On January 2nd the United States assassinated Iran Quds Force General Qasem Soleimani on the US pretext of an anti-terror strike, killing him and his entourage by drone strike at Baghdad International Airport, just subsequent to disembarking from a flight. As head of the Iranian IRGC elite Quds Force, Soleimani commanded effective operations versus ISIS and assorted Salafi terror groups in Iraq and Syria.
US Pentagon officials claimed the drone strike was authorized under section 10 U.S. Code § 127e, ‘Support for Special Operations to Combat Terrorism’. According to one source, a plan to assassinate Soleimani in Iraq was devised some time ago after Iran shot down an RQ-4 Reaper. But the ‘justification’ for Soleimani’s political assassination was of course weak, and perhaps considered Imperial overreach too far since the Trump regime had only declared the Quds Force a terror operation by April, 2019 .
With this strike the United States has aligned itself with Israel and Saudi Arabia and their National Policy of State-sponsored political assassination, allowed under any real or imagined circumstance the political will may conjure. But conflating Soleimani’s role -- having stature and standing as legitimate military commander of an Elite military force of a sovereign nation – with that of a common terrorist, might perhaps be a bit of a stretch, even for the Israeli and Saudi regimes.
Throughout most of its history, the United States prohibited political assassination, considering it a violation of human decency and America’s effort to promote itself as a champion of human rights. The other concern of course was that political assassination might set a precedent whereby US politicians might be assassinated by return, commonly called Blowback in the Tradecraft sphere.
On December 4, 1981, President Ronald Reagan issued Executive Order 12333 where Section 2.11 of the order provides: “Prohibition on Assassination. No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” Section 2.12 of the same political assassination order prohibits indirect participation in activities prohibited by the order, stating: “Indirect participation. No agency of the Intelligence Community shall participate in or request any person to undertake activities forbidden by this Order.”
Unfortunately, US intel intellectuals and the Security State believed the order was too restrictive to suit US interests, and George W. Bush overturned the order with a later executive order permitting political assassination, after 911. Likewise the Authorization For Military Force broadened the use of lethal force under the US State of Emergency, where the United States has been in an official State of Emergency (to some extent or another!) since 1976. Israel too just recently actively reinstated its policy of political assassination versus Palestinians, even though that policy never really lapsed.
Also assassinated in the attack with Soleimani was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an important Iraqi commander – but not of Soleimani’s stature, Muhandis having been accused of 1983 human rights abuses in Kuwait - and by all accounts al-Muhandis’s entourage was destroyed in the US attack as well.
Iran’s response to the killings was of course prompt. Zarif summed up the US atrocity at Baghdad International Airport:
The US' act of international terrorism, targeting & assassinating General Soleimani—THE most effective force fighting Daesh (ISIS), Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al—is extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation. The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.
To somewhat moderate the immediate hysteria, a spokesman for the Iranian Parliament's Committee on National Security released this statement: "Vengeance for the assassination of General [Qassem] Soleimani does not require a regional war and the United States will pay a heavy price for committing this crime.” The statement is somewhat ambiguous, but hints at lesser rhetoric from Iran. Hassan Nasrallah released a brief statement after the attack and is speaking at length on television (Lebanon); his written response is succinct and measured.
Iran has promised some response to the United States after three days of mourning, signifying the gravity of the situation -- not just for Iran, but also for the rest of the region. But before considering how Iran may tactically respond, let’s consider the US motivation for the Baghdad Airport attack in a larger context.
Long ago the United States learned that it is not necessary to win wars… just do not lose a war to the extent where your adversary may dictate terms on your own turf. The US idea is to leave a failed state. Creating the failed state creates the opportunity for exploitation of resources, and geopolitical positioning. The economic, military, and strategic advantage provided by the failed state is the prerequisite for its destabilization. Destabilization is accomplished by economic sanction, by financial subversion and regime change, if the target state does not submit to the hegemonic.
That’s because having to maintain a working government in the vanquished state and align with it as master-to-vassal is costly and risky… especially when the people of the vassal state are of a different race and culture. So, the US advocates Neo-colonialism instead of colonial rule where no real moral or humanitarian goal is necessary to pursue. In such light “empire” may not even be considered empire, especially when the real empire is a financial one, only motivated by funds and resources - not in consideration of the welfare of the people of the vassal state. This is Iraq, since 2003 caught between east and west. And via the US policy of “maximum pressure” versus Iran, the failed state of Iraq is caught in the middle.
Perhaps the least understanding of US State failed-state foreign policy is among US-State’s very own policy wonks in a run-amok agency, which has no practical or sensible direction and can only gloat about its ability to lie, cheat, and steal. Against this backdrop -- and the toxic US alliance with Israel versus almost everyone else - the president has been continually cajoled for war with Iran since being elected to office.
As examined in my article Target Iran the US march to war with Iran could be predicted and considered inevitable. Having resisted the call to war with Iran before, the president just acquiesced… even if Iran chooses not to retaliate re the US assassination of its commander in Iraq. If there is no war, it will be due to Iran’s pragmatism in the face of grievous US provocation.
Yes, Trump is a gambling man. He has gambled all his life, and won the game with a royal flush by nabbing the presidency from a weak and perhaps even more dangerous candidate. (If Clinton had won the presidency odds are high that she would have confronted the Russian leadership in Syria, and appointed Vicky Kagan-Nuland as Secretary of State.) Even so, Trump’s gambit and gamble in Iraq is a massive play. It is all on the line now. Syria. Iraq. Libya. Iran. Israel. Lebanon. Gaza and the Occupied Territories. Not to mention Yemen and Venezuela.
