Apparently, the most unlearned lesson from 9/11 is that when the head of a terror network tries to blow up an iconic American skyscraper in 1993, then succeeds in bombing American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, and then again with a Naval destroyer ship in 2000—all of which resulting in the death of hundreds of Americans—it is the job of the U.S. commander in chief to find the person responsible for these acts and have him killed.
Failing to do so leads directly to Sept. 11, 2001—a day unlike no other, but also an atrocity that could have been avoided had the United States taken Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda more seriously. After all, he had demonstrated that he knew how to deal a blow to the United States through increasingly more devastating acts of terror.
What part of that lesson did so many Democratic members of Congress, numerous political pundits and an assortment of news organizations fail to understand when it came to the drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani? The commander of Iran’s Quds Force was neither a foreign dignitary nor a military general operating under the laws of war. Killing him was not a violation of some time-honored protocol. Nor was it a startling international incident. With bin Laden and ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi dead, Soleimani was next in line on the “most wanted” terrorist list, and he got what he deserved.
No time should be wasted second-guessing this decision. America’s national conscience should be clear.
Far too much blood and treasure had been lost under Soleimani’s direction. Through his proxy militias, hundreds of Americans have been killed in Iraq. Syrian President Bashar Assad would never have been able to prevail over his country’s civil war without Soleimani’s tactical support. The staggering death toll of more than 500,000 and a refugee crisis in Europe were a direct outgrowth of Soleimani’s handiwork. Hezbollah in Lebanon would have been without its formidable arsenal of precision-guided missiles, and it would not be operating as a state within a state. The Houthis in Yemen would have been disarmed long ago had it not been for Soleimani and Iran’s promiscuous mischief-making in the region.
And thousands of Iranian protestors during both the Green Movement in 2009, as well as the dissenting voices being squelched and jailed right now, might have actually toppled the ayatollahs had Soleimani not been instrumental in Iran’s civil defense.
Is there a more appropriate candidate for a targeted killing? With such a murderous Middle Eastern résumé and appetite for American blood, evidence of an “imminent threat” before launching such an attack shouldn’t even be necessary. What more did this guy have to do to merit an early demise? The drone strike may have come as a surprise to some members of Congress, but Soleimani surely knew that in his line of work, life expectancy is low, and death by natural causes is rare.
Still, many are asking, didn’t U.S. President Donald Trump need congressional approval to authorize such an operation?
Well, he certainly would never have received it with the zero-sum rituals on Capitol Hill. But the 2001 joint military authorization to fight terrorism empowered President Barack Obama to continue the war on terror with 563 drone strikes, which killed thousands of terrorists and hundreds of civilians, including the 2011 airstrike against Muslim cleric Anwar al-Alwaki, an American citizen who inspired the terrorism at Fort Hood in 2009 and the Boston Marathon in 2013.
What congressional authorization did Obama obtain, and where was the American outrage over those killings?
Moreover, the killing of Soleimani isn’t going to ignite a war with Iran. That’s because we’re already at war with Iran and have been ever since the Iranian Revolution took 52 Americans hostage in 1979. Hostilities throughout the ensuing decades have varied, mostly through proxies and diplomatic skirmishes, but we have never had a friendly day with Iran since the fall of its last Shah—notwithstanding Obama’s obsequious efforts to ingratiate Tehran, culminating in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the $1.8 billion Lotto cash payout.
Those conciliatory gestures didn’t succeed in modifying Iran’s behavior. Indeed, it had quite the opposite effect, emboldening its ballistic-missile testing and far-flung terror apparatus—and did nothing to deter its nuclear ambitions.
The removal of Soleimani from Iran’s ongoing cold war with America, which has, as of late, gotten hotter under his direction, might actually shock the Iranian system into either a change in its diplomatic endeavors or regime change itself.
Regardless of how one feels about Trump, he continues to be the wild card on the international stage. And playing without a full deck has, at times, been to his advantage. In a world dominated by cynical politicians who overpromise and under-deliver, imagine a head of state who can actually draw a red line and not erase it when it gets crossed.
Last month, the U.S. embassy in Baghdad was stormed, and in a separate incident, an American civilian was killed by Iranian proxies. Now Soleimani is dead, and Iran’s response—missiles notwithstanding, but those that cause structural and not human damage on two Iraqi air bases where Americans were stationed, was cautiously tepid—and for good reason.
Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro College, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. He can be reached via his website