PATRICK LAWRENCE: The Latest & Most Reckless US Imperial Act

Following the U.S. assassination of Soleimani, the Trump administration is leading American conduct abroad into a zone of probably unprecedented lawlessness.

Anti-U.S. protests in Iraq, January 2020. (Twitter)

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

Of all the preposterous assertions made since the drone assassination of Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on Jan. 3, the prize for bottomless ignorance must go to the bottomlessly ignorant Mike Pompeo.

Speaking after the influential Iranian general’s death, our frightening secretary of state declaimed on CBS’s Face the Nation, “There was sound and just and legal reason for the actions the President took, and the world is safer as a result.”  In appearances on five news programs on the same Sunday morning, the evangelical paranoid who now runs American foreign policy was a singer with a one-note tune.  “It’s very clear the world’s a safer place today,” Pompeo said on ABC’s Jan. 5 edition of This Week. 

In our late-imperial phase, we seem to have reached that moment when, whatever high officials say in matters of the empire’s foreign policy, we must consider whether the opposite is in fact the case. So we have it now.

We are not safer now that Soleimani, a revered figure across much of the Middle East, has been murdered. The planet has just become significantly more dangerous, especially but not only for Americans, and this is so for one simple reason: The Trump administration, Pompeo bearing the standard, has just tipped American conduct abroad into a zone of probably unprecedented lawlessness, Pompeo’s nonsensical claim to legality notwithstanding.

This is a very consequential line to cross.

Hardly does it hold that Washington’s foreign policy cliques customarily keep international law uppermost in their minds and that recent events are aberrations. Nothing suggests policy planners even consider legalities except when it makes useful propaganda to charge others with violating international statutes and conventions.

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Neither can the Soleimani assassination be understood in isolation: This was only the most reckless of numerous policy decisions recently taken in the Middle East. Since late last year, to consider merely the immediate past, the Trump administration has acted ever more flagrantly in violation of all international legal authorities and documents — the UN Charter, the International Criminal Court, and the International Court of Justice in the Hague chief among them.

Washington is into full-frontal lawlessness now.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at right on ABC’s This Week, Jan. 5. 2020: “World safer now.”  (Screenshot)

‘Keeping the Oil’

Shortly after Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from northern Syria last October, the president reversed course — probably under Pentagon and State Department pressure — and said some troops would remain to protect Syria’s oilfields. “We want to keep the oil,” Trump declared in the course of a Twitter storm. It soon emerged that the administration’s true intent was to prevent the Assad government in Damascus from reasserting sovereign control over Syrian oilfields.

The Russians had the honesty to call this for what it was. “Washington’s attempt to put oilfields there under [its] control is illegal,” Sergei Lavrov said at the time. “In fact, it’s tantamount to robbery,” the Russian foreign minister added.  (John Kiriakou, writing for Consortium News, pointed out that it is a violation of the 1907 Hague Convention. It is call pillage.)

Few outside the Trump administration, and possibly no one, has argued that Soleimani’s murder was legitimate under international law. Not only was the Iranian general from a country with which the U.S. is not at war, which means the crime is murder; the drone attack was also a clear violation of Iraqi sovereignty, as has been widely reported.

In response to Baghdad’s subsequent demand that all foreign troops withdraw from Iraqi soil, Pompeo flatly refused even to discuss the matter with Iraqi officials — yet another openly contemptuous violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

It gets worse. In his own response to Baghdad’s decision to evict foreign troops, Trump threatened sanctions — “sanctions like they’ve never seen before” — and said Iraq would have to pay the U.S. the cost of the bases the Pentagon has built there despite binding agreements that all fixed installations the U.S. has built in Iraq are Iraqi government-owned. 

At Baghdad’s Throat

Trump, who seems to have oil eternally on his mind, has been at Baghdad’s throat for some time. Twice since taking office three years ago, he has tried to intimidate the Iraqis into “repaying” the U.S. for its 2003 invasion with access to Iraqi oil. “We did a lot, we did a lot over there, we spent trillions over there, and a lot of people have been talking about the oil,” he said on the second of these occasions.

