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Main Result of Soleimani Assassination: the Movement to Expel U.S. Forces

Photograph Source: The U.S. Army – CC BY 2.0

Donald Trump postures as an anti-war president, or at least one who opposes “stupid, endless wars in the Middle East.” (Emphasis here on stupidity—read: expense—rather than morality and the issue of human suffering. Trump is a singularly non-empathetic human being.) On the other hand he’s boasted that he’s the “most militaristic” president we’ve ever seen. He has derived apparent pleasure from dramatic military actions, such as the deployment of the MOAB (Massive Ordinance Air Blast) bomb for the first time in Afghanistan in 2017, and the missile attack on Syria following the (false) report that the regime had used chemical weapons in April 2018.

But he’s avoided conflict with Russia in Ukraine and (for the most part) in Syria, whereas Hillary Clinton would surely have started a war. On the other hand, having once doubted NATO’s continued relevance, he has strengthened and expanded the provocative alliance, and (having once doubted the wisdom of weapons sales to Ukraine) has delivered the now-famous Javelin missiles. More dangerously, he has maintained his implacable hostility towards Iran, upset the entire world (save Israel and Saudi Arabia) by abandoning and sabotaging the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and waged war on the Iranian economy.

One wonders why Trump feels this aversion for Iran. It’s not like he cares about the region or knows anything about it. He doesn’t read or study. But in the years before his election he enjoyed the mean, racist, ignorant rants of those demanding “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” During the campaign—while oddly averring his opposition to wars—he indicated that John Bolton was on his list for secretary of state. (Don’t look for ideological coherence or consistency in Trump’s brain; he goes with his gut feelings about the TV appearances of potential staff. What sense did it make for him to appoint Bolton as his security advisor, knowing he wanted war on North Korea and Iran?) Anyway during the campaign Trump made withdrawal from the Iran Deal (and the Paris Accord) a campaign promise, and so he had to follow through, however stupid the move.

It is hard to imagine Trump’s reasoning. He states he doesn’t seek regime change in Iran. (He thus distances himself from earlier administrations that did.) Some people around him, notably Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are indeed hoping that the misery inflicted by sanctions will somehow translate into revolutionary upheaval that will end the Islamic Republic, sweep the U.S.-Israeli proxies of the Mujahadin-e Khalq (MEK) to power, and end Tehran’s influence over regional Shiite communities.

But Trump says what he wants is for Iran to come groveling back to the bargaining table, to make a new improved deal that he can proclaim a triumph. Pompeo’s list of 12 demands to Iran in May 2018 indicates what those improvements might be; they can only be compared to the 21 Demands presented to China by Japan in 1915 as a statement of imperialist arrogance. (While Tokyo demanded that the Chinese accept Japanese control over their economy, the U.S. demands that Iran abandon its foreign policy in order to shake off its crippling sanctions.) It is diplomacy by sadism and desire to humiliate. I think it will not work.

The assassination of Gen. Qasem Soleimani at Trump’s orders, recommended by Pompeo, praised by former National Security Advisor and neocon scumbag Bolton, was Trump’s riskiest move yet. Had the Iranians not been the level-headed, civilized people that they are, the murder of the general in Baghdad (as a state visitor involved in Saudi-Iranian relations along with nine others) could have produced an immediate proportionate response (like the offing of someone like the U.S. “secretary of defense”). As it is, Iran elected to respond with largely symbolic missile attacks on U.S. bases (or Iraqi Army bases surrounding U.S. compounds) that apparently took no U.S. lives, although the Iranian press states they did.

There are many repercussions of the Soleimani assassination (listed below). The most important is the response it produced in the Iraqi polity and people. While there is much criticism in Iraq of Iranian influence in the country, there is far more criticism of the U.S. which did, after all, wreck the country, kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, spark a civil war, tortured prisoners, generated ISIL and was only allowed back in 2014 to help fix the embarrassing problem it had created by its illegal invasion of 2003. Thus it was not surprising that the Iraqi Parliament would immediately and unanimously vote to expel foreign troops from the country. And not surprising that Iraqis as well as Iranians rallied in large numbers to mourn Soleimani. (This despite Soleimani’s involvement in the violent suppression of recent popular protests in Iraq.)

The U.S. press has downplayed the assassination alongside the Iranian general of the head of the Katai’b Hizbollah militia that played a key role in the liberation of Mosul and other cities from ISIL in 2017. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (62) was an official of the Iraqi state, killed in his own country because he and the Shiite militias in general are viewed by the Pentagon as enemies. But the existential struggle Iraq has faced since ISIL seized major cities in 2014 has been led not by the U.S. (providing air power and logistics) but by Iraqis. And while the Iraqi Army trained by the U.S., ridden by corruption and desertion and general incompetence buckled, the Shiite militia many trained by Iran were a decisive factor in victory.

