At the direction of President Donald Trump, Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful military leader, was killed by a U.S. drone strike on January 3, 2020. The United States Department of Defense contends Soleimani had been planning attacks on American diplomats/military personnel and had approved the attacks on the American embassy in Baghdad in response to U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria in December, 2019. Not surprisingly, Iran has pledged harsh retaliation for Soleimani’s death. In response, Trump has threatened to target 52 heritage sites within Iran.
The elimination of Soleimani has raised much debate. Whether it was justified has become a bipartisan issue that will likely never be answered to Americans’ satisfaction. The legality of Soleimani’s assassination, however, is easier to pin down. International Law dating from the Hague Conventions of 1907, and the protocol of the Geneva Convention in 1949, prohibits conspiring to kill, injure or capture an adversary. Additionally, since 1976, there has been a U.S. executive order in place forbidding the United States from carrying out political assassinations: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” If Trump targets any heritage sites within Iran, he will, again, be in violation of the Hague Convention (1954) for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and The Geneva Convention, both of which prohibit acts of hostility against cultural property, monuments of architecture, art, history, and places of worship.
Justification and legality are not uppermost in my mind; the Pied Piper Effect is. Donald Trump possesses an almost unparalleled ability to compel his followers to believe absolutely anything he says and thoughtlessly fall into line. The Pied Piper Effect is, perhaps, arguably the President’s most effective skill. He has managed to silence any opposition within his party (if there was any to begin with) and garner unwavering support. Did none of his advisors warn him there would be dire consequences to killing Soleimani? Did no one point out to the President that assassinating Soleimani would violate international law and that following through on threats to strike Iranian cultural sites will constitute a war crime? Isn’t there anybody in the White House who can rein in the President and temper his impulses with reason? Isn’t there anyone, anywhere in the administration that isn’t afraid of Donald Trump? (And since the obvious answer is “no”, one has to wonder why that is.)
A January 6, 2020 Huffington Post poll reveals 43% of Americans approve of the airstrike that took out Qassem Soleimani. 38% disapprove; 19% are unsure. Despite the predictable division in public opinion, if the administration continues to disregard the law that governs our nation and the international community, we can all agree that troubled, desperate days lie ahead. The 45th President of the United States believes the Constitution grants him the right to do whatever he wants; Donald Trump will not be restricted.
The Pied Piper has run amok.