VANCOUVER, British Columbia — U.S. President Donald Trump kicked off 2020 by authorizing the assassination of a powerful Iranian general on Iraqi soil, where America still has a military presence. Trump then threatened sanctions against Iraq if it followed through on a parliamentary resolution to expel U.S. troops.
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This was like going over to a friend’s house to watch the big game and then murdering one of your friend’s friends. Then, when the friend kicks you out, you refuse to leave until he pays you for the pizza and beer you brought.
After the U.S. military droned Qassem Suleimani at Baghdad’s international airport, the Iraqi parliament voted to do American taxpayers a favor and end the 17-year U.S. occupation of Iraq. Trump, who was elected largely on the promise to get America out of its Middle Eastern entanglements, responded by threatening Iraq with financial consequences. It was surreal to hear another extortion threat from a president who was just impeached for withholding congressionally approved military aid for Ukraine in exchange for political favors.
“We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build,” Trump said. “We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.”
Trump has gone from promising an end to useless forever wars to perpetuating the U.S. engagement in Iraq and starting a war with Iran. The neoconservative warmongering faction within the Trump administration that has long tried to goad Trump into a war with Iran finally got what it wanted. So did the military-industrial complex: Aerospace and defense companies saw their stock prices soar after Suleimani was killed.
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The neocons could see that they were losing their footholds in the Middle East, from Afghanistan to Syria. Decades-long efforts to increase U.S. presence and influence in the region has failed. The ultimate beneficiary was Iran.
Iran had beefed up its military role, kicking jihadists backed by the U.S. and its Gulf State allies out of Middle Eastern countries. The man who led that effort — and who prevented Islamic State terrorists from raising their flag over Baghdad and Damascus — was Suleimani. And no one knows it more than all of the people who spilled into the streets of Iraq and Iran to mourn his death.
But in neocon bizarro world, a known fighter of terrorists is labeled a terrorist with American blood on his hands. Trump had never tweeted about Suleimani before having him killed, yet the president now pretends that Suleimani was another Osama bin Laden.
In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by Saudi nationals, Suleimani actually cooperated to help America fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. He broke ranks with the U.S. when George W. Bush said Iran was part of an “Axis of Evil” a few months later in his 2002 State of the Union address. Teaming with Iran to fight terrorism was never going to fit the neocon narrative when a coup d’état in Iran — the strongest country in a region that the U.S. sought to dominate — was the endgame.
A few years after the U.S. invaded Iraq on questionable intelligence, Suleimani opposed what many citizens of the Middle East came to view as an American occupation. Imagine the Iranian military invading Canada and a U.S. general leading the effort to kick Iran out. Would anyone argue that Iran was there justifiably to liberate Canada? Would anyone object to the U.S. military entering Canada to remove Iranian soldiers from Canadian soil? Because that was precisely Suleimani’s role in Iraq.
After 9/11, the U.S. embarked on an ambitious odyssey, led by interventionist neocons, to install puppet governments across the Middle East under the guise of democracy-building. Given the total failure of that project and the proliferation of failed states as a result, it should come as no surprise that the people of the region no longer welcome a U.S. military presence.
Suleimani’s assassination resulted from an escalation between U.S. forces and Iranian-aligned Iraqi forces on Iraqi soil — a product of the power struggle between Iran and the U.S in the Middle East. Experts have long feared that it was only a matter of time before someone triggered a hot war. The Trump administration has now pulled that trigger. In doing so, it has placed the fate of the world in the hands of Iran, as we’re all left hoping that Iranian leadership responds to the attack with restraint, discipline and calm. Meanwhile, Trump is already threatening to bomb Iranian cultural sites — which would be a war crime.
What Trump should be doing, instead of tweeting his way into the Twitter Hague with his bellicose threats against Middle Eastern countries, is fulfilling his election promise to simply leave the region. The failure of two decades of neocon interventionism wasn’t Trump’s fault, but by acting like the neocons’ lapdog, he has become indistinguishable from them.
Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of an independently produced French-language program that airs on Sputnik France. Her website can be found at www.rachelmarsden.com.