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Assassination, Lies and the Trump Difference

Funeral of Qasem Soleimani, Tehran, Iran on 6 January 2020. Photograph Source: Mehr News Agency – CC BY 4.0

United States presidents have long lied about the pretexts for, and the nature of, their murderous and criminal foreign policy actions. Remember George W. Bush and Dick Cheney’s fraudulent claims that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq government possessed vast stocks of “weapons of mass destruction” that threatened the world and that Iraq had participated in the September 11, 2001 jetliner attacks?

Lyndon Johnson obtained Congressional authority to escalate the crucifixion of Vietnam by spreading disinformation about a 1964 naval incident in the Gulf of Tonkin. He campaigned that year on a pledge not to “send American boy 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” The following year he did exactly that, using the Tonkin lie as his justification.

Richard Nixon campaigned for the presidency promising to end the “Vietnam War” while working with Henry Kissinger to undermine peace negotiations in Paris to ensure Hubert Humphrey’s defeat in the 1968 election. Nixon went on to extend and expand the U.S. was on Southeast Asia with the secret bombing of Cambodia.

Ronald Reagan ludicrously justified his regime-change invasion of Grenada with the idiotic claim that the tiny Caribbean island’s radical government posed a lethal threat to the U.S.

George H.W. Bush absurdly sold the U.S. regime-change invasion of Panama as a defense of “democracy” and “human rights.” He advertised his mass-murderous attack on Iraq (“Operation Desert Storm) with the lie that Washington was committed to defending small and peace-loving nations against “wanton aggression.”

Bill Clinton lied when he claimed: that the U.S. bombed a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant because it was manufacturing a chemical nerve agent; that the U.S. bombed Serbia to protect Kosovar Albanians; and that he ordered the military occupation of Haiti to “restore democracy.”

Barack Obama deceptively described his savage aerial destruction of the Libyan government as a noble humanitarian attempt to stop the slaughter of civilians. His assault quickly became an imperial regime-change war with disastrous consequences across North Africa.

Obama promised to end the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 16 months. He never moved to fulfill that promise. Along the way, he never felt the need to tell Americans the truth about the endless Afghan campaign. In the words of an Obama national security official quoted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, “The metrics were always manipulated for the duration of the war.”

Did anyone seriously think the terrible truth-trashing tyrant Donald Trump – a president who has so far totaled up more than 15,000 junk statements (surely a world record) – and his underlings would not contribute to the rich U.S.-presidential tradition of bold imperial mendacity? Trump and his supine bootlickers Mike Pence (Christian Fascist Vice President) and Mike Pompeo (“Secretary of State”) have preposterously claimed that the White House’s assassination of a top Iranian commander on Iraqi soil – an epic war crime – was required because Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani presented “imminent threats to American lives.”

There is no evidence for the claim. “According to one United States official,” the New York Times reported, “the new intelligence indicated ‘a normal Monday in the Middle East’ — Dec. 30 — and General Soleimani’s travels amounted to ‘business as usual.'” Pompeo had been nagging Trump to murder Soleimani for months, the Washington Post has divulged.

Pence even claimed that the assassination was defensible because Soleimani’s Quds Force helped al-Qaida in the 9/11 attacks — a preposterous charge disproved by George W. Bush’s own 9/11 Commission. Yes, Pence went there.

Pompeo denied that Trump threatened to attack Iranian cultural sites even though the videotape of the tangerine-tinted despot doing precisely that is crystal clear.

In a pathetic teleprompter speech awkwardly uttered with stone-faced generals by his side, the United States’ freshly impeached president absurdly argued that the missiles Iran fired at U.S. military bases in retaliation for the assassination “were paid for with funds made available by the last [Obama] administration.” That’s a farcically Orwellian take on Obama’s agreement to unfreeze Iranian assets in return for Teheran agreeing to dismantle its supposed nuclear weapons program.

From the start of his sick presidency and before, Trump has been falsely claiming that Obama and Europe’s nuclear deal left Iran “free to go ahead and create nuclear weapons.”

It isn’t just about Trump and his subordinates, of course. Lyndon Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin lie was spawned in a bigger Cold War sea that falsely portrayed the Vietnamese national independence and social justice movement as nothing more than an arm of international Communist expansions directed out of Moscow and Beijing.

