On January 3, the Trump administration settled on a unique way to ring in the New Year—with the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani: a man widely regarded as the second most powerful figure in Iran. It was a reckless and worrisome exercise of power by the US President that made apparent not only his disregard for the psyche of a global citizenry, but also for the fragility of military affairs in the Middle East.
One thing worries me most about how this assassination was handled by Mr. Trump: the lack of transparency about the decision-making process. When confronted by the media about his reasoning for authorizing the attack, Trump and his administration refrained from supplying the American people with concrete evidence that supported their initial claim that there was an imminent threat to American lives. What does it mean when our increasingly powerful executive branch cannot be honest with the very citizens who realize the democracy at the heart of our nation? Furthermore, its insistence on a story full of holes begs the question: why not just come clean?
Let me be clear: the issue here is not the death of General Soleimani. Soleimani had long fought to spread Shiite and Iranian supremacy across the Middle East and was also responsible for numerous attacks on American bases in Iraq, killing hundreds of soldiers. No one outside of the regime weeps for the death of an internationally recognized terrorist responsible for the deaths of innumerable innocents in the name of furthering an oppressive agenda. The issue here is that Trump’s penchant to keep crucial relevant matters that would directly affect the lives of millions under wraps for no good reason leads to an unrestricted use of government resources (paid for by taxpayers.) With the power to neutralize a supposed threat comes great responsibility, the president could, at the very least, show some respect to the democracy—to the people—that put him in power.
Following news of Gen. Soleimani’s death, Mr. Trump made a public statement in which he claimed that he took action to stop a war, not start one. Apparently, his intentions were to react in defense to “imminent threats,” the existence of which we have yet to see any actual proof. Is there a war somewhere that our president failed to mention? I checked, there isn’t. The media seemed to react with whiplash to the many contradictory details of the story being released by the White House over the following week. Then, in what could only have been in anticipation of the media getting hold of irrefutable evidence that pointed a certain way, the president posted on Twitter that “it doesn’t really matter” whether the threat was imminent or not. Um… yes, it does.
Were the threats actually imminent, they would be impending, ready to befall at any point. Were the threats actually imminent, killing Soleimani would have proved a futile effort in stopping attacks on Americans because, by definition, the threat would be past the point of stopping! If anything, there existed a good chance that this imperious attempt at asserting dominance over a trigger-happy regime would backfire and encourage an act of retaliation leading to a world war no one wants to live through, fight in, or pay for.
So forget the legal justifications for a second and think about the repercussions that have followed the decisions of the man who currently sits in the Oval Office. Did he really not foresee the million different ways this could backfire? In the wake of the strike, the world has seen international leaders scramble to keep the boiling antagonistic sentiments from playing out on a war field. The effort notwithstanding, the Iranian military was so on edge following the airstrike that it mistook a Ukrainian passenger jet for an American missile, causing the death of 176 innocent human beings. The many efforts to mediate between nations have not been enough to keep the Iranian parliament from beginning a process that would push out foreign troops, one in a series of decisions that seem directly aimed at the United States’ recent act of violence. Embarrassingly, Mr. Trump faces the possibility of having tossed out the window decades’ worth of controversial effort that has gone into maintaining peace in the Middle East, leaving Iraq at the mercy of ISIS and a power-hungry—and now angry—Iran.
Sorry, Mr. President, but your nine iron isn’t going to get you out of this one.
Illustration by Zoe Chow.