Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. How to Decide When Blowing Someone Up Is the Right Thing to Do

 

It isn’t always obvious.

Of course, a priori (that’s Latin for “before we know better”), we probably want to assume that blowing someone up is not the right thing to do. This position has among its many advantages the virtue of complying with Rabbi Hillel’s famous statement of the Golden Rule: “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to another.” Most of us would consider being blown up to be “hateful” (I don’t think that’s too strong a word), so we should advocate the blowing up of others only sparingly. That just seems like good sense to me.

But what do you do with someone whose business card leads with “Terrorist Kingpin” and who once posed for one of those Most Interesting Man in the World beer commercials that reads: “I don’t always facilitate acts of mass murder, but… // Who am I kidding? Of course I do!” ? What do you do with someone like that?

Well, if you’re the list-making type (I’m not), you’ve probably got a shortlist somewhere on your desk that includes the people who you think should be blown up. So what you do is you add that guy’s name to the list. Depending on who else is on it, you might put his name near the top. (If your list only has one name on it, you’re either a charitable soul who sees the good in almost everyone, or it just says “Trump.”)

If you’re not the list-making type, just try to remember the guy’s name, Qassem Soleimani, for example, as we go through the rest of this exercise.

That’s right: we’re not done yet. It’s all well and good to say “yeah, I think this is a guy who should be blown up,” but there’s a little more intellectual heavy lifting that has to occur before you actually push the button. You have to ask yourself this question: “Is the world likely to be a better place if he’s blown up, or is it likely to be worse?” Because however satisfying it might be to blow someone up, it can’t always be about immediate gratification, about doing what feels good. We shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger goal, which is a nicer world full of happier people.

So the most important question to ask is whether or not the individual in question is directly involved in doing bad things — not just bad things, but really bad things. (Pro tip: If the answer to that is “no,” consider reevaluating your criteria for picking people whom you’d like to see blown up.) In the case of our example, that’s an easy one: yes, Qassem Soleimani is, well, was, directly involved in doing really bad things. He was kind of a rockstar at doing really bad things. (One can easily imagine that, had TIME magazine realized that the window was closing as quickly as it was, they might have chosen this terrorist rockstar as their Person of the Year. He was that big a deal. Ah well. Missed opportunity.)

So we’re good to go? Can I hit the button now?

That’s “May I hit the button now,” and the answer is “no, not quite.”

Because it’s possible that there will be ramifications to blowing this fellow up that will lead to a net negative outcome that will create a less nice world full of less happy people. We can’t selfishly go blowing up anyone we think deserves it. We have to think of others.

Unfortunately, while it’s pretty easy to perform that first-order evaluation of inherent blowupworthiness, it’s sometimes extraordinarily difficult to predict what the larger outcome will be. That’s because human behavior is a complex emergent phenomenon, particularly when multiple cultures and cruel dictators with precarious grips on their rule are involved. We can guess, but no one really knows what will happen.

So let’s guess, using our example of the late Qassem Soleimani.

Will Iran launch a ground invasion of the United States? Probably not.

Will Iran engage in increased terrorism against the United States or our allies. Maybe. Of course, Iran does terrorism anyway; remember Mr. Soleimani’s business card? One can reasonably wonder how much underutilized terrorist capacity Iran has in place in foreign countries. One can also wonder what Iran planned to do with that capacity, and if precipitating an increase in terrorism is really more about changing the timing than the events themselves. On the other hand, blowing up someone as rockstar famous as Qassem Soleimani sends a signal; doing it without even talking to Nancy Pelosi first suggests a worrisome (if you’re an Iranian dictator) nonchalance on the part of whoever pushed the button. So perhaps this will actually disincentivize Iran, vis a vis doing terrorist-y kinds of things, at least for a little while. We really don’t know.

Is this likely to make the situation less stable? Well, we don’t know. The situation wasn’t actually “stable” to begin with: people were still being blown up courtesy of Mr. Soleimani and, however cavalier I may appear to be about blowing people up, I am not under the illusion that a world in which people are unexpectedly exploded is in any rigorous sense “stable” — not, that is, unless people blowing up is the default condition. (And I took a dim view of that in the second paragraph of this rather lengthy post, and will continue to actively discourage it.)

