American reactions to President Trump’s explosive abolition of General Qassem Suleimani has been complicated. On one hand there is a broad consensus among left-lurching Americans that the late leader of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was a “a ruthless and cynical fomenter of lethal violence against western interests,” the “puppet-master of militias and terrorist groups across the Middle East, ” “a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans,” who has “the blood of hundreds of thousands on his hands: Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, Lebanese, Palestinians, Israelis, Americans and fellow-Iranians, among others.” The general was “an enemy of the United State,” who “has the deaths of hundreds of Americans on his hands,” because of the deadly success of his “terrorist acts against the United States…” I listed the left-lurcher sources of these evaluation in a previous column.

Readers who spend less time than I reading the commentary of Suleimani’s abrupt departure might imagine that this consensus provides ample justification for the decision to speed his journey to Muslim martyrdom. But this is not the case. There have been a lot of objections to the president’s decision to express his objections to the Quds guy’s conduct through the medium of high explosives. Few Americans ready to argue that it was OK for the general to kill Americans and other infidels. The objections are more varied and complicated.

Interviewed by Anderson Cooper on CNN Bernie Sanders, compared Soleimani to a dissident in a totalitarian country fighting against his own repressive government, and went on to say something even stupider. “[B]ut this guy is, you know, was as bad as he was, an official of the Iranian government. And you unleash … then, if China does that, you know, if Russia does that. You know, Russia has been implicated under Putin with assassinating dissidents. So, once you’re in the business of assassination, you unleash some very, very terrible forces[.]”

Bernie is not alone in condemning the personal targeting as assassination. There are others who seem to prefer impersonal killing in accordance with international law. Jeh Johnson, Obama’s Homeland Security Secretary and a former counselor to the Defense Department, is not one of them. He told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that “If you believe everything that our government is saying about General Soleimani, he was a lawful military objective, and the president, under his constitutional authority as commander in chief, had ample domestic legal authority to take him out without additional congressional authorization. Whether he was a terrorist or a general in a military force that was engaged in armed attacks against our people, he was a lawful military objective.”

Senator Sanders’ phrase “as bad as he was” clearly implies that he agrees that Soleimani deserved a large helping of high explosives, so the can’t reasonablely dismiss the government characterization of the man as propaganda. That, however, leaves the assassination classification open to debate. The 1975 Senate Church Committee report implicated the American government in a number of political assassination plots, notably the Kennedy and Johnson administrations schemes to terminate Fidel Castro. The Committee argued that “short of war, assassination is incompatible with American principles, international order, and morality.” Next year President Gerald Ford issued an executive order banning political assassinations. However presidents have come to make a distinction between assassinations and “targeted killings.”

The phrase“targeted killing” refers to non-state actors, not political leaders. Since Secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld termed non-state actors “unlawful combatants” in 2002, the legal consensus has been that they are not covered by the Geneva Conventions, regardless of Rosie O’Donnel’s interpretation.

The Council on Foreign Relations, no friend of Donald Trump, has argued that Khomeini, founder of the Iranian Republic, established the IRGC in order to circumvent the legal and political restraints of state institutions such as the army. As the “IRGC’s de facto external affairs branch,” Soleimani’s Quds Force funds and supports proxy groups across the region in order to export the Iranian revolution. It is not a formal part of the Iranian Army.

So here’s the key question. Is it wise for the United State to respect the Iranian “comfort zone?” They may prefer to avoid a formal state or war, and continue with…what shall be call it, a “state of killing, bombing, assassination, subversion” adapted to their ambitions and fears. In sum, we allow them to carry on as before, virtuously declining to repay them in kind, while assuring them that they need never face the full force of American power.

There may be case to be made for this relatively passive course of action. If there is then the case should be made. It won’t be because the majority of Americans will not accept it. What we hear, instead, is the argument that Quds-busting moves us closer to outright war. Our alternative? Continue to interfered with the Iranian terror agenda while avoiding direct confrontation. That implies abandoning the Carter Doctrine after forty years. For readers too young to have heard of this, or too senile to remember it; President Carter declared that the United States would employ military force against any country that attempted to gain control of the Persian Gulf region.

No contenders for presidential power has chosen to propose this course of action explicitly, but all know how to play on the fear of war. Bernie Sanders speaks of “Trump’s dangerous escalation…”it brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars.” Sen Warren, after a short hesitation, joins in sounding the alarm. “We’re on the brink of yet another war in the Middle East,” she tweeted, “one that would be devastating in terms of lives lost and resources wasted. We’re not here by accident. We’re here because a reckless president, his allies, and his administration have spent years pushing us here.”

John Frary of Farmington, the GOP candidate for U.S. Congress in 2008, is a retired history professor, an emeritus Board Member of Maine Taxpayers United, a Maine Citizen’s Coalition Board member, and publisher of FraryHomeCompanion.com. He can be reached at jfrary8070


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