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There is a useful fiction that “politics stops at the water’s edge,” but that has always been only a fiction. So, we should not be surprised that politics drive divergent responses to the death of a terrorist mastermind, an actual general, with a real uniform, in the “terror war.” At the same time, we should be cautioned by the contrast between the opening lines of Richard III and the end. It was not just a rapid change of political weather, but also of the seasons, as winter turned to summer only to turn back to winter for the house of York.
Remember that the line after “now is the winter of our discontent” is “made glorious summer by this sun of York.” At the time, the Duke of Lancaster and the supporters of his house, might have said, “now is the summer of our repose made gloomy winter by this storm from York.” So it has always been with political power. “Can’t we all get along?” Not when there are even the smallest stakes (see Henry Kissinger’s (?) snark about academic internal politics).
It is astonishing, in a way, that no one had previously seriously sought to kill the leader of the best resourced, best trained, best led transnational terrorist network in the world. What apparently stopped both Bush the Second and Obama, to say nothing of Netanyahu, was the uniform. More precisely, the uniform of a sovereign state, the Islamic Republic of Iran. As the House of Saud sought to extend its global reach through building mosques with Wahhabist imams around the world, so the Khomeinist regime in Iran sought to extend its influence and interests through paramilitary and outright terrorist organizations. The man in charge would naturally be a general, Major General Qassem Suleimani.
Here is what the New Yorker magazine told us about Major General Qassem Suleimani, in an article entitled “The Shadow Commander:”
[In February 2012], some of Iran’s most influential leaders gathered at the Amir al-Momenin Mosque, in northeast Tehran, inside a gated community reserved for officers of the Revolutionary Guard. They had come to pay their last respects to a fallen comrade. Hassan Shateri, a veteran of Iran’s covert wars throughout the Middle East and South Asia, was a senior commander in a powerful, élite branch of the Revolutionary Guard called the Quds Force. The force is the sharp instrument of Iranian foreign policy, roughly analogous to a combined C.I.A. and Special Forces; its name comes from the Persian word for Jerusalem, which its fighters have promised to liberate. Since 1979, its goal has been to subvert Iran’s enemies and extend the country’s influence across the Middle East. Shateri had spent much of his career abroad, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, where the Quds Force helped Shiite militias kill American soldiers.
…Shateri’s casket was wrapped in an Iranian flag, and gathered around it were the commander of the Revolutionary Guard, dressed in green fatigues; a member of the plot to murder four exiled opposition leaders in a Berlin restaurant in 1992; and the father of Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah commander believed to be responsible for the bombings that killed more than two hundred and fifty Americans in Beirut in 1983.
…Kneeling in the second row on the mosque’s carpeted floor was Major General Qassem Suleimani, the Quds Force’s leader: a small man of fifty-six, with silver hair, a close-cropped beard, and a look of intense self-containment. It was Suleimani who had sent Shateri, an old and trusted friend, to his death. As Revolutionary Guard commanders, he and Shateri belonged to a small fraternity formed during the Sacred Defense, the name given to the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988 and left as many as a million people dead. It was a catastrophic fight, but for Iran it was the beginning of a three-decade project to build a Shiite sphere of influence, stretching across Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean. Along with its allies in Syria and Lebanon, Iran forms an Axis of Resistance, arrayed against the region’s dominant Sunni powers and the West. In Syria, the project hung in the balance, and Suleimani was mounting a desperate fight, even if the price of victory was a sectarian conflict that engulfed the region for years.
In 2007, the U.S. Treasury Department, under the presidency of George W. Bush, announced that the State Department had designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) nuclear weapon proliferators and that Treasury had designated the IRGC-Quds Force as providing material support to terrorist organizations.* Yet, it took President Trump, with his own man at State and a new Secretary of Defense, who was not invested in the past 20 years of Middle East policy consensus, to finally kill a terror chief who had been more effective than Osama Bin Laden. President Trump set the stage for this, and gave the Iranian regime and Major General Qassem Suleimani fair warning last April, when he designated the IRGC a Foreign Terrorist Organization.**
It is astonishing that we could actually pull off a targeted military strike, on the order of our assassination of Admiral Yamamoto, without the “policy consensus” Deep State leaking this one. It is a good sign that the actual intelligence operators and analysts and the military planners and operators are not leaking like their agency headquarters. Yamamoto? Yes, we carefully targeted the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the most strategically brilliant Japanese military mind, intercepting and shooting down Yamamoto’s plane over Bougainville Island.