But is this going to plunge us into large-scale war with Iran? Only if we want it to. We can send thousands of troops to Iran and fight a long and miserable, and ultimately probably unsuccessful, ground war. Or we can blow people and things up like we’re playing a Nintendo game, with about as much human cost on our side. The human cost on the other side is non-trivial, but we have a lot of control over that… and the Iranian regime itself is not gentle with its people nor with anyone else.

So what’s the answer? Will the world be a better place, or a worse place?

We can’t be sure. It could go either way. I think the more likely outcome is that this will discourage Iranian aggression, weaken the Iranian regime, and nudge us on the path to a better world. But no one really knows for sure.

What we do know, however, is that a guy who is directly responsible for policies and actions that have claimed thousands of innocent lives, and who uses terrorism and the destruction of civilians as a political tool to achieve the goals of a tyrannical and oppressive government, will be blown up.

So this is one of those cases where blowing someone up probably makes sense.

Published in Foreign Policy
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  1. Jon1979 Lincoln

    Well, the ball’s in the Iranians’ court now, where both they and Trump’s domestic opponents have whipsawed over the past 72 hours from deriding him as a wimp to demonizing him as a warmonger. It’s a case of ‘Pick One’ because he can’t be both, but the fresh talking points are similar to how the left viewed Reagan 40 years ago, as an evil idiot who was going to blow up the world.

    Given the speediness of the current news cycle, this one’s actually more embarrassing for the Dems, since you didn’t have people like Sen. Murphy doing 180s on their Twitter feed attacks literally within a day — the left of 40 years ago was at least consistent about Reagan being a warmonger. And if the mullahs buy into they current hype about warmonger Trump, they’re far less likely to do anything overt or anything all that quickly, if they do take CNN International seriously and now think that Trump’s an unstable lunatic who might nuke Terhan because he saw something on Fox & Friends that morning.

    Reality of course is that Suleimani was the leading implementer of state-sponsored terrorism going back to the early Clinton years, so he as a long track record of actions that justified his killing, and Trump balked several times previously at taking any major action against Iran, which was one of the things that led to his rift with John Bolton. To believe the Democrats’ current spin, you have to eliminate all of that, but from the standpoint of constraining Iranian counter-attacks, it might not be the worse thing in the world if the mullahs actually do buy into the progressive talking points.

    • #1
    • January 5, 2020, at 11:39 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  2. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Henry Racette: We can’t be sure. It could go either way.

    That’s paralysis through analysis. Probably 99% of all political decisions have negative and/or unintended consequences of some sort. Like sending a terrorist state with a guy like Qassem billions in cash – literal cash – on pallets. Do you think for a moment anyone asked, “What could possibly go wrong?” and came up with an answer?

    • #2
    • January 5, 2020, at 11:45 AM PST
    • 12 likes
  3. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Henry Racette: We can’t be sure. It could go either way.

    That’s paralysis through analysis. Probably 99% of all political decisions have negative and/or unintended consequences of some sort. Like sending a terrorist state with a guy like Qassem billions in cash – literal cash – on pallets. Do you think for a moment anyone asked, “What could possibly go wrong?” and came up with an answer?

    Exactly. And so we should favor the first-order analysis: kill the very bad man, unless a compelling argument can be made against doing so.

    • #3
    • January 5, 2020, at 12:34 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  4. Stad Thatcher

    Henry Racette: But is this going to plunge us into large-scale war with Iran? Only if we want it to. We can send thousands of troops to Iran and fight a long and miserable, and ultimately probably unsuccessful, ground war. Or we can blow people and things up like we’re playing a Nintendo game, with about as much human cost on our side. The human cost on the other side is non-trivial, but we have a lot of control over that… and the Iranian regime itself is not gentle with its people nor with anyone else.

    I think we could launch a huge, non-nuclear preemptive strike on all its military facilites and the ayatollahs, thus leaving Iran with local governments and a large population who seem to want out from under the yoke of severe Islam . . .

    • #4
    • January 5, 2020, at 12:58 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  5. Rodin Member

    The mullahs best play is their announced offer of $80 million (Obama dollars) for Trump’s demise. (As if the headache for the Secret Service wasn’t already big enough.) They may get less out of the offer than they think as the competition for the dollars may interfere with each other as they try to elbow themselves to the front of a long line of Progressive crazies. Actually Trump may want to invite Nancy and Chuck to a lot more public appearances (heh, heh).

