action. From the beginning of Trump’s anti-Iran provoking and punishing presidency and before, Democrats and the “liberal” media have fully participated in advancing the ludicrous imperial notion that Iran is a uniquely evil, dangerous, belligerent, destabilizing, and terrorist actor in the Middle East—the region’s top aggressor.
It’s an absurd narrative. The most truly aggressive, destructive, and malevolent state actor in the Middle East beyond the racist occupation and apartheid state of Israel and the Superpower itself (the U.S. has murdered well more than a million Iraqis since 1990 and is the sponsor of Saudi Arabia and Israel) is the U.S.-backed Saudi kingdom.
The regional power that’s wreaking havoc in Yemen isn’t Iran. It’s the Saudi regime, which has joined with the United Arab Emirates and taken military assistance from the U.S. to impose an epic humanitarian crisis by blockading and bombing Yemen.
The regional power providing the great majority of state support for jihadist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda isn’t majority Shiite-Muslim Iran. It’s the Sunni-Muslim Saudi regime, along with other Sunni-led Gulf monarchies.
By comparison to the Saudis and Israel, Iran is a defensive power. Its modest interventions beyond its borders are about standard realpolitik defense of regional allies (the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, the Assad regime in Syria, and the Shiite government in Baghdad), not destabilizing regime change and terrorism.
Still, top Democrats have long obsessed over the supposed supreme wickedness of Iran, absurdly calling Teheran the leading source of Middle Eastern conflict and terrorism.
It’s always been a dangerous game. By playing along with “the Trump administration’s description of Iran as singularly irrational and menacing,” the liberal journalist Peter Beinart argued last year, “Democrats help ensure that normalized U.S.-Iran relations are impossible” and that “the prospect of war…will return again and again.”
As the latest crisis has unfolded it has been darkly amusing to watch “liberal” talking heads like CNN’s Anderson Cooper (a former CIA intern) and Fareed Zakaria (a Council on Foreign Relations hack) play along with the notion that Soleimani “deserved” his fiery murder because he “had the blood of American soldiers on his hands.” The U.S. troops Soliemani is accused of killing were enlisted in a criminal empire which is occupying foreign lands.
The main problem with Trump’s action is, it was ordered by the wrong president. The message is clear: it would have been fine for Obama to kill Soleimani. It would be okay for Joe Biden or former U.S. Army intelligence officer Pete Butiggieg to commit the crime.
It is reflexively taken for doctrinal granted by “liberal” Democrats, no less than Republicans, that the United States possesses the right to maintain a massive and lethal military and political presence in and around the oil-rich Middle East. It’s okay because, as the liberal imperialist Bill Clinton’s liberal imperialist Secretary of State Madeline Albright once said, “We [the United States] are good.”
Paul Street is an essayist, commentary writer and author. His latest book is “They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy.”