PATRICK LAWRENCE: The Iranian General’s Intent

Given the gravity of last week’s drone assassination, the State and Defense Departments must prove their claims against Qassem Soleimani.

Aerial view of Baghdad from plane bringing U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo to meetings on May 7, 2019. (State Department/ Ron Przysucha)

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

AFAQ–TV, a satellite station broadcasting from Baghdad, ran a brief video clip last May of Ali Khamenei speaking to a small gathering. It is not clear who Iran’s supreme leader was addressing, but Qassem Soleimani appears to have been in the audience. The segment is 35 seconds long, just enough to capture Khamenei as he observes sardonically, “Praise be to God, who made our enemies fools.”

The drone assassination of the 62­–year–old Soleimani at Baghdad International Airport last Friday is without question a strike very near the heart of Tehran’s leadership structure. But it will give Khamenei no cause to alter his thinking as to the foolishness of Iran’s adversaries.

Soleimani was a senior commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, leader of the Quds Force, a special ops unit within the corps, and the top defense and intelligence strategist behind Iran’s regional security policies. His murder has to be counted the most directly provocative action the U.S. has taken against Iran since relations broke off after the 1979 revolution. But if the Islamic Republic has suffered a critical blow, the U.S., as is its wont, has just sustained far more injury by its own hand.

Among the many questions surrounding this breathtakingly rash move, this one looms very large: Who ordered the murder of a sovereign nation’s leading military figure — and by some accounts a potential candidate for the presidency? Was it President Donald Trump, as we are incessantly urged to think? Or did paranoid hyper- hawks in the administration, chief among them Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, once again usurp the president’s power in a clear breach of the constitution?

Persuasive signs indicate the latter. The freakishly evangelical Pompeo appears to have worked with Esper to engineer this operation, with assists from various other senior officials. We have seen this before, notably during John Bolton’s tumultuous time as national security adviser. On numerous policy questions — North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, the Persian Gulf — the Bolton–Pompeo axis subverted Trump’s initiatives, leaving the president to indulge in Twitter storms to obscure what amounted to a humiliating loss of authority. 

Major General Qassem Soleimani.

‘We Caught Him in the Act’

The immediate justification for Soleimani’s murder, as numerous Washington officials explained in precisely the same language last weekend, is that he was developing plans to attack American diplomats and service personnel in Iraq and elsewhere around the Middle East. These attacks, officials said in unison, were imminent. “We caught him in the act and we terminated him,” as Trump put it Friday in his first public remarks on the drone operation.

We saved the day: This is the official theme, emanating primarily from the Pentagon and State. Instantly we run into very significant difficulties — lacunae in the orthodox narrative that, after too many years of back-to-back lapses of this kind, must be vigorously questioned, even if a proper measure of skepticism is now considered unpatriotic in many quarters.

The first question to be raised concerns evidence, as it so often does in cases of aggressive American conduct. Where is the evidence of Soleimani’s plans? How do we know he was about to launch these “imminent and sinister attacks” — (Trump’s words again)? We have had nothing of substance from any official in Washington, only the implicit “Take our word for it” — this from people and government departments long since proven to be unworthy of public trust.  

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It was precisely the same in the case of the Russiagate allegations, for instance, and the gas attacks the U.S. repeatedly accused Damascus of perpetrating on Syrian citizens. The former now stands as a farrago of conjured rubbish, the latter an open-and-shut phony pretext to shell the Syrian capital.

Lessons Learned

Have we not learned our lesson by now? Anyone who understands the gravity of last week’s events must, as a matter of conscience, insist that State and Defense are obliged to present evidence to justify so grave a course as they have taken. It is to the credit of some Capitol Hill Democrats that they now question the official line, even if they do so primarily for political advantage.  

If we consider the events leading up to Soleimani’s murder, what the press shamelessly shapes as defensive retaliation against Iranian aggression collapses into another con job intended to enlist the passive support of quiescent Americans. The Soleimani assassination was neither defensive nor retaliatory: It reflected the planning of the administration’s Iran hawks, who were merely awaiting the right occasion to take their next, most daring step toward dragging the U.S. into war with Iran.

Hyperbole, obfuscation, sins of omission, mis–and disinformation: The government-supervised New York Times and all other media that gutlessly follow its lead should be ashamed of themselves, notably for their horror-film characterizations of Soleimani as a ghoulish genius, the “mastermind” and “orchestrator” of all manner of terror, disorder, and violence that Iran, for reasons unexplained, prefers to cultivate along its borders and beyond. Such a person as our press portrays could not possibly walk the face of the earth. If the dangerous mess the U.S. has just made in the Middle East does morph into a war, the corporate press will bear a grave responsibility.

