Readers of this site are surely as upset as I am by the mainstream coverage of the U.S. killing of Qasem Soleimani. Even those reporters and commentators who doubt the lies of the Trump administration feel a need to justify American aggression in the Middle East and rationalize drone killings of people classified as enemies. They say that Soleimani was “evil” or had “blood on his hands” or that “few tears will be shed” over his killing. They cannot reflect the deep shame that so many of us feel over American arrogance. They can’t say what is so obvious to the world, Muslim lives are cheap to the United States.
It’s dispiriting because it shows that approaching 20 years after 9/11 the United States won’t be able to find its way out of this moral quagmire, that even if we get a Democratic president American leaders and their media entourage will bray that we have a beneficent role to play in the lives of sovereign societies half a world away. When all we have done is generate suffering.
That’s why it’s important to celebrate two voices in the mainstream press lately who have risen to the occasion and broken with this pattern, who refuse to demonize Soleimani, who have shown respect for Iranian choices and civilization.
The novelist Geraldine Brooks had a great piece in the New York Times, titled, “Iranian Blood Is On Our Hands, Too” that opens with a gauntlet to the groupthink:
I’m reduced to groaning at the TV when commentators don’t help us understand what’s going on, but instead confound our understanding by providing incorrect information.
Brooks was a journalist in 1988, covering the U.S. shoot-down of a civilian aircraft, Iran Air 655, killing 290 people. She describes the geopolitical context here.
Having witnessed that destruction, I don’t find it hard to understand why Iran seeks to build up its missile capability. We would, if in its position. Israel’s supporters often note that Israel’s military aggression can be excused because it lives in “a bad neighborhood” — and indeed, it does. But we characterize Iran as “meddling” in Iraq, forgetting or oblivious to the fact that not long ago Iraq posed an existential threat to Iran, which the United States abetted.
General Suleimani killed Americans and, we are told, had plans to kill more. He was a military commander. Military commanders have plans to kill their enemies. And the United States is Iran’s enemy, reneging on the nuclear agreement and choking its economy, impoverishing and immiserating civilians who have nothing to do with, and no say in, their government’s policy.
Then there’s Bernie Sanders. Whatever you think of him as a political candidate, he has been shown great leadership in the last few days, calling out the lies of the Trump administration and stating the moral, legal, and realist dimensions of this assassination. On the PBS News Hour, Sanders was asked, “What if the administration is able to produce hard evidence that he [Soleimani] was going to attack Americans, would you then say this was justified?”
Well, that’s a hypothesis. We haven’t seen that evidence. Frankly, I doubt that evidence is there…. What is going on right now feels to me exactly what I saw in 2002 and 2003. And that was the lead-up and the justification for the war in Iraq. I opposed that war vigorously, and it turned out to be one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the history of the United States. A war with Iran would likely be even worse.
So, I will do all that I can to make sure that, in this instance and in other instances, we solve international conflict diplomatically, and that we try to put an end to endless wars.
You’ve called this “a violation of international law,” Judy Woodruff asked. Does that mean Trump has committed a war crime? Sanders said in essence, yes.
Look, when you go around assassinating leadership in governments, you are setting a precedent which says to any country on Earth, hey, all we got to do is name these people terrorists, call them what you want, and we can assassinate them.
I think the world and this country is sick and tired of endless wars that have cost us trillions of dollars, while our infrastructure is collapsing, our health care system is dysfunctional. We have to deal with climate change and invest heavily in transforming our energy system.
Sanders made similar statements on NPR yesterday, saying the US should be negotiating with Iran, and citing his opposition to the Vietnam and Iraq wars.
When interviewer Rachel Martin said Iran is “exhibiting a lot of dangerous behaviors,” Sanders agreed but turned that to a discussion of American conduct and the criminality of the “war on terror.”
You’re quite right; they [Iran] have been involved in a lot of ugly activities. But so has the leadership in North Korea, which has killed hundreds of thousands of their own people. So has Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, who killed an American journalist and is a thug and a murderer.
When you go around assassinating a government official, you unleash international anarchy, and all the rules are gone, and anybody can do anything that they want. And I get very, very nervous about that.
….Trump is the president right now, and he is causing all of this chaos. I think that endless wars and the so-called war on terrorism has, by and large, been a disaster. It’s created more instability around the world, incredible loss of life and the expenditure of trillions of dollars.
And just as Geraldine Brooks called for diplomacy in her Times op-ed, Sanders called for diplomacy instead of executing officials.
[U]nlike Trump, I believe in diplomacy. I believe in negotiations. The goal is to bring countries together to try to address international conflict without war….
the United States is the wealthiest, most powerful nation on Earth. We should use our wealth and our resources, through carrots and sticks, to bring countries together, to end the kind of terrible conflicts that we are seeing all over the world, to strengthen international organizations where people can sit down and argue rather than shoot guns or drop bombs against each other.
Now, I’m not a pacifist. There are times when war may be necessary. But I believe, as somebody who as a young person opposed the Vietnam War, which was such a disaster for my generation, as somebody who helped lead the effort against the war in Iraq, which was such a disaster for our younger people, that I will do everything I can to resolve international conflict through diplomacy, through negotiations and not through the continuation of endless wars. Enough is enough.
These are some of the darkest days in recent American history; yet I feel grateful for these voices.