Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) has just found another level of muddle and madness. I refer to the aftermath of the targeted assassination of Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Iran’s Quds Forces, the foreign legion division of Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps on January 3. The problem with TDS is that it diminishes critical-thinking skills which means, paradoxically, groupthink is embraced without a skerrick of critical thinking. All we have are facts in the face of their fanaticism, and for that reason let us unemotionally consider the specifics of President Trump’s first televised explanation for terminating Soleimani. As Don McLean would say: “They would not listen/they do not know how/Perhaps they’ll listen now.”
The theme of President Trump’s rationale was this: “We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.” Whether or not this turns out to be true, let us at least recognise that Donald Trump’s thinking on foreign policy hardly fits the pattern of a warmonger, in the Middle East or anywhere else for that matter.
The “AP Fact Check” brings up the furphy that Donald Trump, then a private citizen, was for the Second Iraq War before he was against it, and yet all there is to this is a throwaway line, spoken on September 11, 2002, in response to a question about whether he would support a prospective invasion of Iraq: “Yeah, I guess so.” He also made a comment, in the context of America’s initial victory over Saddam Hussein’s army, that it “looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint”.
Only after March 2003, according to the AP Fact Checker, did Trump become an outspoken critic of the Iraq War. What was intended as a brutal takedown of President Trump’s public statements by journalist Hope Yen shows something different. Before entering the White House, Trump exhibited little appetite for war. Not exactly in the Bernie Sanders category, to be sure, but definitely subdued. Donald Trump’s shortage of warmongery could just have easily been the basis of Hope Yen’s article. My own Quadrant Online Fact Check reveals, not so surprisingly, that the widely syndicated Hope Yen herself suffers from TDS. Her monomaniacal mission to disparage President Trump at every turn, never allowing any positive aspect of the man to see the light of day, is thinly disguised as “fact checking”.
If the TDS brigade gave the POTUS the benefit of the doubt, just this once, three significant things might help them to sleep easier. Take, for instance, this line: “Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him.” If we can accept this is true, that he is not just making this up, as TDS folk are insisting, then we have some cause to be optimistic for our children’s children. It means that the US has the technological and human resources not only to track down and destroy terrorists – without harming civilians – but actually thwart their acts of violence in a pre-emptive fashion. How good is that? Better than looking up to discover the tallest buildings in your city on fire.
Here is a second thing the TDS casualty might like to consider. What was the local intelligence the Americans received in order to strike not only Commander Qasem Soleimani but also Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Iranian-sponsored militia in Iraq, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU), as they conspired in the back of a car departing Baghdad International Airport? Recently, the government in Baghdad, with the assistance of the PMU, has been engaged in a bloody crackdown against Iraqi southerners – Shiites, no less – who have been protesting Iran’s domination of their country. Next door in Iran, correspondingly, Soleimani played a role in the Islamic Republic’s latest bloody suppression of its citizenry. We are, apparently, talking hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries. President Trump, in his first televised remarks, claimed that the action taken against Soleimani and al-Muhandis was not about regime change. But regime change in the Islamic Republic, from the ground up and not imposed by the armed forces of the United States, remains a project in progress. Friday’s targeted assassination does not harm America’s reputation with supporters of freedomists in Iran, and doubtless advanced their cause, but nobody is asking the U.S. to spill the blood of its youth.
Did the domestic and regional enemies of Tehran just find a way to make it a win-win for President Trump? The stoush between a faction of the PMU and the US began after a militia group murdered an American civilian contactor working in Iraq. Washington responded with a military strike against the responsible paramilitaries, prompting Commander Soleimani to up the ante by sanctioning the ransacking of the outer sector of the US embassy in Bagdad on December 31. For twenty years Soleimani had promoted Iranian terrorism/imperialism throughout the region with seeming impunity. On this occasion, though, it took less than three days for him to face justice.
Did anti-regime elements in Iran and/or Iraq assist President Trump in his action? Trump, for instance, was careful to include this observation: “I have deep respect for the Iranian people. They are a remarkable people with an incredible heritage and unlimited potential. We do not seek regime change.” Something for the TDS brigade to consider: has Donald found a better way to, as they say, move things forward than either George W. Bush or Barack Obama ever managed?
After all, terminating the military commander of Iranian imperialism is a win for America, as is working with the domestic and regional enemies of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Here, perhaps, lies the outline of the Trump Doctrine. America paid a terrible price for George W. Bush’s Iraq War, not least the eight-year incumbency of Barack Obama which followed as night follows days. If the Bush Doctrine was a failure, so was its antithesis, the Obama Doctrine. The emerging Trump Doctrine, extrapolating from Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran Deal in May 2018 to the fireworks at the Baghdad International Airport last Friday (left), might be the opposite of Obama’s 2015 Munich Moment, and yet – are you still with me, my TDS friend? – that does not make it the same as the Bush Doctrine. The opposite of the opposite, as someone must have written somewhere, does not bring us back to our starting point. Donald Trump is taking America to a place where neither a full-sale, boots-on-the-ground war (Bush Doctrine) nor the cowardice and humiliation of appeasement (Obama Doctrine) are the only options on the table. Something more dynamic and flexible is in the air. Even as I write this – as if to make my point – the leader of an Iranian resistance movement has described the demise of Qasem Soleimani as an “irreparable blow to the clerical regime”. Iran’s virtual annexation of Iraq, our prospective TDS reader might allow, was the culmination of the Bush Doctrine and the Obama Doctrine.