Baghdad rebuffed Trump both times, but he has been at it since, according to Adil Abdul–Mahdi, Iraq’s interim prime minister. Last year the U.S. administration asked Baghdad for 50 percent of the nation’s oil output — in total roughly 4.5 million barrels daily — in exchange for various promised reconstruction projects.

Rejecting the offer, Abdul–Mahdi signed an “oil for reconstruction” agreement with China last autumn — whereupon Trump threatened to instigate widespread demonstrations in Baghdad if Abdul–Mahdi did not cancel the China deal. (He did not do so and, coincidentally or otherwise, civil unrest ensued.)

U.S. Army forces operating in southern Iraq, April. 2, 2003. (U.S. Navy)

Blueprints for Reprisal

If American lawlessness is nothing new, the brazenly imperious character of all the events noted in this brief résumé has nonetheless pushed U.S. foreign policy beyond a tipping point.

No American — and certainly no American official or military personnel — can any longer travel in the Middle East with an assurance of safety. All American diplomats, all military officers, and all embassies and bases in the region are now vulnerable to reprisals. The Associated Press reported after the Jan. 3 drone strike that Iran has developed 13 blueprints for reprisals against the U.S.

Lawlessness begets lawlessness is the operative (and obvious) principle.

In a remarkable speech at the Hoover Institution last week, Pompeo termed the Soleimani assassination “the restoration of deterrence” and appeared to promise other such operations against other nations Washington considers adversaries. Ominously enough, Pompeo singled out China and Russia.

Here is a snippet from Pompeo’s remarks:

“In strategic terms, deterrence simply means persuading the other party that the costs of a specific behavior exceed its benefits. It requires credibility; indeed, it depends on it. Your adversary must understand not only do you have the capacity to impose costs but that you are, in fact, willing to do so…. In all cases we have to do this.”

Against the background of the events noted above, it is clear from this speech alone that our secretary of state is a dangerously incompetent figure when it comes to judging global events, the proper responses to them, and the probable consequences of a given response. If we are going to think about costs, the heaviest will fall on Americans in months to come.

Immediately after the U.S. drone that killed Soleimani at Baghdad International Airport, Mohammad Javad Zarif sent out a message whose importance should not be missed. “End of US’s malign presence in West Asia has begun,” Iran’s foreign minister wrote. These few words, rendered in Twitterese, bear careful consideration given they come from an official whose nation had just sustained a critical blow.

Gradually but rather certainly now, the community of nations is losing its patience with late-phase imperial America. With exceptions such as Japan and Israel, the Baltics and Saudi Arabia, this is so across both oceans and more or less across the non–Western world. In the Middle East, the American presence will remain for the time being, but we are now in the beginning-of-the-end phase. This was Zarif’s meaning. And we now know the end will come neither peaceably nor lawfully.

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 @thefloutist. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. 

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

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33 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: The Latest & Most Reckless US Imperial Act

  1. Hide Behind
    January 25, 2020 at 13:09

    When young we horse logged, now horses are smart curious animals, and are easily didtracted, which when your using them as draft animals any distraction can cause them to stop working or at minimum to slow down which hurt our profits.
    So they came up with what are called blinders, large flaps around eyes so they could only look straight ahead.
    Unlike humans whose eyes are in center of head with little periferal vision,and a horse has widely spaced eyes with large periferal vision for each eye and yet even with a broad nose between them both eyes can focus on an object close or far on both sides simutaneouly.
    Now pigs eyes do not need blinders as their droopy eye lids keep them looking at ground in search of food, so when in US you see a. obese human take a look at their eyes and you will see why they are obese.
    So in US it is easy for those in power to put blinders on most so they do not get easily distracted, and who will ensure whatever position they can obtain over we draft animals insure we don blinders from days work begin till days work ends, and when not at work we can go home and pig out on earthly delights real or imagined.
    Week is for work, eat, sleep, a quickie before sleep, with serious sex and fun and games take up almost every weekend hour, so who has or wants to be distracted with issues of life that hold many an unpleasant truth; damn it that serious time is for paying bills and counting our retirement dollars.
    Deliberate ignorance is the best blinders for most humans, because it cost those who drive national policies for own profit and ego fullfillment, not one damn penny of their wallet and they know that the deliberately ignorant will not distract nor detract from their time and interest.
    One can compare most groups of humans as being a lot like animals that talk.