    • #5
    • January 5, 2020, at 1:03 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  6. Tex929rr Coolidge

     I really like this post, but it’s worth a like if only for the coining of the term “blowupworthiness”.

    And blowing up this cretin was most certainly the right thing to do.

    Bonus: funeral procession with the remains carried in a Chevy truck: sure to be the focus of memes.

    • #6
    • January 5, 2020, at 1:35 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  7. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Henry Racette: We can’t be sure. It could go either way.

    That’s paralysis through analysis. Probably 99% of all political decisions have negative and/or unintended consequences of some sort. Like sending a terrorist state with a guy like Qassem billions in cash – literal cash – on pallets. Do you think for a moment anyone asked, “What could possibly go wrong?” and came up with an answer?

    I see most Democrats are saying “no action” would have been their choice. We should all remember who said what come November. Maybe in 8 years they will pretend they favored the choice like Biden is doing today about his “no go” on bin Laden. Americans like a “decider”. 

    • #7
    • January 5, 2020, at 1:38 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  8. Sweezle Member

    I have no idea if this will be judged as a disaster or a heroic deed in 50 to 100 years. President Trump took his time on striking back at Iran after they spent a lot of Obama’s 1.5 billion gift on supporting terrorism, attacking oil tankers, taking out our drone, blowing up Saudi oil fields, leading the attack on our embassy in Baghdad and killing an American contractor.

    The only two things I am reasonably certain of is that Soleimani was responsible for the death of many thousands including hundreds of Americans. And there will not be any peace in the Middle East during my lifetime.

    • #8
    • January 5, 2020, at 2:39 PM PST
    • 1 like
  9. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    So, who else might qualify as “blowup worthy”?

    Kim Jong Un.

    • #9
    • January 5, 2020, at 3:16 PM PST
    • 1 like
  10. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    So, who else might qualify as “blowup worthy”?

    Kim Jong Un.

    As I said, I’m not a list-maker. 

    • #10
    • January 5, 2020, at 3:17 PM PST
    • 1 like
  11. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    Sweezle (View Comment):
    And there will not be any peace in the Middle East during my lifetime.

    Any peace? Or total peace? Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have a new peaceful working relationship. If not for Soleimani things might be peaceful in Syria, Lebanon, Iran and maybe Iraq. Things are better now than they have been in a generation. 

    • #11
    • January 5, 2020, at 3:26 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  12. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    Kim Jong Un is the last in a family of cruel dictators, who has a proven record of murdering his own family members (uncle, half-brother) and starving his people. Since at present he has no offspring to take his place, his death might be a good thing. I’m betting that even his wife is deathly afraid of him, knowing that one wrong move or word could cause her demise.

    • #12
    • January 5, 2020, at 3:28 PM PST
    • 1 like
  13. Petty Boozswha Inactive

    What is your opinion of Trump’s follow up tweet that we would level cultural sites along with military and economic targets? An unambiguous war crime, by the way. Gary and I praised his decision to take out the bad guy, we should have known he’d try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    • #13
    • January 5, 2020, at 3:46 PM PST
    • 1 like
  14. Tex929rr Coolidge

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    What is your opinion of Trump’s follow up tweet that we would level cultural sites along with military and economic targets? An unambiguous war crime, by the way. Gary and I praised his decision to take out the bad guy, we should have known he’d try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    It’s actually quite astute, as the Persians are incredibly sensitive about their impressive history and failure to live up to it in the modern world.

    • #14
    • January 5, 2020, at 3:49 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  15. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    What is your opinion of Trump’s follow up tweet that we would level cultural sites along with military and economic targets? An unambiguous war crime, by the way. Gary and I praised his decision to take out the bad guy, we should have known he’d try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    I think that what he does is rather important. I think it’s foolish to obsess too much about what he says, because he says a vast array of dumb things.

    Deliberately blowing up cultural sites would be very bad. But I don’t expect him to do that. I do expect his critics to leap at the opportunity to criticize him for saying it.