Killing General Suleimani is more significant than was killing Admiral Yamamoto, as Suleimani has been the strategic and operational leader of Iranian foreign operations for decades. Perhaps there is a lieutenant ready to pick up the general’s flag, but such talent is rare. At the same time, President Trump has shown a will and a capacity to employ targeted military strikes in addition to economic tools. The Iranian leadership was only expecting small strikes against other tactical targets, the same expectation that most observers, including me, shared.
The question to be answered in time is this: will the rocket blast that killed Suleimani be the butterfly wing that unleashes a political hurricane, sweeping President Trump out of the White House this November? Will he be seen by those tired of “endless wars” as having broken his promise and getting us into more war? The DNC certainly hopes so, and Secretary Pompeo has come out and plainly accused Democrats of subverting U.S. foreign policy by talking to the Iranian regime, urging them to hold on until after the U.S. election. The Iranian regime, the Chinese Communists, and Putin’s Russia all want the Democrats back in the White House, so we can expect them to try to influence our election season. In this time, would there be a “rally around the flag” effect for President Trump or would there be a Tet Offensive effect? President Trump seems mindful of the need to stick to his position on military intervention, while also showing strength at home and abroad.*** Time will tell, and the American voter will have the last word.
The Treasury Department also designated the IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) under E.O. 13224 for providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations, and Iran’s state-owned Bank Saderat as a terrorist financier.
…E.O. 13224 is an authority aimed at freezing the assets of terrorists and their supporters, and at isolating them from the U.S. financial and commercial systems. Designations under the E.O. prohibit all transactions between the designees and any U.S. person, and freeze any assets the designees may have under U.S. jurisdiction.
IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF): The Qods Force, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC; aka Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps), provides material support to the Taliban, Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC).
The Qods Force is the Iranian regime’s primary instrument for providing lethal support to the Taliban. The Qods Force provides weapons and financial support to the Taliban to support anti-U.S. and anti-Coalition activity in Afghanistan. Since at least 2006, Iran has arranged frequent shipments of small arms and associated ammunition, rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107mm rockets, plastic explosives, and probably man-portable defense systems to the Taliban. This support contravenes Chapter VII UN Security Council obligations. UN Security Council resolution 1267 established sanctions against the Taliban and UN Security Council resolutions 1333 and 1735 imposed arms embargoes against the Taliban. Through Qods Force material support to the Taliban, we believe Iran is seeking to inflict casualties on U.S. and NATO forces.
The Qods Force has had a long history of supporting Hizballah’s military, paramilitary, and terrorist activities, providing it with guidance, funding, weapons, intelligence, and logistical support. The Qods Force operates training camps for Hizballah in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and has reportedly trained more than 3,000 Hizballah fighters at IRGC training facilities in Iran. The Qods Force provides roughly $100 to $200 million in funding a year to Hizballah and has assisted Hizballah in rearming in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
In addition, the Qods Force provides lethal support in the form of weapons, training, funding, and guidance to select groups of Iraqi Shi’a militants who target and kill Coalition and Iraqi forces and innocent Iraqi civilians.
** Designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, April 8, 2019
The State Department intends to designate as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in its entirety, including the Qods Force. This is a historic step to counter Iran-backed terrorism around the world.
- On April 15, the IRGC will be added to the State Department’s FTO list, which includes 67 other terrorist organizations including Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Kata’ib Hizballah, and al-Ashtar Brigades.
- The IRGC FTO designation highlights that Iran is an outlaw regime that uses terrorism as a key tool of statecraft and that the IRGC, part of Iran’s official military, has engaged in terrorist activity or terrorism since its inception 40 years ago.
- The IRGC has been directly involved in terrorist plotting; its support for terrorism is foundational and institutional, and it has killed U.S. citizens. It is also responsible for taking hostages and wrongfully detaining numerous U.S. persons, several of whom remain in captivity in Iran today.
- The Iranian regime has made a clear choice not only to fund and equip, but also to fuel terrorism, violence, and unrest across the Middle East and around the world at the expense of its own people.
