Like many of you, this morning I woke up to the news that an American drone strike had killed
Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force unit near Baghdad International Airport, in Iraq. The airstrike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy of the Popular Mobilization Units, an Iraqi Shiite Militia that has been incorporated into the Iraqi Army. President Donald Trump personally authorized this action.
This is seen as a good thing by some, showing how tough and relentless the United States is in protecting its citizens and its interests. Others are skeptical about the probable outcome of this killing, and I include myself among them.
After the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, ostensibly to overthrow Saddam Hussein and his “weapons of mass destruction”, it soon became clear that there was no after-battle plan for establishing peace and security in Iraq. The region was immediately thrown into chaos and armed conflict as various ethnic groups, nations, and their proxies, vied for power and control. Political instability in Iraq spilled over into Syria leading to civil war and creation of the radical ISIS caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria. Alliances formed that ultimately defeated ISIS. This brief moment of cooperation dissolved along with the caliphate as former allies turned on each other.
Iraq and much of Syria remain an unstable mess with decimated populations and infrastructure and tens of thousands of refugees seeking safety in Europe. The human cost to the people of the region is over one million dead in Iraq and Syria.
I do not understand how assassinating Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis makes anyone any safer. Both of these men are part of military institutions with existing command structures. They are easily replaced by others who will continue to pursue similar policies.
These assassinations escalate the animus currently directed at Americans in Iraq and encourage retaliation by others, such as Iran.
All of this strategic calculus misses the larger moral point. Killing is wrong. Assassination is even more heinous. Extraordinary justification must be provided to exercise killing at the press of a button. No compelling justification has been provided. Killing these men will not prevent their organizations from continuing to pursue their plans for Iraq. It will only inflame the outrage and hate.
My cynical side sees this morning’s news as the first step in escalating conflict in Iraq leading to direct military confrontation with Iran. War presidents are more likely to be re-elected.
Gandhi said, “An eye for and eye makes the whole world blind.” I think that he had something here. This morning’s assassinations will not let me sleep better at night.
Randy Best, NoVES Leader