For the record, Adil Abdul–Mahdi said Sunday that he was scheduled to meet Soleimani on the day he was murdered. Topic: The Iraqi prime minister and the soldier the U.S. casts as a blood-soaked terrorist were acting as message-bearing go-betweens to advance the very tentative efforts of Iran and Saudi Arabia to reduce regional tensions and put the destructive Shi’a–Sunni rivalries of the past several years in the past. Doesn’t quite fit the American story, does it? Again, shame is our word.  

U.S. Marines deploying to Iraq to bolster security at U.S. embassy, Dec. 31, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps/Robert G. Gavaldon)

U.S. Instigated Crisis

U.S. forces instigated this crisis 10 days ago, when they bombed five bases — three in Iraq, two across the border in Syria — used by Kataib Hezbollah, a paramilitary unit that has long served as a key force in the fight against the Islamic State. At least two dozen military personnel, including Iraqi regulars, were killed and many more wounded. 

The Pentagon asserted that Kataib Hezbollah, a mostly Shi’a militia aligned with Shi’a Iran, was responsible for the earlier shelling of an Iraqi base near Kirkuk called K1 and used by U.S. and Iraqi forces. That rocket bombardment killed one American mercenary (“contractor” to those of delicate sensibilities) and wounded several U.S. and Iraqi personnel. This is the “defensive retaliation” story in sum.

From the very first, more problems with the U.S. version of events.

Once again, the U.S. has yet to present any evidence that Kataib Hezbollah was responsible for the shelling near Kirkuk. And details of the U.S. bombing strongly suggest it was a preplanned operation that took the Kirkuk shelling as a convenient pretext. To begin with, American F–15Es flew these five bombing operations within two days of the K1 attack — a highly unlikely timetable if they were truly reactive.

Equally, the bases the U.S. bombed were nowhere near Kirkuk: They were ranged along the Iraq–Syria border more than 300 miles from K1. Kataib Hezbollah has from the first denied it had any interest in sending rockets into an Iraqi base. There is also Kataib Hezbollah’s record as one of Iraq’s most effective forces fighting rump units of the Islamic State on either side of the Iraq–Syria border. Given the U.S. has covertly supported IS militias for years while purporting to hunt them down, the question raised is obvious.

Regarding Kataib Hezbollah

Let us consider two things you have not read in the corporate press. One, while Kataib Hezbollah is invariably described as “Iranian-backed,” it has been officially part of the Iraqi security forces since 2017. Had Kataib Hezbollah been responsible for the Kirkuk rocket attack, it would have been shelling its colleagues. Two, in its supposed retaliation, it should now be plain that the U.S. directly attacked the Iraqi military.

Actually, there is a third thing unmentioned in the U.S. press.

The day after the shelling of K1, Defense Secretary Esper telephoned Abdul–Mahdi to advise of the U.S. plan to bomb the five Kataib Hezbollah bases. When the Iraqi prime minister asked to discuss the decision, Esper refused. When Abdul–Mahdi then asked that the operation be canceled, Esper again refused him. When the prime minister asked Esper if there was evidence against Kataib Hezbollah, Esper declined to answer.

It is difficult to believe, but after the U.S. bombing it was Esper’s chief spokesman, Jonathan Hoffmann, who had the nerve to call on “Iran and their K.H. proxies” — that is, a unit of the Iraqi military — to “respect Iraq’s sovereignty.” Arrogance and ignorance: always a dreadful combination.

Large, sometimes violent protests in Baghdad’s Green Zone followed the U.S. bombing operations, trapping American diplomats and personnel in the U.S. embassy for nearly two days. Demonstrators relented only when Kataib Hezbollah officials, who led the protests, called them off. And Kataib Hezbollah called them off only after Abdel–Madhi committed to introducing parliamentary legislation requiring the U.S. to withdraw all forces — they now number about 5,000 — from Iraqi soil.

Second day of protests at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Jan. 1, 2020. (Desmond Cassell, Wikimedia Commons)

It was at this time the American officials raised the volume on assertions that Iran directed the shelling of the Kirkuk base and the demonstrations at the Baghdad embassy that followed the U.S. bombing runs. These claims were the essential preface to the Soleimani assassination several days after the Green Zone protests. Is it necessary at this point to report that no Washington official has presented any evidence in support of the accusations leveled at Iran?

It is not yet clear how Iran will respond to Washington’s irresponsible provocations. The senior leadership vows “severe revenge.” Cybertattacks or assassinations of U.S. military figures of a rank equivalent to Soleimani’s cannot be ruled out. But it is difficult to imagine the Iranians will miscalculate at so fraught a moment. It is very likely Tehran will refrain from any action the U.S. could use to escalate its aggression further.  

