This assertion is unrepresented in the polemics surrounding the strike:
The killing of Soleimani does not significantly bias the future. It does not improve or worsen the U.S. position to a measurable or predictable degree. The effect on future events is limited to detail. This includes the total number of U.S. casualties, although attempts at specific, high profile people are more likely.
This option, “no change”, is typically ignored in debates, because it is no basis for approval or criticism. Yet the claims in favor of “+change” or “–change” are severely flawed:
Claim: Soleimani’s killing aborts or interferes with attacks on U.S. forces. While Iran’s plans in the short term may have been disrupted, Iran has a deep bench in Quds Force leadership. To be effective, a decapitation strike has to knock off most of the bench, which this strike did not do.
Claim: Killing not justified. (CNN) Skepticism mounts over Trump’s claims of an imminent threat. The language of skeptics derives from:
- International law: A sovereign state is entitled to defend itself from imminent threat. Skeptics claim imminence is not documented.
- Presidential war powers: The killing of an individual who is not universally identified as a terrorist.
These arguments are viable only in the moment of time. It is natural for the public to focus on the moment, but we need to expand the moment into the present, and the present into histories that encompass both the past and the future.
(Reuters) Inside the plot by Iran’s Soleimani to attack U.S. forces in Iraq presents imminence in the form of a good story, revealing prior intent. Reliant on unnamed sources, one might suspect it was “cooked”. I don’t think it was. Delving into the past substantiates it. From U.S. Debacle in Iraq? Part 1,
Missile attacks were anticipated in Iran warns U.S., Israel of revenge after parade attack; Missile Attack on U.S. Forces? Attacks did not immediately result, though supply of missiles to militia occurred around that time. (Reuters) Exclusive: Iran moves missiles to Iraq in warning to enemies.
The above implies a defensive intent, which may have been justified by John Bolton’s demeanor. But Iranian Missile Movements; Open Source Versus Technical Intelligence quotes (NBC) U.S. officials: Iran official OK’d attacks on American military:
…the Iranian regime has told some of its proxy forces and surrogates that they can now go after American military personnel and assets in the region, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence.
which is good for intent. What was missing at the time was a final sign-off on the attacks, a date stamp on these operations. A documented date stamp is the focus of skepticism for some.
The past of 8 months corroborates the present. The more past is included, the more difficult it is to suspect that the story is cooked.
Nota bene: Except for occasional products of the CIA history division, “proof” provided by the intelligence community never satisfies legal rules of evidence. In law, the prosecution is required to produce the evidence, based in the main on witness testimony. With spy work, the greater obligation is to conceal the witness.
Both political parties have attempted manipulation of intelligence. Successful manipulation depends upon the character of the intelligence community. That of the senior IC component, the CIA, has changed several times since formation in 1947. It has at times been susceptible, or resistant, to political pressure. Consider:
- Iran Fires the First Shot in New Tanker War
- Iran Fires Second Shot in New Tanker War; Counter Strategies?
- (Reuters) U.S. probe of Saudi oil attack; What is Intel Proof?
Quoting from What is Intel Proof?,
“At this time, the U.S. Intelligence Community has not identified any information from the recovered weapon systems used in the 14 September attacks on Saudi Arabia that definitively reveals an attack origin.”
This is very conservative, absent bias favorable to the administration position. I said I would go further, with circumstantial evidence:
The case against Iran is supported by more physical evidence than Scott Peterson, yet we withhold the verdict of “guilty.” We do this to protect us from ourselves, from intelligence manipulated by politics.
We are not done expanding back in time from the moment.On May 8, 2018, the U.S. withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, subjecting Iran to paralyzing economic sanctions. But the pot didn’t really begin to boil until, on April 22, 2019, sanction waivers were allowed to lapse. (NPR) U.S. Won’t Renew Sanction Exemptions For Countries Buying Iran’s Oil.
This, not the killing of Soleimani, is the real driver of events. Now let’s complete the picture by expanding back to a date that will live in infamy, December 7, 1941. The Imperial Navy of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor with carrier based aircraft, the missile of the day.
It was called a surprise attack. Yet going even further back reveals the ultimate cause. Japan was already an expansionist, militaristic power. Almost devoid of natural resources, petroleum was critical. No one can say that war in the Pacific could have been averted, though when F.D.R. cut off oil exports to Japan in Japan 1941, it became mechanically certain. From Attack on Pearl Harbor,
Japan’s final proposal, delivered on November 20, offered to withdraw from southern Indochina and to refrain from attacks in Southeast Asia, so long as the United States, United Kingdom, and Netherlands ceased aid to China and lifted their sanctions against Japan. The American counter-proposal of November 26 (November 27 in Japan), the Hull note, required Japan completely evacuate China without conditions and conclude non-aggression pacts with Pacific powers. On November 26 in Japan, the day before the note’s delivery, the Japanese task force left port for Pearl Harbor.
So the events of the moment are anticipated by the Hull Note of 1941. History gives us the driver, which is not the killing of an Iranian notable.
George Santayana is reputed by some to have said, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Maybe, maybe not. I would put it another way. If you’re going to drive your adversary into an unbearable corner, if you’re going to have a Rumble in the Jungle, make sure you really are Ali, and the other guy is Foreman.