Who does the average Iraqi more appreciate? The U.S. military, or Iran’s assistance in a common struggle against the hated caliphate that would never have materialized had the U.S. not invaded Iraq in the first place, based on lies? Who do you suppose the person on the street would mourn more? Gen. Soleimani or (say) Gen. Petraeus? My supposition is that the strike on both the Iranian general and Katai’b Hizbollah leadership are perceived as a U.S. ultimatum to Iraqis to choose: either the forces who’ve saved you from ISIL, and who will be with you forever close at hand; or the forces who’ve done more damage to you than the Mongols did the the thirteenth century.

The parliament vote, followed by the leaked (mysteriously retracted) letter from the Marine general accepting the order to withdraw, indicates that Iraqis—having been so provoked, humiliated, and insulted by the attack—are opting to make the choice offered them. If the U.S. will not allow them to have a normal relationship with the neighboring friendly nation, and insist on pulling them into a U.S.-Iran confrontation, the U.S. forces must leave. And if Trump in his sick racist sadistic fashion demands that Iraqis retain U.S. troops or suffer sanctions “worse than Iran’s” as punishment, while getting shaken down billions to pay for a useless base, they will tell him as politely as possible to go fuck himself.

That is the issue here. Not the U.S. versus Iran, as played out in Iraq, but the U.S. versus Iraq played out in Iraq. Trump was already understood globally to be a thuggish, ignorant buffoon. Now he has shown how through very stupid actions you can achieve precisely the opposite of what you intend. If the idea was to sever Iraq from Iran, the assassinations have severed the U.S. (surely under the Trump administration) from Iraq. As many are noting in the region, that was Soleimani’s goal anyway. If he attains that in death, he will be remembered with special affection as a Shiite martyr.

***

Watching Trump’s address on Iran now. Begins with the idiotic (arguable, religious) announcement: “Iran will never have a nuclear weapon.”

As though Iran ever was building a nuclear weapon. As though the world had not been assured in 2015 that Iran had no nuclear weapons program. Israeli politicians (Netanyahu in particular) have proclaimed from the 1990s that Israel is months away from having nuclear bombs that could produce a mushroom cloud over Jerusalem. U.S. politicians (Bush/Cheney) drew on the Israeli rhetoric, bogus intelligence and Israel Lobby to promote a false narrative about an immanent threat. That nonsense receded after the Deal but Trump the ignoramus has revived it. (MSNBC now noting that Bush got the attention of the people by stressing the nuclear threat—as though that was a good, successful part of his “speech.”)

By the way, did anyone else notice the sniffs?

A demand to UK, Germany, France and China to break completely with Iran, and for NATO to play more of a role in confronting Iran. A demand that governments that hold him in utter contempt join him in his plans. (I think of George W. Bush: “You’re either for us or against us.”) I think in fact the Europeans will say no.

How much more will the Iraqis say no. They deserve the right to say no to endless imperialist abuse.

***

Results of the assassinations (a partial list in no special order). Trump has:

* once again shown the world his cruel, ignorant and irresponsible character
* confirmed that despite Trump’s non-intervention rhetoric warmongers like Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper increasingly steer foreign policy
* further lost credibility by alleging Soleimani was planning imminent attacks on U.S. targets that required urgent action
* emboldened Congress to revisit the War Powers Resolution and use it to limit military action
* made Soleimani a Shiite martyr superhero for the ages
* united the Iranian people in a time of widespread unrest, in common outrage at U.S. imperialism
* generated demonstrations of grief and rage among millions across the Middle East
* shown total contempt for the Iraqi government hosting Soleimani
* obliged the Iraqi government to request the UN Security Council to condemn the U.S. action
* caused the Chinese and Russians to block a UNSC statement condemning the recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, since it made no mention of the murders of Soleimani and 9 Iraqis
* forced virtually all U.S. allies including Israel to distance themselves from U.S. policy
* provoked the Iraqi parliament to demand the withdrawal of U.S. troops (fulfilling a Soleimani dream)
* caused such anti-U.S. rage in Iraq that U.S. civilians have been urged by Washington to flee the country by any means
* placed the largest U.S. embassy in the world, a Vatican City-sized fortress, under threat
* produced embarrassment when the U.S. draft letter accepting expulsion was leaked and retracted
* produced outrage by threatening to sanction Iraq if it expelled the U.S. troops, and by demanding payment for base construction
* provoked the Iranian government to finally quit the Iran Deal that Trump had himself abandoned
* damaged prospects for Saudi-Iranian rapprochement, in which Soleimani was involved
* made a “proportionate attack” a virtual certainty

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Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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