Thursday, January 9, 2020

There Is Only One Sovereign Nation

The Trump Administration’s decision to almost start a war with both Iraq and Iran only make sense in light of the belief, shared by many in the foreign policy establishment, that the world only has room for one sovereign nation.
It’s a bit unsettling to make your New Year’s predictions, insist that they be taken more seriously than everyone else’s because they work from the assumption that the most mundane outcome is the most likely one, and then, the very next day, find that one of your predictions is on the verge of being dramatically disproven.

But that’s what happened last week when, among other things, I ventured to foretell that the Trump Administration would continue to avoid war with Iran.

Then, on the evening of 2 January, I heard that news that American forces had killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani in an airstrike in Baghdad.

Conservative pundits rejoiced. “President Trump has killed a notorious terrorist, avenged American blood, and made the world a safer place.”

Whether General Soleimani is a terrorist is debatable. The man had a long and illustrious career of travelling around the Middle East arming and training various Shi’a militias to fight in the endless proxy wars that dominate that part of the world. Sometimes, these militias fought on the same side as the United States; sometimes they fought on the opposite side.

Though don’t expect to get that impression from American news sites. Ever since last Friday, I keep going back to SputnikNews because it has offered detailed, day by day coverage of both sides of this controversy, unlike a domestic news source, which will usually give you one or two heavily biased articles before turning its attention back to football, or the Golden Globes, or what have you.

Back to the killing of General Soleimani: it was ostensibly done in retaliation for an attack on the American embassy in Baghdad by a Shi’a mob, in which nobody was killed. The mob attack was in retaliation for airstrikes on various targets in Iraq that killed 25 members of that country’s leading Shi’a militia. The airstrikes were in retaliation for a rocket attack on an American base that killed an American contractor. You get the idea.

A lot of Democrats are upset with what President Trump did because assassinating an Iranian general is a good way to start a war, something which the President is not supposed to do without Congressional approval. Few Republicans share that point of view. Ron Paul does, but Ron Paul was going to stand up for the Constitution no matter what.

But this gets even more disturbing when you look at the details. America is supposedly in a military alliance with Iraq against ISIS, which is why we have troops in Iraq in the first place. But we didn’t have the Iraqi government’s approval to assassinate Soleimani in Baghdad, or even to carry out the bombings that killed 25 Iraqi militiamen in the previous round of tit-for-tat.

Soleimani was in Baghdad at the invitation of the Iraqi Prime Minister. People who know a lot about the Middle East weren’t surprised by this, since the Iranian Quds Force and the local militias which it supports have been Iraq’s biggest allies in the fight against ISIS. And the fact that a senior Iraqi commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was killed in the airstrike alongside Soleimani only makes matters worse.

When Iraq’s parliament responded to the crisis by voting to expel all Americans from the country, Donald Trump insisted that his men would never leave, but if they did, Iraq would pay for it with even worse sanction than those under which Iran is suffering. Then he tried to get the UN Security Council to pass a resolution condoning what he did; Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif (another terrorist, according to the US) was prohibited from coming to New York to speak for his side. Nevertheless, the other members of the Security Council vetoed the hell out of Trump’s resolution.

I could keep on giving details of what has transpired over the last week, though there’s hardly any need. It’s already clear enough that these events only make sense once you have realized that the core doctrine of American foreign policy is that there is only one sovereign nation.

Just one sovereign nation – the world doesn’t have room for two or three or four.

Our nation is the greatest nation on earth. (And it’s also the freest nation.)

When we feel threatened, we strike back. We have no need to get the approval of our own Congress to go to war. And why should we even try? If we declare war, then we have to follow certain rules; if we don’t declare war, then whoever we’re fighting against is simply a terrorist, and terrorists have no rights.

We can kill them wherever we find them; there is no such thing as neutral soil. It doesn’t matter if our target showed up in Baghdad to meet with the head of government in a nation that we’re supposedly allied with. In fact, it doesn’t even matter that most of the anti-ISIS coalition – the Iraqis, the Syrians, the Russians, the Kurds, etc. – considered General Soleimani and his Quds force to be valuable allies.

If we said Soleimani was terrorist, then that was the last word anyone needed to hear. We didn’t even need to consult with Britain and Germany, both of which stand to lose lives if a new war breaks out, and both of which were quite upset that we proceeded unilaterally.

