The recent U.S. assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, who was complicit in planning multiple terrorist attacks against Americans and American interests, has been both praised and condemned. Some see this action as a justifiable strike against a foreign military leader whose attacks against America stretch back several decades. Others see President Trump’s decision to authorize the missile launch that killed General Soleimani as provocative, unlawful—or both.
To no one’s surprise, reaction to Soleimani’s demise has for the most part fragmented along partisan lines, and Democrats seeking their party’s nomination to run against Donald Trump for the Presidency in 2020—as well as their media allies—have for the most part expressed shock and outrage.
What are we to make of all of this?
There are, of course, many examples of the U.S. using its military might to target individuals who have attacked our nation and its people. As recently as 2011 our nation was united in our approval of President Obama’s decision to send a SEAL team into Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Delving back further in history, President Franklin Roosevelt approved the precision 1943 attack against the airplane carrying Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the man who planned the devastating surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, that sent him spinning to his death in a Pacific jungle crash.
It would, therefore, be correct to succinctly summarize longstanding U.S. policy in a single sentence: If you kill Americans, we will kill you right back. However, we now live in countrythat is increasingly leery of the sort of brute force necessary to maintain the security of a great nation—or is at least uncomfortable lest it be too obvious for all to see.
In addition, the historical revisionism that has ruled academia for many decades is now likely to hold America to blame for every conflict and paint those who hate our nation in the most heroic possible light. As a result, Fidel Castro is now considered a freedom fighter rather than a despot and Ho Chi Minh was a great nationalist leader instead of a cruel military antagonist.
There is, to be honest, good reason to attempt to be more evenhanded when assessing many past events—Castro’s revolution did, after all, drive out the deeply corrupt Batista regime that was robbing Cuba and Ho Chi Minh started out battling French colonialism in Vietnam—but excusing the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Hanoi Hilton are far beyond the appropriate boundaries of trying to see both sides of the story. Sometimes a judgment needs to be made despite the desire to be nonjudgmental, and value-free examination of events can morph into fuzzy headed moral relativism of the most despicable sort.
Given the ongoing—and perhaps never ending—nature of so much conflict in the Middle East, the question of how the death of General Soleimani will play out in both the short and long term has been the topic of much discussion and disagreement, Again, the wild guesswork masquerading as reasoned analyses seems often to break down along starkly partisan lines, so one can evidently choose to believe whatever provides the most ideological comfort until actual future events provide the truth of the matter.
Regardless how one might feel about the rationale and possible ramifications regarding the military action taken to eliminate General Soleimani, it must be pointed out that the complaints that President Trump authorized the strike without informing either Congress or top officials in The Pentagon are misplaced.
The degree to which classified and confidential information is now routinely leaked for partisan advantage in Washington is both astounding and depressing. Having made the decision to act, President Trump had a clear obligation as Commander-in-Chief to make every effort to maintain absolute secrecy, so the list of those with foreknowledge of the operation had to be restricted to only those who were carrying it out. Consultation has to take a backseat to caution when success or failure are contingent upon surprise. Indeed, a successfully executed surprise is the goal of any military attack. Loose lips, as the saying goes, sink ships—and this wisdom applies to operations by land and air as well.
There is, unfortunately, always going to exist the suspicion that President Trump authorized this strike against Iran and General Soleimani for his own political advantage. Every recent President has had similar accusations hurled at them when the hour of decision came. Given the political polarization of our nation, which seems to worsen with each passing day, it would be extraordinary were this thought not to occur. Whatever the reality might be, we could be edging toward a time when partisanship begins to obliterate the consensus necessary for the protection of our country.
If future Presidents are loathe to take necessary military action because they fear domestic criticism, we could all be put at risk. Although sometimes we are oblivious to this simple fact, we live in a very dangerous world where we must always stand ready to defend our nation and its interests—and the use of bloody, destructive, terrifying weapons might be the only available option. Negotiations have their advantages, but both the efficacy and outcome of discussions are wholly dependent on the honesty and goodwill of the party on the other side of the table.
Every student of world history is well aware of the sad spectacle of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who spent the years leading up to World War II naively negotiating for peace with Adolf Hitler. The net result of all his intense diplomatic efforts was that England had to fight for its life when Nazi Germany launched its war machine on Europe and the world, and many tens of millions of people died in a conflagration that likely could have been prevented by leadership that was more resolute and less credulous.
The historical record of well-meaning weakness is clear: Great nations survive only if they are willing to act decisively—and perhaps even ruthlessly—when the situation demands it. We forget this lesson at our own peril.