In a similar vein, Trump’s assassination lies swims in a richly bipartisan sea of U.S.-imperial falsehood on Iran and the Middle East. Democrats, conservatives, and the dominant U.S. media have long and fully participated in advancing the fabricated and dishonest notion that Iran is a uniquely evil, dangerous, belligerent, destabilizing, and terrorist actor in the Middle East – a totally absurd narrative (as I argued in my last CounterPunch essay: ‘By comparison to the Saudis, Israel, and above all their sponsor the U.S., 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.’)

Since they buy into all the idiotic doctrinal nonsense about Iran’s special “terrorist” evil, all but a few establishment politicos pull their punches on the arch criminality of Trump’s assassination of Soleimani. They concede endlessly that Soleimani was a “really evil guy” and “bad actor” who “deserved to die” because he was supposedly responsible for the death of “hundreds of American troops” in Iraq – as if Superpower America (which surrounds Iran with U.S. military bases) hasn’t directly and indirectly killed more than a million people in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Yemen in this century alone; as if Muslims both Persian and Arab don’t have the right to defend themselves against imperial intervention and violence.

Soleimani “won’t be missed,” the talking heads say, dismissing the millions mourning their fallen national hero Soleimani in the streets of Iran.

The pundits fault Trump not so much for committing a war crime as for operating impulsively and without a “clear idea of the [unmentionably imperialist] strategic path forward.” One gets the distinct impression that they would have been perfectly fine with a President Hillary Clinton murdering Soleimani as part of a strategy designed and approved by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Why the timing of Trump’s criminal, high-risk assassination? The most likely explanation is that was an attempt to divert the U.S. media and populace’s attention away from his impeachment trial and to make Trump look strong as he enters the election year with remarkably low approval ratings for a president riding a “strong economy.”

That is not without precedent in U.S. presidential history. Recall that the phrase “wag the dog” was invented in connection with the sociopath Bill Clinton’s launching of bombs and missiles while Congress pursued his impeachment for lying about extra-marital fellatio.

So, same as it ever was with lying imperial presidents in the case of the Soleimani assassination? Yes and no. Consistent with the numerous other indications that Trump has made a qualitative neofascist break with the normal bourgeois conduct of the U.S. presidency, the Trump difference here is at least five-fold:

#1. The remarkably reckless and provocative audacity involved in directly assassinating a top military and political figure in a foreign sovereign state on the territory of another government without the government’s permission.

#2. The strong likelihood that Trump impulsively ordered the Soleimani assassination over and against the advice of most top U.S. military and intelligence officials.

#3. The almost complete absence of any effort to wrap Trump’s brazen crime in the flags of international law and coalition-building.

#4. The strong link Trump made between his action and his determination to demean and discredit the other major U.S. capitalist-imperialist party (the Democrats) and his predecessor.

#5. The openly thuggish, mob-like threats to quickly devastate Iraq (a not-so veiled brandishing of the U.S. nuclear arsenal) and to attack Iran’s cultural sites (also a war crime).

Postscript

For what it’s worth, I sent this this email to Chicago Tribune columnist Dahleen Glanton this Thursday: ‘Ms. Glanton: did you really write the following in today’s Tribune: “But Wednesday morning, Donald Trump gave us a gift. And we are grateful…Instead of retaliating with military force against Iran for bombing an American military base in Iraq, Trump chose to implement harsher sanctions designed to further weaken the country’s ability to sustain itself economically”? Good God, Ms. Glanton. So, you do not understand that ordinary civilians suffer and die when they live in a nation that cannot “sustain itself economically”? (Perhaps you recall the half-million plus Iraqi children killed by US sanctions in the 1990s). You do not grasp that economic sanctions are a form of crippling and murderous warfare – and part of the context that gives rise to full-on military war? Ms. Glanton, you appear to have lost your moral bearings because you have a “loved one” – you mention your 20-year old nephew – among the US troops who are currently occupying Iraq. Where is your love for the ordinary people, the women, boys, girls, and men of Iran? And why do you think the U.S. has any business occupying the sovereign territory of Iraq (a country “we” criminally and mass-murderously assaulted and occupied in 2003) with military bases in the first place?’ (Email Ms. Glanton at dglanton@chicagotribune.com)

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Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

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