Mohammad Javad Zarif, one of the first top-ranked Iranian officials to speak publicly after Soleimani’s murder, described the drone strike Friday as “extremely dangerous and a foolish escalation.” Given the Iranian foreign minister is an influential voice for moderation in Tehran, his remarks suggest Iran will now wage a vigorous war of words while seeking maximum support among international allies. The absence of a retaliatory move thus far reinforces this expectation.

There is another reason to assume the Iranians will prove the adults in the room. Soleimani’s death is a severe loss, certainly, but Tehran comes out of this crisis unmistakably the winner. The bedrock of its foreign policy has long been to counter Washington’s neo-imperialist meddling in Iraq and elsewhere around the region: Middle Eastern solutions to Middle Eastern problems is the principle. Here is Zarif on Saturday, again on Twitter: “End of U.S. malign presence in West Asia has begun.” This is precisely what Khamenei meant in his mention of foolhardy enemies last spring.

This end may now come first in Iraq. Abdul–Mahdi has been incensed with Washington’s cavalier indifference to Iraqi sovereignty since the current crisis began the weekend before last. And he appears to have wasted no time submitting to parliament the legislation he promised Kataib Hezbollah. On Sunday the legislature voted to expel all foreign troops and to file a formal complaint against the Soleimani assassination at the U.N. In addition to U.S. forces, various NATO members, including Turkey, also deploy troops on Iraqi soil; Iran does not.

It is not clear what the parliamentary vote in Baghdad and Abdul–Mahdi’s appeal to the U.N. will yield. Addressing the legislature prior to its deliberations Sunday, the prime minister urged lawmakers to “end the existence of [foreign] forces immediately and start immediate arrangements for this.” But there is principle and there is power; the U.S. has none of the former and too much of the latter.

At this early moment, it is difficult to imagine Washington obliging a weak, unstable client state when it orders American soldiers off its soil. Even if U.S. forces remain in defiance of Baghdad’s sovereign rights, however, they will operate in an environment of probably unprecedented official and public hostility.

Virtually all public statements explaining American actions and justifications since the Iraq–Iran crisis erupted late last month have come from either the Pentagon or State. The White House, with some exceptions, has been notably silent. This raises the key question noted earlier: Who in Washington is responsible for this foolishly precipitated mess?

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, left, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Esper in Sydney, August 2019. (State Department/ Ron Przysucha)

We have no certainty on this point, and there may never be any. But the progress of events over the past 10 days strongly suggests Trump now has a Pompeo–Esper axis on his hands, these two assisted by Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who, until early last year, quashed a study of the Iraq war that reflected badly on how the Army conducted it.

Trump neither planned nor ordered the fateful bombing of the five Iraqi bases used by Kataib Hezbollah on Dec. 27. This is very clear. Pompeo and Esper flew to Mar–a–Lago the previous day to brief Trump on their plans, leaving the president merely to nod in the face of a fait accompli. He did so — late and with no apparent enthusiasm. 

As to the Soleimani assassination, we have plentiful statements from officials at State and Defense, dutifully reproduced in the press, that Trump ordered it. But if we just witnessed what amounts to a palace coup led by these two departments, of what worth are these accounts? In chest-out fashion, Trump now claims to have authorized the operation. But these assertions look very like after-the-fact efforts to put the best face on a boldly unlawful challenge to his authority. Let us not forget that Trump has long favored negotiation with Tehran rather than conflict.

Here is Trump Friday morning: “We took action to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.” Here he is that evening: “We do not seek a war, we do not seek nation-building, we do not seek regime change.” The president’s secretary of state, who thinks in biblical terms of an end-times war with evil, seeks all three of these things.

What does it mean when the president explains what is plainly an act of war by asserting that war is not his intention? The contradiction here is too obvious to ignore. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it lies between a president who prefers summitry and dealmaking and those around him who prefer wars — and who by now have a considerable record of subterfuge in the face of Trump’s policy initiatives.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him on Twitter @thefloutistHis web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. 

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The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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19 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: The Iranian General’s Intent

  1. David Otness
    January 9, 2020 at 11:00

    Thank you, Patrick, for bringing clarity to the ever-present obfuscation and intentional deceit that is the hallmark of 21st Century U.S. foreign policy.
    How do we ever get ourselves out of this perpetrated by both parties (D & R) mess that has run so many rivers of blood throughout the world?
    Is this it?
    Is this the best we can expect of the nation we were raised to believe in as something so much different than it has actually become? The Owners of All are so damned dug in. Everywhere we look. And the only exception is when we look to Our Selves.