    • #15
    • January 5, 2020, at 3:50 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  16. Jon1979 Lincoln

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    What is your opinion of Trump’s follow up tweet that we would level cultural sites along with military and economic targets? An unambiguous war crime, by the way. Gary and I praised his decision to take out the bad guy, we should have known he’d try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    Depends on if he means it, or if he’s just using the Nixon/Kissinger ‘Madman Theory’ to deter the mullahs from any retaliation. Nixon kept the Soviets out of the Yom Kippur War on the side of Egypt in ’73 because the Soviets thought in the wake of Watergate, he was crazy enough to go nuclear – Trump’s already got lots of people thinking the worst of him, even the ones who were saying four days ago that Iran drank his milkshake on the Baghdad embassy siege. Why not use that D.C. conventional wisdom talking point to your advantage?

    • #16
    • January 5, 2020, at 3:54 PM PST
    • 1 like
  17. Tex929rr Coolidge

    Jon1979 (View Comment):

    Depends on if he means it, or if he’s just using the Nixon/Kissinger ‘Madman Theory’ to deter the mullahs from any retaliation. Nixon kept the Soviets out of the Yom Kippur War on the side of Egypt in ’73 because the Soviets thought in the wake of Watergate, he was crazy enough to go nuclear – Trump’s already got lots of people thinking the worst of him, even the ones who were saying four days ago that Iran drank his milkshake on the Baghdad embassy siege. Why not use that D.C. conventional wisdom talking point to your advantage?

    Imagine the mullahs watching the US. It’s probably incomprehensible to them that most of the news media savage him on a daily basis. I’m sure the smart strategists among them regard the legacy media and political left as useful idiots. And here is the POTUS, blithely ignoring all of it except for bellicose tweets and public statements. They have to be confused and terrified. Soleimani was the essential man to the hard liners, and now (as a friend posted on social media) he is in a Dixie cup in the glove compartment of that Chevy truck.

    • #17
    • January 5, 2020, at 4:02 PM PST
    • 1 like
  18. Petty Boozswha Inactive

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    What is your opinion of Trump’s follow up tweet that we would level cultural sites along with military and economic targets? An unambiguous war crime, by the way. Gary and I praised his decision to take out the bad guy, we should have known he’d try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    I think that what he does is rather important. I think it’s foolish to obsess too much about what he says, because he says a vast array of dumb things.

    Deliberately blowing up cultural sites would be very bad. But I don’t expect him to do that. I do expect his critics to leap at the opportunity to criticize him for saying it.

    I don’t think our military would carry out such an order, I still think it’s example 37xxx of why the man should not be our president.

    • #18
    • January 5, 2020, at 4:16 PM PST
    • Like
  19. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    What is your opinion of Trump’s follow up tweet that we would level cultural sites along with military and economic targets? An unambiguous war crime, by the way. Gary and I praised his decision to take out the bad guy, we should have known he’d try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    I think that what he does is rather important. I think it’s foolish to obsess too much about what he says, because he says a vast array of dumb things.

    Deliberately blowing up cultural sites would be very bad. But I don’t expect him to do that. I do expect his critics to leap at the opportunity to criticize him for saying it.

    I don’t think our military would carry out such an order, I still think it’s example 37xxx of why the man should not be our president.

    I would rather a President who speaks poorly but governs well than the opposite. I think we have one, which is why I’m glad he’s President. 

    • #19
    • January 5, 2020, at 4:25 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  20. Bob Thompson Member

    We have some Ivy League professora calling the President’s action a ‘war crime’ because he didn’t consult Congress. Even if consulting Congress were a requirement in law, does that make it a ‘war crime’?

    • #20
    • January 5, 2020, at 4:43 PM PST
    • 1 like
  21. Bob Thompson Member

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    What is your opinion of Trump’s follow up tweet that we would level cultural sites along with military and economic targets? An unambiguous war crime, by the way. Gary and I praised his decision to take out the bad guy, we should have known he’d try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    Only a home-grown American progressive can do that and get away with it.

    • #21
    • January 5, 2020, at 4:50 PM PST
    • 1 like
  22. Rodin Member

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    We have some Ivy League professora calling the President’s action a ‘war crime’ because he didn’t consult Congress. Even if consulting Congress were a requirement in law, does that make it a ‘war crime’?

    Uh, no. The current academy suggests we are in an age of deteriorating intelligence. 

    • #22
    • January 5, 2020, at 5:26 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  23. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    I would rather a President who speaks poorly but governs well than the opposite. I think we have one, which is why I’m glad he’s President. 