- The Iranian regime is responsible for the deaths of at least 603 American service members in Iraq since 2003. This accounts for 17% of all deaths of U.S. personnel in Iraq from 2003 to 2011, and is in addition to the many thousands of Iraqis killed by the IRGC’s proxies.
…The IRGC, with the support of the Iranian government, has engaged in terrorist activity since its inception 40 years ago.
- The IRGC—most prominently through its Qods Force—has the greatest role among Iran’s actors in directing and carrying out a global terrorist campaign.
- In recent years, IRGC Qods Force terrorist planning has been uncovered and disrupted in many countries, including Germany, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Kenya, Bahrain, and Turkey.
- The IRGC Qods Force in 2011 plotted a brazen terrorist attack against the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. on American soil. Fortunately, this plot was foiled.
- In September 2018, a U.S. federal court found Iran and the IRGC liable for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing which killed 19 Americans.
- In 2012, IRGC Qods Force operatives were arrested in Turkey for plotting an attack and in Kenya for planning a bombing.
- In January 2018, Germany uncovered ten IRGC operatives involved in a terrorist plot in Germany, and convicted another IRGC operative for surveilling a German-Israeli group.
- The IRGC continues to provide financial and other material support, training, technology transfer, advanced conventional weapons, guidance, or direction to a broad range of terrorist organizations, including Hizballah, Palestinian terrorist groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Kata’ib Hizballah in Iraq, al-Ashtar Brigades in Bahrain, and other terrorist groups in Syria and around the Gulf.
- In addition to its support of proxies and terrorist groups abroad, Iran also harbors terrorists within its own borders, thereby facilitating their activities. Iran continues to allow Al Qaeda (AQ) operatives to reside in Iran, where they have been able to move money and fighters to South Asia and Syria. In 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department identified and sanctioned three senior AQ operatives residing in Iran and noted that Iran had knowingly permitted these AQ members, including several of the 9/11 hijackers, to transit its territory on their way to Afghanistan for training and operational planning.
*** Remarks by President Trump on the Killing of Qasem Soleimani [emphasis added]
Issued on: January 3, 2020
Palm Beach, Florida
3:13 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. Well, thank you very much. And good afternoon.
As President, my highest and most solemn duty is the defense of our nation and its citizens.
Last night, at my direction, the United States military successfully executed a flawless precision strike that killed the number-one terrorist anywhere in the world, Qasem Soleimani.
Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him.
Under my leadership, America’s policy is unambiguous: To terrorists who harm or intend to harm any American, we will find you; we will eliminate you. We will always protect our diplomats, service members, all Americans, and our allies.
For years, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its ruthless Quds Force — under Soleimani’s leadership — has targeted, injured, and murdered hundreds of American civilians and servicemen.
The recent attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq, including rocket strikes that killed an American and injured four American servicemen very badly, as well as a violent assault on our embassy in Baghdad, were carried out at the direction of Soleimani.
Soleimani made the death of innocent people his sick passion, contributing to terrorist plots as far away as New Delhi and London.
Today we remember and honor the victims of Soleimani’s many atrocities, and we take comfort in knowing that his reign of terror is over.
Soleimani has been perpetrating acts of terror to destabilize the Middle East for the last 20 years. What the United States did yesterday should have been done long ago. A lot of lives would have been saved.
Just recently, Soleimani led the brutal repression of protestors in Iran, where more than a thousand innocent civilians were tortured and killed by their own government.
We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.
I have deep respect for the Iranian people. They are a remarkable people, with an incredible heritage and unlimited potential. We do not seek regime change. However, the Iranian regime’s aggression in the region, including the use of proxy fighters to destabilize its neighbors, must end, and it must end now.
The future belongs to the people of Iran — those who seek peaceful coexistence and cooperation — not the terrorist warlords who plunder their nation to finance bloodshed abroad.
The United States has the best military by far, anywhere in the world. We have best intelligence in the world. If Americans anywhere are threatened, we have all of those targets already fully identified, and I am ready and prepared to take whatever action is necessary. And that, in particular, refers to Iran.
Under my leadership, we have destroyed the ISIS territorial caliphate, and recently, American Special Operations Forces killed the terrorist leader known as al-Baghdadi. The world is a safer place without these monsters.
America will always pursue the interests of good people, great people, great souls, while seeking peace, harmony, and friendship with all of the nations of the world.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless our great military. And God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much. Thank you.