  2. Hide Behind
    January 24, 2020 at 06:56

    Trying hard to not be a pessimist, facing reality is where one has to go, and the reality is the world of today cannot be just casually compared to past, especially Empire to Empire to Empires.
    But the least like the past is the human element and its ease of being manipulated and molded, and that ability extends beyond old style national borders.
    At the end of WWII what emerged in US and every industrialized nation, was a new system of interlocking and well regulated econonomies, and with it so too the stratification of society to fit it.
    It was during the 20 years following we seen the end of union versus industry, a joining of mutual interest, and the ideas of a one world social ordering, of course led by those Industrialized nations Financial institutions.
    Never before were such high numbers of population woven into the central governing functions and became so well compensated., they became the status quo. holders of the order.
    The Empire is growing, China and Russia will be a larger power within it than Europe, and the last of worlds resources are coming under the Empires control.
    In the future we will see ever more stringent controls over our peoples but we will comply as the new technologysoon to be inleashed is in the hands of Powers That Be, and will further controls toinsure their grip on your reality.
    There will be little to no change for the topmost 30% , and even though their share of wealth will shrink theirs will still be far higher than the lower 70%.
    No one will be able to rock the boat.

  3. Guy
    January 22, 2020 at 20:58

    Pompeo has to be the best liar in a long line of liars for the US of Israel. In a way ,I guess , it is probably for the best as it has gotten so unreal that even the most fast and hard asleep are starting to wake up ,as it is just too much for anyone to accept that these looney tunes are for real.

    • William
      January 24, 2020 at 18:26

      Guy, thanks for the phrase “U.S. of Israel.” It is so obvious that only a populace with no independent news can continue to
      be oblivious to the war-mongering, bullying, immorality of our govt. and govt officials such as Pompous ass.

  4. paul
    January 22, 2020 at 18:37

    It is easy to be deflected and diverted by the crudely egregious nature of the chaotic and dysfunctional regime presided over by the Orange Baboon in the White House. He fronts an administration of billionaires, chancers, grifters, opportunists, con men, swamp creatures, superannuated generals, religious nut jobs, half wits and outright criminals at war with itself, with different mutually antagonistic agencies fighting their own turf wars and pursuing their own agendas, without even the pretence of a coherent strategy.

    But Trump is just a continuation of what has gone before. He is no different from Bush or even Obama, minus a thin veneer of sophistication. He will be succeeded by some other mediocrity pursuing business as usual. His eventual demise will make no difference.

    America just has to be allowed to self destruct, like other empires before it. As the end approaches, its arrogance, brutality, stupidity and greed will become ever more blatant and extreme. It will soon implode politically, financially, economically, socially, culturally, and finally militarily. The only worthwhile question is whether its many satellites and satraps can distance themselves from it in time to avoid being dragged down into the abyss.

  5. January 22, 2020 at 05:47

    When once-powerful nations reach their “late imperial phase” they are often at their most dangerous. The warning signs from history are there.

  6. Eugenie Basile
    January 22, 2020 at 02:27

    Just by reading the title I supposed this piece was about the impeachment trial..but then it became clear it was just about the continuation of U.S. targeted killings by drones as part of U.S. foreign policy. In that sense it was a ‘winner’.

  7. geeyp
    January 22, 2020 at 01:39

    A very ominous “writing on the wall” message is shown here and we need to read it and hear it. It would surely help if a messenger on the msm could say it to the comatose, ignorant (not their fault) Americans. Plagiarist Joe and Pompass and W. and…. all in a room and then we could allow Iran and Iraq and Ukraine and Afghanistan and others to question them.

    • geeyp
      January 22, 2020 at 01:42

      After all, when was the last time any of them were hauled into the Hague?

  8. Jeff Harrison
    January 21, 2020 at 19:38

    Well, there’s two relevant bits here.

    Bullshit walks and money talks. Our money stopped talking $23T ago
    What goes around, comes around.

    Whenever, however it comes down, it’s gonna hurt.

