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Trump’s Illegal, Impeachable Act of War

With so much on the line—both for the United States and the world—the time for silence is over. Public resistance is the only tool we the people have left.

Iranian pride, nationalism and basic sense of sovereignty, deeply wounded by Soleimani’s assassination, may demand an actual hot war with the U.S. (Photo: Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Iranian pride, nationalism and basic sense of sovereignty, deeply wounded by Soleimani’s assassination, may demand an actual hot war with the U.S. (Photo: Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Violence begets violence; revenge engenders cycles of vengeance. This is exactly why war, or acts of war, must not be taken lightly. It also explains why America’s recent adventurism in the Middle East has only increased Islamic terrorism, killed hundreds of thousands worldwide, and ultimately left the U.S. no better off than when it began its crusade after the 9/11 attacks. Instead, this cycle of violence and revenge has produced nothing but “blowback” in the form of global anti-Americanism.

Which brings me to President Donald Trump’s worst decision yet, one for which he actually should be impeached: the assassination of Iranian general, and head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds force, Qassem Soleimani. The weapon of choice in this genuine act of war, was, fittingly, the era’s ubiquitous armed drone. Soleimani, perhaps the second or third most powerful figure in Iran, was blown away in Baghdad, where he’d long led intelligence and military proxy operations for Tehran. And more than any of America’s many provocations of late, this killing might just lead to war—a war that would, even more than the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, inflame, destabilize and perhaps destroy the region for good.

With so much on the line—both for the United States and the world—the time for silence is over. Public resistance is the only tool we the people have left.

It doesn’t get any more illegal than a war with Iran or even the singular killing of Soleimani. The assassination of foreign leaders has long been prohibited under both national and international law, even if the U.S. hasn’t always followed such strictures. As has long been the case in the so-called war on terror, the President’s action was unilateral; Congress, it seems, wasn’t consulted, and it certainly didn’t provide sanction. And to be clear, while the assassination of a foreign general is an overt act of war, the U.S. is distinctly not at war with Iran, despite appearances to the contrary.

Congress, for its part, has shirked its constitutionally-mandated duty to declare (or at least sanction) America’s wars for nearly two decades—at a minimum.

Few of the reports on the mainstream cable networks have even bothered to mention this salient fact. Why would they? U.S. troopers are engaged in combat in West Africa, Somalia and Syria, to name but a few countries. Washington is not technically at war with any of them. Congress, for its part, has shirked its constitutionally-mandated duty to declare (or at least sanction) America’s wars for nearly two decades—at a minimum. One wonders if this latest act of unvarnished militarism will alter the calculus on Capitol Hill. I remain doubtful.

Iranian pride, nationalism and basic sense of sovereignty, deeply wounded by Soleimani’s assassination, may demand an actual hot war with the U.S. But even if it doesn’t, this won’t end well for either side. Call me treasonous, but I, for one, would hardly blame Iran if it decides to further escalate. It’s not that Tehran is innocent, of course. Its domestic repression is sometimes abhorrent; the foreign militias it backs are often destabilizing, and some even killed U.S. troops during the height of the last Iraq War. Nonetheless, it bears repeating that unlike the U.S., Iran was invited into Syria, has many friends in Iraq, helped fight ISIS in both of those countries, and, as a sovereign state, is allowed to set its own domestic policy. The United States military’s interventions in the Middle East, by contract, frequently violate international law.

Doubtful a single, high-level assassination could cause an all-out conflict? Well, history disagrees. The British Empire once went to war with Spain over an alleged atrocity against a single merchant sea captain. Known as the War of Jenkins’ Ear, it was in part precipitated by the amputation of Capt. Robert Jenkins’ ear in the West Indies in 1731. A century and a half later, that same British Empire fought a decade-long war in the Sudan, after one of its former celebrity generals, Charles “Chinese” Gordon, was killed by the forces of “The Mahdi” in the city of Khartoum. Ironically, one of the anti-American Iraqi militias that Iran loosely supported back in 2007-08 was called the “Mahdi Army,” named after that 19th century millenarian Sudanese Islamist leader. What’s more, I’d be remiss should I fail to remind readers that the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Serbian nationalists in the Balkans provided the immediate catalyst for World War I—up until then humankind’s bloodiest.

