Politicians who start wars aren’t leaders; they’re cowards
No two murder squads are really that different
“The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles; the master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, and the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose – including their lives.” – Eugene Debs
Like much of the world, I learned who Quassem Soleimani was only after the Iranian general was assassinated by the United States. Like most people, I really had no idea if he was, as CNBC said, “the world’s biggest bad guy” (although I was quite certain this could not be true, as a hasty Google search confirmed that yes, Henry Kissinger continues to live and breathe, somehow defying both death and the Hague) or if he was a fierce, anti-imperialist warrior who had done more than anyone to defeat terror in the region.
But although, I didn’t know who Soleimani was, like most of the world, when I heard that the top general of Iran’s Quds Force – which is considered a terrorist organization by Canada, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, but which appears to me (a Canadian humanities major who has never served in the Armed Forces and does not respect institutional authority) to be an elite murder squad no different from the elite murder squads every other country refers to as their “special forces” or some variation thereof – had been taken out by a missile while en route to an official meeting with the Prime Minister of Iraq, my first thought was “oh fuck.”
I don’t know the rules of war (although I know it is, above all else, a business), nor do I know the ins and outs of foreign affairs. What I do know is that to use a drone to drop a missile on the top military commander of another nation while he’s on the way to an official meeting with the Prime Minister of a sovereign state is, in layman’s terms, not good.
In the more technical parlance of Iranian-American affairs expert Reza Marashi, “you don’t do it.” I don’t know the rules of war – though I know that this is not yet a war – but I know that the ripples created by this thoughtlessly thrown stone will create disturbances beyond my comprehension. They will radiate out much farther than the myopic fool who ordered it thrown can see.
I’m old enough to remember the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (don’t do the math in your head). I remember watching Ari Fleischer feed the press propaganda about WMDs with a dead-eyed conviction that former Press Secretary Sean Spicer should have taken note of. I remember the “Axis of Evil” speech, written by the Atlantic’s David Frum, then speechwriter for George W. Bush (though I did not know that then) which eased the way for the endless war in Iraq. I remember that the press ate it whole. I remember being very young and very skeptical of the establishment line. I remember knowing that people would die.
And now 17 years have passed and I am grown and I am once again watching Ari Fleischer, now a talking head, feed the press propaganda and I am once again watching the press eat it whole. I remember how George W. Bush, war-criminal-turned-elder-statesman, lied about weapons of mass destruction and how those lies were relayed uncritically to the people, and now I am watching the press repeat the White House line that Soleimani had planned four attacks on U.S. embassies uncritically to the people.
I am watching a (somewhat) repentant David Frum, miraculously born-again as a Clinton voter and never-Trump-er, talk now about the lessons learned from the war he mongered, welcomed back to the fold, his work as a propagandist forgiven, and by many (most?), even forgotten.
I remember, and I watch, and I am angry. I am angry at these men (and the annals of foreign policy are almost exclusively populated by men) who devote their lives to sowing the seeds of war and are revered (or at least listened to) as brilliant tacticians and analysts, leaders with everything on the line, when they are actually cowards and liars and fools who play with the lives of others while sipping spritzers in the green room at CNN or over the meals they expense to the taxpayer.
They make wars that send their stocks surging while sparing their families. They affect looks of concern and deep concentration and they speak with measured words that come from deep in their chests but the truth is that the reality of war and the anguish and grief that it brings are as distant and unknowable to them as the depths of the sea.
And I am angry at the media, only a few of whom seem to have fully internalized the lessons of 2003 – that if the media doesn’t do its job, if they do not push until it hurts, leaders will lie, and people will die. As someone who is now, in some small capacity, a member of the news media, I cannot fathom this lethal obsequiousness, this taking a pay cheque from an outlet while serving as a comms person for the government.
I don’t know the rules of war, but I know that it was Iraqis who paid – and continue to pay – for the lies of the Bush administration and the cowardice of the media who failed to stand up to him. It will be Iranians who pay for the assassination of Soleimani.
It will be civilians, like the passengers on Flight 752, whose perfectly ordinary and absolutely miraculous lives will be seized by the handful and paid as a toll so these men who understand less than even I do about the price of a war can continue to play their games. It will be the service men and women, many of them poor, many of them racialized, who will pay, who have always paid.