But Soleimani Was a Bad Guy!

On Assassination and American Exceptionalism

NOTE: I’m currently working on some other projects, namely my promised DNA of Capitalism, a Mad Sociologist in the News Video on…yes…the impeachment, as well as a sociology lecture on Interaction and Identity. I’m also fighting a cold. That as well as the normal holiday season, someassemblyrequired, stuff of life is why the MSB has been relatively quiet. Then, our government assassinated a high ranking Iranian military official. So I wanted to take a few minutes to offer an admittedly shallow analysis of this latest crime.

The response to the targeted U.S. assassination of General Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, was almost entirely in line with the standard discourse on American militarism. Opposing sides, namely the Democrats and Republicans, framed their arguments in terms of logistics and tactics. Was killing a popular Iranian general a sound, strategic move? Does the United States have a stronger or weaker negotiating position with Iran now that Soleimani is out of the picture, or did we succeed only in empowering the Shi’ite nation’s hard-liners and militarists?

The media echoed this shallow dialogue with the standard, “two sides disagree about shape of the earth” milquetoast analysis. To be fair, the sources I’ve read, namely the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, and Al Jazeera tend to lean toward a more negative appraisal of the targeted killing’s strategic and/or political value. Regardless, the underlying assumption made by all parties involved in the discussion is that it is perfectly right and natural for the United States to use a flying killer robot to blow up an national official it defined, without due process, as being a bad guy.

And everyone is obligated to admit that General Soleimani was a bad guy–a terrorist. After all, he had American blood on his hands. No irony was ever identified in this statement.

General Soleimani was a military general. True of all generals, he had blood on his hands. American blood. ISIL blood. Iraqi blood.

If having blood on one’s hands makes one a terrorist or a bad guy, then that criteria must also apply to all military generals, even all officers. If, however, the emphasis is on American blood, then what we are talking about is American exceptionalism. We are saying that there is something special about American blood that is not true of Iranian blood.

For instance, when Captain William C. Rogers III, commander of the USS Vincennes, through his own belligerence, shot down Iran Air Flight 655 in 1988, killing almost three hundred civilians, including over 60 children, he wasn’t a bad guy or a terrorist. After all, accidents happen–even when the evidence suggests that it was no accident. Instead, he was given a metal.

When the United States military was arming Iraq with Weapons of Mass Destruction in its 1980’s war with Iran, causing the deaths of more than half a million Iranians, many of them civilians, those officers and political officials have blood on their hands in every bit the same way as General Soleimani. Geraldine Brooks, writing for the New York Times, said it best.

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.

Geraldine Brooks: New York Times 1/8/2020

This observation adds complexity to the “bad guy/terrorist” criteria. Generals and military officials aren’t the only ones who can be defined as having bloody hands. How many Iraqi civilians, children, old people, women in labor, have died as a result of U.S. sanctions. Those civilians in power, some with noteworthy bone spurs, can also be defined as terrorists…as can their mouth frothing followers who cheer on the demise of a functional peace agreement because, you know–Obama.

The “blood on one’s hands” standard could, if applied honestly, indict a lot of people.

Ultimately, that is the point of this post. I offer no defense for General Soleimani, but if I am obliged to apply a standard to one general, then it is incumbent upon me to apply this same standard to all. If General Soleimani were a bad guy, a terrorist, then how else can we define the actions of our own government with regard to Iranians, to Kurds, to Iraqis? How do we justify not sending flying killer robots to take out those who have blood on their hands in Saudi Arabia with regard to Yemen, or Russia with regard to Ukraine, or to China with regard to its own Uyghurs? How many civilians have died in concentration camps on the U.S. border?

The more we add up the bad guys and terrorists by virtue of this criteria, the more we realize that we simply don’t have enough flying killer robots to deal with the problem.

If, however, we continue to be selective in how we attribute the “blood on the hands” standard, then we are tacitly admitting that the blood is of secondary concern. What matters is the hands. Some hands, specifically American hands or the hands of those privileged by American power brokers, are simply more worthy, are of greater value than other hands.

That is the standard position of the Democratic and Republican parties and of the mainstream media. One might question the wisdom or rationale of American violence, but never the validity. Until we, as a people, decide that shedding blood in the “national interest” is terrorism, that flying robot assassins are criminal, that warfare as an extension of geo-politics is unacceptable, then we, as members of a democratic society, as those who select our leadership and in whose name our leaders kill, also have blood on our hands.

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