Sure, that’s “ancient” history, one might retort, but imagine how the U.S. government would likely respond if one of our top generals was killed by Iran under similar circumstances. My guess is poorly. There seem to be, according to Washington, two sets of rules in international affairs: one for America and another for the rest of the world. Nevertheless, and while I doubt my advice will be followed, I’d urge restraint from Iran and the U.S. each. Both sides have powerful weapons, large, nationalistic armies, and a slew of nuclear-armed friends and backers. If one were to assess the risk versus reward of military escalation, the results would prove rather lopsided.

Then there’s the problem of evidence—specifically what, if anything, the Trump administration will present the American public to justify its act of war. The Pentagon claims, of course, that Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” But in the interests of “secrecy” and “national security,” it has yet to furnish any tangible proof to support such a bold assertion. Once again, we are being asked to take our government’s word for it. Then we are expected to collectively malign Iran, cheer U.S. intelligence efforts and “support” the troops.

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Problem is, I’ve seen this movie before—three movies, actually, and very recently. Each is based on a true and increasingly prescient story. Just yesterday, I happened to rewatch “Shock and Awe,” which follows the only group of reporters to get the Iraq War “right” prior to the 2003 invasion. They uncovered a conspiracy by the Bush administration to cherry-pick and/or manufacture evidence, then leak it to the mainstream press in order to drum up an illegal war.

One week before, I viewed “Official Secrets,” the tale of a British intel analyst’s decision to risk her career and freedom by leaking a document that proved the U.S. National Security Agency planned to spy on and blackmail foreign delegates on the U.N. Security Council just prior to the Iraq War vote. Just one publication picked up that story and, predictably, it too failed to stop the invasion.

Several weeks ago, I watched “The Report,” a staggering drama about one Senate staffer’s years-long quest to investigate and publish his findings on the incompetence, crimes and lies of the CIA’s torture program under George W. Bush.

Sure, these are just films, but they hew incredibly closely to events as they happened. And while they’re yet to be dramatized, the Afghanistan Papers have shown definitively that senior U.S. military and civilian officials lied and obfuscated about that ongoing war for at least 17 of its 18-plus years. The point I’m making is this: Americans should never again blindly trust government efforts to either start a war or justify an act thereof. The risks—to U.S. soldiers, to the republic and to global stability—are far too weighty for all that.

Finally, the details of Soleimani’s assassination have thrown into relief the rank folly of American military policies. The Iranian general was killed in Iraq—a country the U.S. ought never to have invaded and whose institutions Washington has effectively shattered. Soleimani would never have been there had the U.S. not provoked a civil war whose centrifugal force has divided Iraq’s various sects and ethnicities while empowering a chauvinist Shia government.

Furthermore, Soleimani was killed even though one of the general’s major opponents in Iraq—the Islamic State—was one he shared with the United States. That one of the Shia militias he backed was allegedly responsible for the recent death of an American contractor that set this tit-for-tat in motion shouldn’t be too surprising, either. Many Iraqi nationalists have long seen American troops as occupiers, and with good reason. A quick glance at a map of the Middle East would suggest that Iran, bordering Iraq, has a greater claim to influence in the region than the U.S., which is some 6,000 miles away.

If Trump’s provocation is at once illegal, risky and impeachable, he’s not alone in carrying the blame. Both Bush and Obama helped normalize the kind of drone strikes in the region that made this mad act possible. Yet Trump’s assassination of Soleimani is unique in its peacetime targeting of a uniformed leader from a sovereign nation. It’s possible, then, to see Trump as the perfect candidate, temperamentally, to take matters to their logical, if farcical, conclusion in America’s off-the-rails war on terror. And I fear he just has.

Now, I’m no fan of Qassem Soleimani and the Quds he led. Because although the veracity of the U.S. government’s case may be less certain than it seems, it appears the Iranians did support militias that killed perhaps 600 American troops with advanced IED technology. Two died under my command—Alex Fuller and Michael Balsley—blown to pieces on a dusty East Baghdad street by elements of the Mahdi Army on Jan. 25, 2007.

I took it personally. But personal emotion ought to carry little weight in the development of national strategy, in honest old-school journalistic analysis, and any other empirical activity.

Danny Sjursen

Danny Sjursen

Major Danny Sjursen is a U.S. Army strategist and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge.  He lives with his wife and four sons near Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

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