Now the US aggression in Iraq alienates a large portion of Trumps’ base. Many voters supported the president because he opposed the war in Iraq, because he expressed his dislike for interventionist wars, and presented himself as a populist leader more inclined to peace than to side with the Beltway’s Death Merchants. If a costly war in Iraq and Iran results, a large segment of the US voting population will be set adrift -- more bitter, disenfranchised, and ‘deplorable’ than ever before.
If Iran retaliates and a hot war erupts in the Middle East, that’s the Black Swan event many analysts expect and have predicted. As geopolitical analyst Tom Luongo shared, the US move versus Soleimani is “outside the norm by at least two standard deviations”.
Even though the US share market is locked down by primary dealer gaming, the rest of the world is not. Whether central banks will fall in line and support a new US war of aggression in the Middle East is one further unknown. For now, gold is up. Bitcoin is up. And so is oil. The impact of what may be a Black Swan event casts the shadow of uncertainty for markets, yet another extension of the huge gamble Trump has embarked upon by allowing the US military to assassinate Iran’s revered military leader. So how may Iran respond?
There is really no reason for the United States to be in al Tanf other than area denial. The US presence prevents trade between Syria and Iraq. The situation at al Tanf crossing is somewhat analgous to al Qaim, another Syria-Iraq border crossing recently bombed by the United States. Whether al Tanf will be considered vulnerable by Iran and a weak point largely depends on what happens in Iraq and the US influx of troops now underway.
Under Mahdi as caretaker PM, the US war machine saw political weakness in its failed state as an opportunity… hence the militarist opportunity for US aggression versus Iran there. However, it is possible that Iran could find opportunity in Iraq as well… political opportunity, not military. The question is whether Iran can truly leverage that political opportunity. Some analysts treat Iraq as a monolith in part corrupted by US influence -- where for example al Sadr is a known CIA asset. With Iraq in a shamble now, the impression is that the Occupying power, the United States, has the advantage. But Iraq is not a monolithic entity.
At this point, and based on the general unrest Iraq has seen, the opportunity for Iran in Iraq is unclear. Certainly, Iraq did not invite the United States to its sovereign territory – the United States invaded and occupied Iraq by false pretenses. That was seventeen years ago, and the US is still there illegally according to all international law. Iran attempts to leverage its own advantage through trade; most of the gas Iraq uses for electricity comes from Iran for example. Iraq’s boots on the ground are by invitation and in cooperation with Iraq – not as an invader even if the western media will have you believe otherwise.
But Iran has been over-zealous in its treatment of Iraq, not as a vassal state -- but as an equal. That lack of caution certainly led to this tragic assassination by the United States. In this author’s judgement, Iran will seek political opportunity in Iraq going forward and will not retaliate militarily there.
Strait of Hormuz
If Iran does consider military action, the Strait of Hormuz could be the place for it. With its fast boats and reasonably advanced missile technology, shutting down the Strait is perhaps the only game in town. In such a shutdown it will be difficult for the US to indiscriminately bomb Tehran, and difficult for the United States to engage in direct military action in the Strait of Hormuz. The US might then respond to the closure by destroying Iran’s oil infrastructure, in the perennial US effort to create another failed state. But the risk of such a confrontation is unlikely to seem worth it to the people of the great nation who invented the game of chess.
As for the other hair-brained scenarios proposed by Neocons/Neoliberals – such as Iran attacking Israel – that scenario is beyond absurd. The idea that Iran will engage in a direct military confrontation with Israel only illustrates the out-of-control outrageous lunacy so characteristic and prevalent in the western press. Likewise, the hysterical notion that Hezbollah will attack Israel from Lebanon ranks in the same lunatic category. If any such retaliation occurs there will be minor skirmishes or harassment, and nothing like all-out war.
Now, in conjunction with this event, Israel has been experiencing a great deal of unrest for weeks now, before this assassination took place. The unrest has been relatively unreported in the west, for political reasons. The plight of Palestinians in the atmosphere of a first world election season is kept tightly under wraps so western audiences will not be exposed to what’s going on there. In other words, the western media and political class are terrified that the Palestinian issue might become a political issue at election time. (ie in the United States and Israel.) In this light, Gaza, being under siege for over a decade now and largely cut-off, may have its own independent ideas on how to respond.
In summary, it seems unlikely though that Iran as a sovereign state will react militarily to the assassination of its leader. First and foremost, Iran is a progressive power and not a reactionary one. The United States and Israel are purely reactionary, where only might makes right and no moral considerations exist.
Iran can take the moral high ground here, biding its time, enhancing existing alliances and angling for new ones. (For example Pakistan.) Iran has only to bide its time and tread carefully. Iran for example may wish to approach the Russian leadership about air defense once again; Russia rejected its help to Iran at the urging of the US… will that change now?
The brave new world is apparently here. It is a world where reality hosts eventually turn deadly, where day is night, war is peace, and love is hate. Ironically Iran has the opportunity now to prove its desire for peace and can inject some sanity into a west run amok with its desire to assassinate and kill.
Steve Brown is the author of "Iraq: the Road to War" (Sourcewatch) editor of "Bush Administration War Crimes in Iraq" (Sourcewatch) "Trump's Limited Hangout" and "Federal Reserve: Out-sourcing the Monetary System to the Money Trust Oligarchs Since 1913"; Steve is an antiwar activist, a published scholar on the US monetary system, and has appeared as guest contributor to The Duran, Fort Russ News, Herland Report, Lew Rockwell Report, The Ron Paul Institute, and Strategika51. Twitter: @newsypaperz