Interventionists and anti-imperialists don’t agree on much in foreign policy. But even if they take directly opposite approaches, they tend to agree that championing democratic values and human rights should be a primary goal of American foreign policy, and that it’s better for other nations to see the United States as a friend than as an enemy.
On both of those counts, Donald Trump’s reckless decision to assassinate a prominent Iranian general has been a colossal failure. This isn’t just the opinion of some leftist writer at a liberal magazine. Military strategists knew it would be a gigantic mistake, which is why neither Republican nor Democratic administrations took this action in the past. Commanders only presented Trump with the option of doing so in order to make the other better options seem more reasonable by contrast–a huge mistake when dealing with a Commander-in-Chief as devoid of common sense and moral responsibility as Donald Trump.
The attack itself was ostensibly a violation of international law and Geneva Conventions. The president’s gross threat the following day to attack Iranian cultural sites was an even clearer crime, and far less strategically or morally defensible.
Now the position of both America and western liberal values in the Middle East is unquestionable weaker, which should concern both leftists and neoconservatives alike. Within the first 48 hours after the strike, the following developments have occurred:
1) Iran has formally withdrawn from their nuclear agreement with the United States. The deal reached by the Obama Administration with Iran was a landmark achievement of diplomacy, one that defused tensions in the region while setting the two nations on a diplomatic rapprochement and forcing Iranian rival Saudi Arabia to at least appear to be on better behavior. Donald Trump decided to scrap the deal entirely for reasons that remain unclear, but appear to be caused by simple petty animus against former President Obama himself, and perhaps influence from both the hyper-conservative governments of Saudi Arabia and Israel. Saudi Arabia in particular has become emboldened against the broader program of human rights as tensions between Iran and the United States have risen.
Now Iran will feel free to put its nuclear program into high gear, igniting an arms race in the middle east that could escalate Sunni-Shia conflicts to the level of potential global catastrophe.
2) Iraq’s parliament has voted to oust all U.S. troops from Iraq. Iraq considered Soleimani an invited guest, and his killing was an extraordinary violation of Iraqi sovereignty. Anti-interventionists on the left will cheer this development for some good reasons: American troops should have left Iraq long ago if at all possible, and should never have been there in the first place. But once we were there, this is the worst possible way to exit. It’s always better to leave as a respected and honored guest, rather than be kicked out in anger. Iraq will now be inclined to turn to Iran, Russia and China for strategic alliance–a situation that works not only against American interests, but also against progressive interests in the world broadly speaking. America has much to answer for on the world stage, but it benefits neither the neoconservative cause of Pax Americana nor the progressive interest of human rights and global cooperation to give greater power to a murderously repressive conservative theocracy, a white supremacist fossil-fueled mafia kleptocracy, and a corrupt surveillance state autocracy actively engaged in mass ethnic cleansing.
3) The Iranian people are now rallying to their government in massive numbers to mourn Soleimani just a month after engaging in widespread anti-government protest. A longstanding objective of American foreign policy on both the right and the left has been to weaken Iran’s theocratic government and promote liberal democratic values within the country. There can be no question that killing Soleimani has been counterproductive to that goal. This should come as no surprise at all: not only is it a matter of wounded national pride, Soleimani for all his many evils was seen as a key figure in the battle against hated Sunni extremist powers, especially ISIS, in Shi’ite Iran. Which brings us to the next disaster:
4) The U.S. led coalition has suspended its battle against ISIS. The rise of ISIS has been one of the most alarming developments of the last decade, and the fight to contain and eliminate it has been difficult. ISIS rose as a result of a tragically ignored power vacuum among conservative Sunnis in Iraq and Syria resulting from the misbegotten American invasion. All other concerns in the Middle East pale in comparison to taming the threat from ISIS and its attempt to foster a globally self-organized agenda of violent illiberalism. Iran has been a key opponent of ISIS, and fostering closer diplomacy with Iran and Shi’ites in the region has been crucial in the battle against the so-called Islamic State. The Trump’s administration’s betrayal of anti-ISIS Kurdish fighters also doesn’t help. Now with U.S. forces unwelcome and potentially under attack across the region, ISIS will be much freer to being re-organizing and recruiting. Needless to say, this is dangerous not only to those in the region, but to everyone around the world.
All of this is just in the last 24 hours. More dominoes will be sure to fall soon. It’s not yet clear how Iran will respond to Soleimani’s killing, or what the out-of-control Trump Administration’s counter-response is likely to be. But it’s safe to assume that both sides will continue to posture in a toxic attempt to save face in front of each other, and to distract from their unpopularity domestically, in a cycle of violence that could lead to a catastrophic war.
It’s impossible to predict the future with confidence, but one thing is abundantly clear: Trump and his enablers have dramatically weakened the position of both America and western liberal values, setting the world on a much more dangerous course. It’s a disastrously bad outcome from either a progressive or conservative perspective, one that leads only to increased death and misery, weakens international cooperation and strengthens the hand of the worst actors on the world stage.