    I couldn’t agree more.

    • #23
    • January 5, 2020, at 5:32 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  24. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Rodin (View Comment):

    The mullahs best play is their announced offer of $80 million (Obama dollars) for Trump’s demise. (As if the headache for the Secret Service wasn’t already big enough.) They may get less out of the offer than they think as the competition for the dollars may interfere with each other as they try to elbow themselves to the front of a long line of Progressive crazies. Actually Trump may want to invite Nancy and Chuck to a lot more public appearances (heh, heh).

    I dunno, Nancy could really use the 80 mil. 

    • #24
    • January 5, 2020, at 6:51 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  25. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):

    What is your opinion of Trump’s follow up tweet that we would level cultural sites along with military and economic targets? An unambiguous war crime, by the way. Gary and I praised his decision to take out the bad guy, we should have known he’d try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    I think that what he does is rather important. I think it’s foolish to obsess too much about what he says, because he says a vast array of dumb things.

    Deliberately blowing up cultural sites would be very bad. But I don’t expect him to do that. I do expect his critics to leap at the opportunity to criticize him for saying it.

    To my mind, what he is intending to get across is that he isn’t going to not blow up cultural sites. 

    Certain countries have a tendency to store their missile and military next door to hospitals, mosques and suchlike. 

    Personally I would never attack a cultural site and I doubt that Trump would either. But I would attack a military target right next door to one with a large radius weapon if I thought it would reduce American deaths. 

    • #25
    • January 5, 2020, at 6:58 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  26. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    We have some Ivy League professora calling the President’s action a ‘war crime’ because he didn’t consult Congress. Even if consulting Congress were a requirement in law, does that make it a ‘war crime’?

    I’m right glad we found excuses to execute Nazi monsters after WWII, but the phrase ‘war crime’ is just something people say to demonstrate how impotent they are. 

    • #26
    • January 5, 2020, at 7:03 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  27. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):
    An unambiguous war crime, by the way.

    Depends. Some war crimes are reasonable under the laws and customs of war.

    • #27
    • January 6, 2020, at 9:02 AM PST
    • 1 like
  28. Steve C. Member

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Petty Boozswha (View Comment):
    An unambiguous war crime, by the way.

    Depends. Some war crimes are reasonable under the laws and customs of war.

    Acts that are reasonable under the laws of war are not “crimes”. 

    • #28
    • January 6, 2020, at 9:15 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  29. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Henry Racette: We can’t be sure. It could go either way. I think the more likely outcome is that this will discourage Iranian aggression, weaken the Iranian regime, and nudge us on the path to a better world. But no one really knows for sure.

    If a military commander of any rank is discouraged by threat of death, he is in the wrong profession. 

    Possibly, fear of US invasion and/or missile strikes sufficiently motivates the Iran regime’s opponents to organize a coup. I doubt it. 

    There were two good reasons to kill Soleimani. 

    First, attacking Americans should always have a cost. That deters those least committed to killing Americans and slows down the rest with more careful planning. 

    Second, killing the most cunning, resourceful, and inspirational commanders hopefully leaves us with less efficient enemies. That’s always a crapshoot, but we can repeat as necessary. 

    There is only one way Iran can now threaten us beyond their current support of terrorism and war by proxy. Iran cannot launch an attack on American soil except via terrorism. But they could launch an unreserved assault on Israel and hope to suck us into the giant mess that followed. 

    That would mean destruction of Iran, but it is the nature of despotic regimes to prioritize themselves before their peoples. If Iran’s regime ever believes they are on the verge of losing a revolution, that is when the regime would be most dangerous because it would have nothing to lose. That does not seem to be the present situation.

    • #29
    • January 6, 2020, at 9:15 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  30. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    If this guy was even half as magnificent at his job as the following old article makes him out to be, it isn’t likely Iran will replace him with anyone nearly as good anytime soon. The man was fearless and brilliantly evil; and Iran’s retaliation for this isn’t going to be as effective as what he would have accomplished had he lived. So Trump made a good call, I think, to say the least.

    The Shadow Commander, by Dexter Filkins, published in The New Yorker on 9/23/2013.

    Also, I think anything less than killing Soleimani would have been disrespectful—-an insufficient tribute to his abilities.

    • #30
    • January 6, 2020, at 9:16 AM PST
    • 4 likes