  9. Peggy Karp
    January 21, 2020 at 17:07

    On the Ralph Nader Radio Hour last week, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to sec’y of state Colin Powell, argued convincingly that the assassination of Soleimani was the brainchild of Pompeo and Sec’y of Defense Mark Esper, who were classmates at West Point, where they bonded over their shared evangelical faith and their fervent desire for regime change in Iran. Wilkerson asserts that they urged the president to order the assassination, and with their success they have effectively captured Trump, who doesn’t want a war in Iran and sees it as a no-win proposition, especially for himself politically. Wilkerson is on the second half-hour of the January 11 show, available at:

  10. Stan W.
    January 21, 2020 at 15:36

    Liz Warren to the rescue!


  11. Skip Edwards
    January 21, 2020 at 13:56

    The end result of US hegemonic colonialism will be no different than any other described in accounts of human history. Bullies are not tolerated for long. Sooner or later people will unite in large enough numbers to pull down the monster and stomp it out of existence. The US is just another of history’s bullies.

  12. Antiwar7
    January 21, 2020 at 13:46

    Amazing how the US government is bringing back the old days:

    “Slave markets”

    “Pillage”, as pointed out in this article.

  13. rosemerry
    January 21, 2020 at 13:28

    To have such a person as the top diplomat in the USA shows how low the USA has sunk. For him to pretend to be some sort of Christian is sinister and extremely dangerous for everyone. There is NO reason for the US animosity towards Iran except subservience to Israel, which, again without real justification, claims to be terrified of Iran, which unlike Israel is NOT attacking others and has not for centuries.
    Even if the USA hates Iran, it has already done inestimable damage to the Islamic Republic before this disgraceful action. Cruelty to 80 million people who have never harmed, even really threatened, the mighty USA, by tossing out a working JCPOA and installing economic “sanctions”, should not be accepted by the rest of the world-giving in to blackmail encourages worse behavior, as we have already seen.

    “It requires credibility; indeed, it depends on it. ” This is exactly what should be rejected by us all. These “leaders” will not change their behavior without solidarity among “allies” like the European Union, which has already caved in and blamed Iran for the changes -Iran has explained clearly why it made- to the JCPOA which the USA has left.

    • Abby
      January 21, 2020 at 20:15

      The only difference between Trump and Obama is that Trump doesn’t hide the US naked aggression as well as Obama did. So far Trump hasn’t started any new wars. By this time in Obama’s tenure we had started bombing more countries and accepted one coup.

    • Gregory Herr
      January 22, 2020 at 18:12

      Obama is a low character who did untold damage to what’s left of our Republic—while catering to some of the most unconscionable foreign policy prescriptions (and deceptions) ever conceived.

      But Trump has misstepped badly and deeply with the assassination of Soleimani and Muhandis. The arrogance and foolishness of full-spectrum-dominance is about to meet its comeuppance. Americans will soon be coming home in body bags—and then God knows what can save us from wider conflagration.

  14. dfnslblty
    January 21, 2020 at 12:43

    SecStae’s remarks about deterrence befit a military commander, NOT a diplomat.
    Paranoia, grandiosity and violence begin with potus and cascade downward and about.
    Congress does its part in investing in machinery of war.

  15. Cheyenne
    January 21, 2020 at 11:49

    The above comment shows exactly why bellicose adventurism for oil etc. is so stupid and dangerous. If we continually prance around robbing people, they’re gonna unite to slap us down.

    Hardly seems like anyone should need that pointed out but if anybody mentioned it to Trump or any other gung ho warhawk, he must not have been listening.

    • January 21, 2020 at 13:08

      Trump and Pompeo seem to have entered the Wild West stage of recent American history. I think they watch too many western movies, without understanding the underrlying plot of 100% of them. It is the bad guys take over a town, where they impose their will on the population, terrorizing everyone into obediance. They steal everything in sight and any who oppose them are summarily killed off. In the end a good guy ( In American parlance, ” a good guy with a gun” shows up . The town`s people approach him and beg him to oppose the bad guys. He then proceeds to kill off the bad guys after the general population joins him in his crusade. it looks as though we are at the stage in the movie where the general population is ready to take up arms against the bad guys.