  2. dean 1000
    January 8, 2020 at 08:24

    If Lawrence is right the democrats should impeach Pompeo and Esper. Trump could save himself by exposing the high crimes of his renegade appointees. It could also save the US and Iran a lot of grief and serve as an object lesson for renegade and mischief making appointees.

  3. January 7, 2020 at 17:55

    Thank you Patrick Lawrence!!!
    There is nothing better than a concise and factual explanation to foster the public’s understanding of what is actually being done in their name by their government, financed by their public Trust. and much too often in stark and corrupt violation of their individual and public interest.
    Thank you also to ConsortiumNews for continuing the legacy of Robert Parry.
    As Usual,

  4. Robert
    January 7, 2020 at 11:53

    The real reason for the assassination is that Iraq, at the request of the US, was mediating de-escalation between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Soleimani was bringing the Iranian response to Bagdad. Neither Israel nor the Deep State want any de-escalation, so they push Trump to do the dirty work. Rather than planning attacks, Soleimani was de-escalating.

  5. geeyp
    January 7, 2020 at 01:24

    Thanks again, Patrick, for pointing out lack of evidence and mentioning the questions no one else appears to ask.

  6. Karl
    January 6, 2020 at 23:15

    Thank you for this honest article. President Trump has the power to fire his secretary of state , an evangelical fool by the way, as he did with Bolton. There is a bunch of people better serving the White House than those conspiracy elements, driving the US to ignominious actions against cautious and mindful sovereign states as Iran, Russia, China, Venezuela etc…. We witnessed how such conspiracy elements in the Bush era ( Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle etc…) led to disastrous wars still burning 20 years later. Each US administration has its particularly dangerous people in top positions conspiring against the whole world. How pitiful is the the most powerful nation in a world searching desperately for a new enlightenment. History has proven that our human society can do better with the creation of the United Nations, Human Rights laws, the Geneva Conventions, War regulations etc…why at all costs trodden down these achievements? Is savagery returning to the white house? it seems to me so.

  7. hetro
    January 6, 2020 at 20:10

    IMV Soleimani’s assassination was long in the planning stage, waiting the opportunity, and it came in another January 3 via another brazen act by the rogue state the US has become. (The in-y0ur-face nature of these brazen programs suggests stupidity is increasing.)

    Of course the current WHY question and quest for evidence will be masked as much as anything previous over the decades.

    One possible answer emerged with Craig Murray’s comment yesterday “why a U.S. mercenary assisting ISIL was killed in an Iranian militia rocket attack” referring to the Dec 27 death of a US “contractor.”

    Implied here is Soleimani may have been on to the clandestine use of the US foreign legion, and the death of the contractor was a result. But was the contractor on a US base, or an Iraqi base? The Kataib Hezbollah is not likely to have attacked a colleague’s base.

    Another possibility comes from Michael Hudson in today’s Counterpunch:

    “On occasion, Soleimani had cooperated with U.S. troops in fighting ISIS groups that got ‘out of line’ meaning the U.S. party line. But every indication is that he was in Iraq to work with that government seeking to regain control of the oil fields that President Trump has bragged so loudly about grabbing.”

    Another possibility from Patrick above:

    “There is also Kataib Hezbollah’s record as one of Iraq’s most effective forces fighting rump units of the Islamic State on either side of the Iraq–Syria border. Given the U.S. has covertly supported IS militias for years while purporting to hunt them down, the question raised is obvious.”

    The question is not obvious to me, Patrick. Sorry. Can you say a little more.

    Then from other sources (today) Soleimani was in Baghdad to assist a conference involving Saudi Arabia and Iraq on how to reduce tensions in the region.

    • hetro
      January 7, 2020 at 17:35

      The best answer for WHY I’ve found comes in Scott Ritter’s analysis on CN Live January 4. Strongly recommended, particularly Ritter’s comments on Iran strategy as “assymetric.”

      Scott Ritter is also available in a Clearing House piece today (“Iranian revenge will be a dish served cold”) where he identifies where the contractor was killed–on an American base. This seems to contradict Craig Murray’s analysis at CN where he asserts the contractor was assisting ISIL.

  8. Peter
    January 6, 2020 at 20:07

    War profiteering reaching new levels of arch criminality.

  9. January 6, 2020 at 18:53

    One of the reports being aired mentions that Soleimani was carrying a Iranian response to a peace overture by the Saudis. If this is true, it is not beyond imagining that the General was killed to prevent such a process from proceeding since it would not be in Israel’s or our interests for such a process to be consummated.