The third and final matter we might consider is the hysterical tone of the TDS folk on the likelihood of Qasem Soleimani’s sudden passing starting World War III. Candidate Joe Biden has now asserted that President Trump “just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox”. To whatever extent that is true, it is only fair to mention that Joe Biden spent eight long years helping Barack Obama (2009-17) to defuse the said tinderbox and surely that is time enough to try out your ideas on the world. Leave the stage, Joe. Candidate Elizabeth Warren, while allowing that Soleimani was “a murder”, asserted that President Trump’s “reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and the Middle East conflict”. Candidate Sanders pointedly reminded everyone that, as a long-time radical socialist, he opposed the Iraq War from the start – something, I assume, that not all his Democratic rivals can claim. I would only say this: was there ever an American military initiative action since, say, the end of the Second World War that he did support? We could search Bernie Sanders’ record on this score, but life is short.
Sanders’ basic point, as with the other Democratic presidential contenders, the Democrats’ “Squad”, progressive journalists, progressive celebrities, progressive statesmen, progressive academics and progressive thinktanks, not to mention progressive Evangelicals, Anglicans and the Pope, is that another conflict in the Middle East “could cost countless lives and trillion more dollars”. To this, we might just ask any of them if they were aware that Commander Soleimani had been plying his trade these past twenty years in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Libya and Yemen. He wasn’t assassinated in Tehran, after all, but in Baghdad. And he had just flown in from either Beirut or Damascus, two other cities that are outside Iran. Killing Qasem Soleimani could not start a Middle East war since this active military figure was in the middle of fighting one already and long underway. Soleimani, as Sam Dagher points out in Assad or We Burn the Country (2019), played a key role in developing Bashar al-Assad’s murderous winning strategy in the Syrian Civil War, which has so far resulted in between 370,000 and 570,000 deaths. The young people of Lebanon, irrespective of traditional sectarianism, have become bolder in confronting Commander Soleimani’s local flunkies, are are now able to hope that they might not have to endure Hezbollah.
The US Justice Department even claims that Commander Soleimani’s agents attempted in 2011 to hire Mexican drug cartel warlords to blow up Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington D.C. It is likely that his terrorist connections financed and perhaps co-ordinated the September 11, 2012, massacre of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya. Just one reason why Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser at the time of Benghazi, claiming that the targeted execution of Soleimani “does not serve America’s interests” sounds, to put it as politely as possible, phoney. Through his control of Hezbollah, the Iranian-sponsored Lebanese “extremists”, Qasem Soleimani’s reach has extended as far as Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Chile and Peru. To assert that killing Soleimani might provoke regional on even global conflagration is to ignore the obvious: it has been underway for quite some time. President Trump’s characterisation of the Iranian regime as “terrorist warlords who plunder their nation to finance bloodshed abroad” seems closer to reality than the Healer-in-Chief’s fantasy that he could bring the Islamic Republic of Iran in from the cold.
The counter argument to President Trump’s assertion that “the world is a safer place without these monsters” will be that it is – at least in the longer-term sense – simply untrue. That is to say, an experienced and deadly operator such as Commander Soleimani, reckoned by some to be the second-most powerful man not just in Iran’s colonies but in the Islamic Republic itself, will be hard to replace, and yet the regime itself will endure, and sooner or later will recapture the sense of despotic invulnerability that encouraged Qasem Soleimani to appear in public more and more over the past few years. But there is my point: the species of hubris that encouraged our terrorist-at-large to believe he could wander around Baghdad International Airport with impugnity will have vanished like dew on the mid-morning grass. Or, to put it less poetically, eviscerated like the two VIP vehicles and their felonious occupants.
It is a strange irony, perhaps, that seeking peace at any price with totalitarian despots often comes at the cost of more war. Did, for instance, the $1.3 billion in cold, hard cash that President Obama began delivering to Iran’s theocratic kleptocrats – coincidentally, cough, cough, at the same time as American hostages were released – make the world a safer place? Or did it bankroll the Iran’s hush-hush ongoing nuclear-weapons program? Did it chasten homicidal criminals like Soleimani or embolden them?
Is it too much for my imagined TDS reader to consider, if for only a moment, that President Trump has just made the world a little safer, if only because the decision-makers in the tyrannical regime are now directly answerable to Donald Trump in ways they had not contemplated before last Friday?