      The moral of the story the bad guys, the bullies, Pompeo and Trump, are either killed or chased out of town. But perhaps the problem is that this plot is too difficult for Trump and Pompeo to understand. So they don`t quite get the peril that there gunmen and killers are now in. They don`t see the writing on the wall.

  16. Caveman
    January 21, 2020 at 11:30

    It seems the only US considerations in the assassination were – will it weaken Iran, will it strengthen the American position? On that perspective, the answer is probably yes on both counts. Legal considerations do not seem to have carried any weight. In the UK we recently saw a chilling interview with Brian Hook, U.S. Special Representative for Iran and Senior Policy Advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It was clear that he saw the assassination as another nail in the coffin of the Iranian regime, simply furthering a policy objective.

    • Blue Pilgrim
      January 21, 2020 at 17:50

      I want to say, no, Iran is strengthened and the US position is weaker. The world has shifted more towards supporting Iran and against the US, while Iran itself has become become more solidified, and closer to it’s allies who also understand the US threat. It is similar with Lybia and Syria. One need look not at the ripples, but the currents.

  17. Vera Gottlieb
    January 21, 2020 at 11:19

    What is even sadder is the world’s lack of gonads to stand up to this bully nation – that has caused so much grief and still does.

    • January 22, 2020 at 08:02

      Including our own citizens, cowering in fear and ignorance with their “smart” devices

  18. Michael McNulty
    January 21, 2020 at 11:01

    The US government became a crime syndicate. Today its bootleg liquor is oil, the boys they send round to steal it are armies and their drive-by shootings are Warthog strafings using DU ammunition. Their drug rackets in the back streets are high-grade reefer, heroin and amphetamines, with pharmaceutical-grade chemicals on Main Street. They still print banknotes just as before; but this time it’s legal but still doesn’t make them enough, so to make up the shortfalls they’ve taken armed robbery abroad.

    • paul easton
      January 21, 2020 at 12:55

      The US Government is running a protection racket, literally. In return for US protection of their sources of oil, the NATO countries provide international support for US war crimes. But now that the (figurative) Don is visibly out of his mind, they are likely to turn to other protectors.

    • January 22, 2020 at 08:05

      A real patriot is not afraid to stand up to it’s government when it has gone rogue; the blind and ignorant who wave the flag and believe anything that pig Pompeo tells them are not patriots

  19. January 21, 2020 at 10:34

    One need not step back very far in order to look at the bigger longer range picture. What immediately comes into focus is that this is simply the current moment in what is now 500 plus years of Western colonialism/neocolonialism. When has the law EVER had anything to do with any of this?

  20. ML
    January 21, 2020 at 10:31

    Pompeo reminds me of the pigs in Animal Farm. He is a grotesque figure, steely-eyed, cold-blooded, fanatical, and hateful. “We lied, cheated, and stole” Pompous Maximus will get his comeuppance one of these days. I hope he plans more overseas trips for himself. He is a vile person, a psychopath proud of his psychopathy. He alone would make anyone considering conversion to Christianity, his brand of it, run screaming into the night. Repulsive man.

    • January 22, 2020 at 08:06

      Indeed; almost as, if not more-so, than the Chumpster himself

  21. Michael Crockett
    January 21, 2020 at 09:40

    Pillage as policy. The Empire has fully embraced gangster capitalism for its modus operandi. That said, IMO, the axis of resistance has the military capability and the resolve to fight back and win. Combining China and Russia into a greater axis of resistance could further shrink the Outlaw US Empire presence in West Asia. Thank you Patrick for your keen insight and observations. The Empires days are numbered.

  22. Sally Snyder
    January 21, 2020 at 07:28

    Here is an interesting article that explains how governments have changed the rules so that they can justify killing anyone who they believe may at some point in time have the potential to be involved in a terrorist plot:


    This rather Orwellian move gives governments the justification that they to kill any of us just because they feel that we might pose a threat and that is a very, very scary prospect. It is very reminiscent of the movie Minority Report where crimes of the future are punished in the present.

    • January 22, 2020 at 08:14

      That “Bethelem Doctrine” needs to be thrown in the trash-bin where it belongs; it is nothing more than word-salad that justifies imperial powers to do whatever the hell they want, laws and decency be damned. It is pure evil.

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