It goes without saying that I reject the moralistic absurdities of our media and political institutions, up to and including Trump’s. Describing Soleimani as “the world’s #1 terrorist” is self-serving nonsense. Soleimani was a general. His primary objective was to advance the interests of Iran. And that objective could be broken down, in my view, to three parts:
1. Checking Saudi Arabia. The Saudi regime is the #1 terrorist state in the world. It has regional and global ambitions. We have all felt the sting of their global ambitions, which is to spread radical versions of Islam – Wahabist and Salafist – throughout the world. They do so by setting up madrassas and other propaganda organs in various countries and by creating and funding terrorist proxies such as ISIS. I don’t believe it is a direct command-and-control conspiracy. But I do believe that the Saudis imagine they hold these forces on a leash – one they can sometimes yank, and at other times slips out of their hands. Sunni fundamentalism is inherently chaotic and disorganized, it is a destabilizing agent and a corrosive acid. But any group causing chaos that shares the ideology of its Saudi benefactors can be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations.
Saudi Arabia unleashed ISIS on the Middle East. It might not have created it directly, but it ensured its survival, because the goal of ISIS was to purge the Middle East of heretics, apostates and unbelievers – beginning with Shia Islam. It’s strategy was deliberately crafted as the antithesis of Al Qaeda’s under Bin Laden. Bin Laden wanted to focus on the West; ISIS prioritized the Islamic world and the Middle East in particular. The destruction of Shia Islam, and the remnants of secular nationalist regimes such as Assad’s – which is run by secularists and Shia Muslims – was thus the common goal of Saudi Arabia and ISIS.
Much of what Soleimani was involved in was combating these efforts by Saudi Arabia to dominate the region. The civil war in Syria, the proxy war in Yemen, the chaos in Iraq – these are the main theaters of conflict for Iran.
It is clear that the permanent bureaucracy or the “deep state” prefers Saudi Arabia (and its secret ally, Israel), to Iran. But Donald Trump ran on a platform of ending “endless wars.” Killing Soleimani does not help this goal. It tips the balance of power to the Saudis, which means they will continue to stir up trouble that will justify American intervention. The Islamic civil war in the region, the Saudi-Iran proxy war, was likely on the verge of a stalemate, which would have naturally lead to peace negotiations, especially with Putin coordinating the effort. We are less likely to see that now.
2. Undermining Israel (mostly through Hezbollah). I’ve always acknowledged that Iran posed a threat to Israel. The logic of the Islamic Revolution seems to have driven them to an anti-Israel policy that I have always thought was irrational and counterproductive. The situation of the Palestinians has been one of the greatest contributors to instability and war in the region. The majority of Muslims in the Middle East, whether they are Arab or not, whether they are Sunni or Shia, regard it as an evil that their governments ought to work to put a stop to. Even as the Sunni governments clamped down on this mentality and began moving closer to Israel, this never happened in Iran. Anti-Israel sentiment among the masses is both stoked by the regime but also serves as motivator for continued hostilities. The Iranian leadership seems to have staked their political fortunes on it.
So, I think Israel had a legitimate reason to want Soleimani dead – but they never pulled the trigger, just like past American presidents never pulled the trigger, because it has the potential to unleash forces no one can control. Israel might be temporary allies with Saudi Arabia and on relatively better terms with Sunni groups than Shia groups, but does that remain the case if Saudi Arabia becomes the dominant power in the region and Iran is pushed out of the equation? It was probably in their interest to maintain the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia and not upset the equation too much.
Is Iran’s hostility to Israel a reason for the United States to kill Soleimani and/or go to war with Iran? Fuck no. Everything the US has done in the Middle East has empowered Saudi ambitions, Sunni terrorism, and “caliphates” that rape and torture civilians by the thousands, from its invasions, its funding of terrorist groups (“moderate opposition” to Assad), its military aid to the Saudis, and so on.
Resolving the conflict between Israel and Iran (and many other problems in the region) means two things: some kind of improvement in the situation of the Palestinians, and allowing Putin to take a leading role in negotiations as a mediator. Putin does not want to see Israel or Iran destroyed. He has a national interest in balancing power in the region. Theoretically we ALL do, but it is evident that only immediate interests, and not broader concerns, are motivating anyone’s behavior. All the US has done is make the conflict worse. Even if we had a president who kept his promises and sought to eliminate instead of escalate the likelihood of war, our country has lost all credibility in the region, while Russia’s credibility has never been higher.
Don’t give me any crap about how the Palestinians “lost a war” and should just accept it. They’re not Native Americans. They have to get something more than reservations and casinos out of the deal.
3. Fighting America. But not unconditionally. The idea that Soleimani, or even the Ayatollah, is just a mindless anti-American murderer, is ignorance and stupidity. I don’t recall reading once that Iran interfered with or hampered American forces in Syria, because they were there to fight ISIS. Maybe I missed something. Iranian forces (and Russian) might have attacked the so-called “moderate opposition” that we unfortunately and disgracefully supported, but those people were absolutely terrorists, for real, not just rhetorically.
But the real issue is Iraq, where the Shia militias have a great deal of power and oppose a continued US presence in their country. These militias have the support of Iran. They have been killing US troops in Iraq since the early years of the invasion.
We have no legitimate reason to be in Iraq. An expensive airbase is not a legitimate reason for keeping thousands of soldiers in a foreign country. How much do those soldiers cost, along with everything else related to our continued presence there? Sometimes you cut your losses – before they become greater.
War is hell. Soldiers are killed in war. Our soldiers are in a place they don’t belong. When one country invades another, it is natural, expected, and some would say, a duty for the invaded to shoot at and kill the invaders. You can say that since Iran wasn’t invaded, Soleimani had no reason to want to kill American soldiers in Iraq. But the Shia majority in Iraq, or at least the militias, welcome Iranian intervention. Sovereignty is murky in this situation, and you could argue that the Shia militias are de facto sovereigns over the territory they control. If the Iraqi government is not really contesting them (militias are formally illegal but have broad popular support and are allowed to exist), then their legitimacy is an open question.
In any case, no, I don’t regard people in their own country killing invaders to be an evil for which they themselves must be killed – nor the outside forces those invaded people invite to help them. It is our leaders, who orchestrated the war in Iraq – Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld – who should be put on trial for war crimes. So should Hillary and Obama for what they did to Libya and Syria.