The U.S. killed an Iranian general. Was it wise?
On Jan. 3, 2020, at the direction of President Donald Trump, the U.S. launched a targeted airstrike that killed Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian General. The move prompted fears of retaliation and war, but Trump has defended his decision. In the wake of Soleimani’s death, many are asking, was Trump’s airstrike ethical, or even legal?
January 27, 2020
Smart and calculated
The United States operates the most powerful military in the world. Our ability to protect the good people of the world who can’t protect themselves from terror is second to none. So why have we been so shy about using it?
What I just wrote may sound like an impassioned, patriotic plea for America to be excessively hawkish regarding foreign policy. In reality, I tend to subscribe more to Theodore Roosevelt’s ideology: “speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” So-called big stick diplomacy advocated for intimidating our enemies with our superior forces and beating them into submission if they cross the line.
Iran has been a frequent line-crosser in the Middle East for decades. In 1979, their 2000-year-old monarchical system was overthrown and a Shi’a Islamic theocracy was installed in its place. Since then, the Iranian regime has made a habit of sponsoring terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and using them to harass other countries in the region. Making matters worse, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded in 2003 the Iranians were performing uranium enrichment, which is a significant step in the process of creating a nuclear bomb.
In response to this, the U.S. took a rather unorthodox approach. In 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, under which Iran would stop developing nuclear weapons in exchange for the U.S. loosening economic sanctions. It was based upon a belief held by Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes that strengthening Iran’s economy would help bring an end to their terroristic ambitions.
They were sorely mistaken. In March 2016, Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Central Command, noted Obama’s wish to strengthen the Iranian economy had made them “more aggressive.” Under the leadership of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran has continued to bomb shipping routes and plunged the region further into chaos. In response to all this turmoil, President Donald Trump has taken little to no action.
The Persian Gulf conflict reached a head on Dec. 31, 2019, when Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants set fire to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. For the U.S., this was the last straw. In response, in the early hours of Jan. 3, 2020, an American airstrike killed top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.
Then all hell broke loose. Or so Twitter thought. Within minutes of the strike, #WorldWarIII trended worldwide on the social network. Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice warned Americans to “brace for war.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi deemed the act a “disproportionate” response, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren accused Trump of having “escalated” the situation.
In reality, Trump’s actions embodied the Roosevelt philosophy: we stood idly by, ready as ever for imminent attack, as Iran marched ever closer to the line. When they crossed it, we attacked them. And the attack made sense — Soleimani was a key figure in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a branch of the Iranian Armed Forces. While targeted strikes are generally frowned upon by the international community, Soleimani represented an organization guilty of killing hundreds of Americans according to Brian Hook, the U.S. Dept. of State’s special representative for Iran, and was widely suspected of planning to kill more. Just as we killed Gaddafi in Libya and bin Laden in Pakistan to avenge the death of our own citizens, killing Soleimani was perfectly justified.
After killing their terrorist leader and threatening further action should they cross another line, affairs between Iran and the U.S. are relatively peaceful, at least for now. Given the fundamental instability at the root of the Iranian regime, there’s no telling what could happen next. But if Trump’s recent actions in Iran are any indication of what future foreign policy could look like, I’ve never felt more comfortable in the safety and prosperity of the country I love.
Reckless and impulsive
I have a confession to make: before the morning of January 3, I had no idea who Qasem Soleimani was. So when I heard the news he was killed in a U.S. airstrike at the direction of President Donald Trump, I discovered what a terrible man the Iranian General was. A criminal and a terrorist, it is clear that Soleimani deserved to die. However, just because he deserved to die does not mean Trump made a wise decision to kill him. At first glance, it seems as though Trump made a rational decision when he chose to target Soleimani, but take a closer look and the recklessness of this choice is made clear.
In the days leading to the airstrike, tensions were rising between the United States and Iran. An air base was attacked in Iraq, killing a United States civilian on Dec. 27 and the U.S. embassy in Baghdad was attacked by an Iran-backed militia on Dec. 31. Trump was presented with different options on how to respond, and he initially decided to strike at the militia. After seeing a video of the attack at the embassy, however, he changed his mind. He chose a different, more extreme option: kill Qasem Soleimani.
The action brought the United States and Iran to the brink of war. Iran, vowing revenge, launched a missile attack on January 8, targeting American personnel. Luckily, no one was harmed, but showed how Trump’s decision put American lives at risk.
The airstrike was not only a reckless decision, it was an illegal one. The Charter of the United Nations prohibits the use of force against other states, if a country does not consent to it on their territory, which Iraq did not. In addition, the airstrike did not have congressional approval.
The Trump administration attempted to justify the attack by claiming it was necessary to prevent future attacks. However, no specific evidence has been presented to support their claims. A briefing by the Trump administration to lawmakers was criticized by those at the meeting, with Republican Senator Mike Lee calling it the worst briefing he’s ever seen in his nine years as Senator. The Trump administration is not producing evidence that justifies their actions, as if we will just take their word for it. I won’t.
It could be said that Trump was simply doing what former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama failed to do, which is kill a well known terrorist and enemy of the United States. But Bush and Obama knew that decisions like this have consequences, something Trump did think about when he changed his mind so abruptly. Trump did not think the fact that the decision would escalate tensions and deeply strain relations between the two countries for years, risking war. He did not think about how the international view of the United States would change when he killed a popular Iranian figure, viewed as a hero by some. And he definitely did not think when he threatened to commit war crimes on Twitter.
But then again, yet another dangerous foreign policy decision isn’t surprising. It’s pretty clear that “thinking” isn’t really his thing.