The one sovereign nation gets to regulate internal commerce, among its several constituent states, just like its constitution says it can, and just like any sovereign nation is expected to be able to do.

And it also gets to regulate commerce between all the other nations in the world. If citizens of two foreign nations do business with each other against its wishes, then no matter where in the world they happen to be, they will always be at risk of arrest and extradition to the one sovereign nation.

This is not going to end well for the nation that has set itself up as the world's overlord. Blindness to the rights and interests of other countries is a good way to isolate oneself and turn allies into foes, while adversaries who were once hostile toward one another are driven into each other's arms.

Russia has bad relations with China for most of the two countries’ history, but over the last two decades, American imperialism has driven them into close friendship. Iraq and Iran have experienced much the same thing.

Now I am sure that some of you, after reading all this, will be thinking about what an anti-American screed I have just written, and wondering how someone who calls himself a “patriot” could reveal his true colors as a terrorism apologist. Why doesn’t this man care that American lives were lost?

Well, I have friends and family in the US armed forces. And the events of the past few days are terrifying to me, because I don’t want to see any of them die in a war with Iran, a scenario which has just become a lot more likely.

Why do you suppose that a good friend of mine, raised in a family of lifelong Republicans, would join the military and, soon afterward, find himself admiring Tulsi Gabbard? Is there no reason for this, or is it because seeing the situation up close makes you realize that looking at the Middle East in the traditional way – where everyone can be classified as either a subservient vassal, or the villain of a James Bond movie – is a good way to get a lot of your comrades killed?

People who know the Middle East fairly well – like General Mattis, under whose watch the present events could never have happened – understand that neither the Sunni-Shi’a conflict, nor any of the other ancient and venerable ethno-religious  rivalries that divide the Middle East, has clear good guys or bad guys. If we choose to engage in proxy wars where that rivalry is at issue, then we’re looking at morally dubious ground as far as the eye can see.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and one man’s warmonger is another’s liberator. And one of the details of Soleimani’s death that you won’t hear on American news is that, the Sunday after he was killed, Christians in churches across Syria held masses in honour of the martyrdom of the man who saved them from being exterminated by ISIS.

America certainly has the right to defend its people, but if the goal is to preserve American lives, then we need to do so within the framework that Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and most other players in this conflict are working under – that is to say, we must act with the understanding that there is more than one sovereign nation whose interests are at stake here.

The sporadic attacks on America’s bases and embassy, by various Iraqi militias throughout the years, should not be taken lightly. They probably weren’t ordered from the top, but if the Iraqi government proves unwilling or unable to defend American lives from the rogue elements within its own armed forces, then we have certainly had the right to end our so-called alliance with Iraq, withdraw our troops, and leave the Iraqis to fight ISIS without our help. (Or without our hindrance, if that’s how they choose to see it.)

Because that’s the kind of thing that happens in a world with more than one sovereign nation. And I sure hope that it’s what will happen now, once tempers have cooled – after all, it is much better than the alternative.


  1. Inter arma enim silent leges --- and so is reason and cool thinking. We'll just have to sit this one out, and hope we don't get dragged into a real war. It's the main reason I was not a Trump supporter in 2016 ... my fear that his ignorance and impulsiveness would get us into an unnecessary war. You can back out of bad domestic policies, but you can't back out of a war.

  2. Doug, thanks you for reading this one to the end - apparently few people are willing to swallow their patriotic assumptions enough to do that.

    You're right that Trump has his faults - and he did come pretty close to starting a war this time.

    But can you imagine Hillary doing any better. Remember this is the woman who summed up her foreign policy's effect on Libya as "we came, we saw, he died."

    Donald Trump is very far from a Ron Paul or a Tulsi Gabbard. But Hillary Clinton (and probably Biden as well) are even further out on the warmonger spectrum - they just do a better job of projecting the image of a level-headed person.

  3. The US military recently fitting its bombers and subs with low yield tactical nuke devices will make WW3 more probable

    1. I'm one of the people who doesn't buy into that cliché. If the US has recently modified its nuclear delivery systems at all (which I doubt - most news about that sort of thing is just clickbait) then it's not going to cause a war, any more than nuclear proliferation in the 1950s and 1960s caused a war. Nuclear-armed countries never go to war with one another, because the costs are simply too high.