Open Season

Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, 62, was assassinated by the United States in a drone strike at Baghdad airport in the early hours of this morning. At least seven other personnel were also killed. Soleimani was widely regarded as the second most powerful figure in Iran. The White House said that President Trump had personally authorised the assassination because Soleimani was responsible for terrorist atrocities. It also confirmed that US allies were not informed before the assassination took place.

Although drone technology means that assassination has become an increasingly common tactic, this attack opens up a whole new era for government sanctioned killing. Soleimani was a leading governmental as well as a military figure. This attack now means that it is legitimate to assassinate any foreign leader if one disagrees with their actions. One simply has to label them as a “terrorist” in order to make the killing “okay”. The fact that US allies were not consulted implies that the White House knew that the attack would be criticised in the Western as well as the Middle Eastern world.

The White House has long held “Kill List Tuesdays” when select White House officials meet to decide who are current viable assassination targets. The intelligence which those judgements have been based on has frequently been criticised as outdated and inaccurate. So in some ways this attack is nothing new. But if Soleimani was a legitimate target, then why not Vladimir Putin? He has been behind numerous terrorist incidents such as the Salisbury poisonings and the downing of passenger airliner MH17 in which 298 people were killed including 80 children. Why is he not a legitimate target? It seems that possession of nuclear weapons grants a leader immunity from retribution.

By the same token, if Trump can attack his enemies of the state, then presumably it is okay for Putin to do the same. Under the new rules it can be argued by some that the Salisbury attack was legitimate. There were innocent victims in the Salisbury attack, but then there are innocent victims of drone strikes. Some will ask: what is the difference? That is the crazy world we are living in. Any sense of decency or a rulebook (if there ever was one) has been thrown right out of the window. In any case, Iran now has another reason to press ahead with its nuclear weapons programme and North Korea will also have noted the lesson.

And what of those standing nearby who were killed? They will all be deemed “terrorists” by the White House, but at least two appear to have been innocent Ministry drivers. It seems that being a “terrorist” is not the only crime meriting the death sentence these days. Now it is enough simply to be standing near one. Even unwittingly.

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