    At some point, it can be imagined that countries in the Middle East who are at each other’s throats have a common enemy or enemies and behooves them to work together more closely.

  10. Martin Rapavý
    January 6, 2020 at 18:48

    The U.S.A. perpetrated perfidy, which is a war crime in itself.

  11. Martin Rapavý
    January 6, 2020 at 18:45

    The gravity of this heinous U.S. crime is all the more greater because the U.S.A. murdered a parlimentaire.

  12. JWalters
    January 6, 2020 at 18:35

    I agree, the details look like Trump was trumped by Pompeo and Esper in the soulmeni assassination. This reminds me of when Bolton was Trumps national security advisor and Trump said he would remove troops from Syria. Bolton then flew to Israel, met with Netanyahu, and emerged to announce that Trump would not be withdrawing the troops from Syria after all. Trump later fired Bolton, showing some degree of independence.

    The details also look very much like killing Suleimani was actually an Israeli operation, merely carried out by its American dumb muscle. Trump met with Israelis beforehand, but with no European allies, and executed an assassination planned by the Israelis.
    “Israel figured in US decision to assassinate Iranian general”
    mondoweiss (dot) net/2020/01/israel-played-a-role-in-us-decision-to-assassinate-iranian-general/

    It’s increasingly clear that America’s Military Industrial Complex has gone rogue. We know from David Talbot’s book Brothers that the CIA both ignored JFK’s orders, doing things against his orders, and also did things without even telling him. The CIA’s Bay of Pigs invasion was an attempt to trap JFK into a war with Cuba and Russia.

    It’s not credible to me that a loose affiliation of corporate executives and government bureaucrats could maintain such tight control America’s war policies for so long. There is a coordinating center somewhere. We know the CIA originated with strong ties to the banking industry. Big banks are in a position to control corporate CEOs through ownership shares. And we know that big banks were instrumental in laying the ground for Israel’s “War on Terror”. e.g. “War Profiteers and the Roots of the War on Terror” It’s time we followed the money to its taproot.

  13. January 6, 2020 at 18:31

    “Among the many questions surrounding this breathtakingly rash move, this one looms very large: Who ordered the murder of a sovereign nation’s leading military figure…? Was it President Donald Trump, as we are incessantly urged to think? Or did paranoid hyper- hawks in the administration, chief among them Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, once again usurp the president’s power in a clear breach of the constitution? . Persuasive signs indicate the latter.”

    This is important. When do we say the Deep State has accomplished its internal coup d’etat?

  14. January 6, 2020 at 18:30

    Dump trump

  15. Jeff Harrison
    January 6, 2020 at 17:50

    Oh, yes, and I’m sure you’ve heard that Mr. Esper has already taken it upon himself to deny that US troops are going anywhere.

  16. Jeff Harrison
    January 6, 2020 at 17:46

    Right as usual, Patrick. Couple of thoughts
    @Moi mentions a trust deficit. I like that turn of phrase. It’s more elegant than what we had during Vietnam – the credibility gap. That said, somebody (probably you, Patrick) need to start using the inelegant but more understandable phrase credibility gap. That said, what percentage of the population have any real idea what’s going on?

    You speak of a Pompous/Esper axis; you spoke of a Pompous/Bolton axis. Sorry, Patrick, this isn’t about the [insert your expletive here] ministers. It’s about the king. You claim that these [a new expletive] presented Donnie Murdo with a fait accompli. You’re hard pressed to sustain that given that after the Iranians shot our drone out of the sky he claimed to have stayed the hand of his generals. The guy who is officially in charge knows nothing of leading, has no moral compass, and has an attention span slightly shorter than a mayfly. Leading is hard work, I know. And that’s exactly why Donnie Murdo fails. He’s adverse to actual work, he doesn’t have the fortitude, le cran to actually make the hard calls and tough decisions, and worst of all, he will never take responsibility for his own bad decisions. On top of all that, he’s arrogant and thinks he knows what he’s doing.

  17. Moi
    January 6, 2020 at 15:46

    “Hyperbole, obfuscation, sins of omission, mis–and disinformation” is why I now automatically assume that the US is lying on every topic.

    The trust deficit is so strong that I cannot believe a single thing they say. Literally nothing.

    • Koscher Nostra
      January 7, 2020 at 00:41

      Indeed. I wager that it was the rabid israelis that killed Soleimani. Their cronies in USA, Pompeo and Esper, obliged and somehow “convinced”, forced Trump to own to the assassination/murder after the fact. According to Syrian girl, Epstein had dirt on Trump that is now being used by Mossad to start an illegal war against Iran.

Comments are closed.