Axis of the Sanctioned, a Part 2 Postscript*

Axis of the Sanctioned, a Part 2 Postscript

It was almost as if President Trump had read the January 2nd TLR, “Axis of the Sanctioned, Part 2,” and taken its message to heart. That night he made the decision to temporarily suspend America’s pacifist/do-nothing foreign policy by assassinating Qasem Soleimani. In doing so, he eliminated the terrorist military commander/coordinator/mastermind who had successfully spearheaded Russia’s Iran’s progressive take-over hegemonistic advances in the Middle East. Simply put, Qasem Soleimani’s death furthers America’s interests both in the Middle East and around the world (a subject previously addressed in “Axis of the Sanctioned” in the June 21st and subsequent TLRs). It makes America safer in the long run … even though one of the consequences is that Americans may be less safe in the near- and mid-term. It was a sound decision that was a long time coming … perhaps too long. The decision to do so in January 2020 was made necessary because America has had been pursuing an unsound, unsafe foreign policy. America’s enemies had grown accustomed to America’s paper tiger grumblings of all talk and no action – in short, speaking loudly and carrying no stick (a subject first addressed by TLR on March 27th). For far too long America has had been pursuing a pacifist foreign policy, one that initially had been adopted by the Obama Administration and thereafter has had been magnified by the Trump Administration’s America First, pacifist, isolationist policies. Instead of employing Theodore Roosevelt’s Big Stick Diplomacy – “the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis” – the Trump Administration has had been doing the opposite – little or no muddled, conflictual forethought followed by no action. The hope is that the Soleimani action is not an isolated event – not a flash-in-the-pan – but, rather, decisive action that is part of a cohesive plan to preempt future crises by re-asserting American power.

The President’s decision to assassinate a senior foreign government official during his travels in another country is unprecedented. (To some, the only modern analogue might be the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 which sparked WWI, although that assassination was neither carried out nor sponsored by a foreign country.) Such a government-inflicted assassination ordinarily would be considered an act of war, even under somewhat vague international law, although this is unclear given that Soleimani’s presence in Iraq itself was illegal under a 2007 United Nations Security Council resolution. However, it’s hard to argue that America’s assassination wouldn’t be an unacceptable provocation to any nation, let alone a nation that has had a belligerent relationship with the U.S. for more than 40 years. Of course, Soleimani’s terrorist actions were themselves such provocations …, although it took the U.S. almost 20 years to address any of them – no Administration had placed Soleimani on a “wanted as a terrorist” list as had been done with bin Laden.

It’s nevertheless understandable that American politicians should raise questions about the assassination of a foreign government official …, as well as about the proper American government processes for taking such steps, including in informing Congress (either before or after) and seeking its support. The President and Congress are partners under the Constitution (a subject discussed in “The U.S. Constitution and The Rule of Law” in the December 19th TLR). What is not understandable is that all the tough questions are being raised by Democrats. No such questions are being raised by Republicans. Moreover, no praise whatsoever is coming from Democrats … and only praise is coming from Republicans. Such extreme partisanship weakens America … especially in a time of almost-war. The President’s action in assassinating Soleimani demands praise. It also requires that the President answer the obvious Constitutional questions. Although the claim by some Democrats that the President lacked Constitutional authority for the assassination has a sound legal basis, it’s a partisan argument that has been rendered immaterial by actions taken by prior Presidents, including Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Those actions and the prior Congressional responses ceded the authority to take such extreme solo actions to the President …, though only up to a point. Democrats as a party need to recognize the importance of keeping America safe … and acknowledge that the death of Soleimani furthers that safety. Republicans as a party need to recognize the importance of holding President Trump to the Constitution … and to a strategy for American foreign policy beyond the assassination of one individual.

Was the assassination a solo event sparked by anger at Soleimani’s most recent provocations? Or was it the first step in a foreign policy plan devised and adopted by the Trump Administration? Congress deserves an answer to these questions. One can only hope that the Soleimani assassination marks a policy change whereby America no longer will play the role of pussycat paper tiger.

More significantly, does the assassination of Qasem Soleimani mean that the giant sucking sound of America’s withdrawal from the international geopolitical scene will cease to echo globally in the Middle East? Will America seek to eliminate the vacuum created by that sound? Or will America once again instead stand by and allow ISIS to regenerate and Russia and Iran to continue their its adventures in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq? Will America continue to abandon its obligations to its allies, empowering its enemies in Iran, Russia, China, North Korea and elsewhere, or will the Trump Administration make it clear that America has turned an important foreign policy corner? Will America be staying in the Middle East to ensure a free and independent Iraq, a free and independent Kurdistan, and a balance of power that precludes its enemies from gaining further influence over Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Israel (whose generals believe that if the U.S. withdraws from the region, Israel will eventually find itself in a war with Iranian proxies along its entire northern border) the region? Or will it continue its withdrawal? In short, has the period of appeasement ended?

Finally (from a good friend)

*┬® Copyright 2020 by William Natbony. All rights reserved.

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