Living in Society

Slaying a Foreign Government Official

Dr. Maureen McCue speaking for the Iran Deal at Rep. Dave Loebsack’s Office Aug. 31, 2015

The politics of Iran has been on my radar since the Iranian Revolution when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown in 1979 and an Islamic republic replaced the monarchy.

I lived in Mainz, Germany that year. I was a mechanized infantry battalion adjutant in the Eighth Infantry Division, which, as part of V Corps, was training for a war in the Middle East over oil. Across the Rhine river from us was Wiesbaden, the evacuation point for American citizens fleeing Iran in the wake of the revolution. Our unit provided support to the Wiesbaden operation during the evacuation.

One of the choices I made during that time was which of my peers in the battalion would be sent to Iran during the aftermath of the Shah’s overthrow. I picked someone whose family wasn’t with him in Germany. My friend was never deployed to Iran and we were all grateful for that.

In this context it is natural that the United States assassination of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force would catch my attention. What I wasn’t prepared for was spending so much time following developments. When I write “developments” what I really mean is the slow, uneven release of information about what happened and what it means. Yesterday’s post is a list of the main questions raised early on in the discovery process. Answers have proven complicated and elusive.

I was reading the news right when I wrote Soleimani was a target of opportunity. That means the U.S. intelligence community had long been tracking his movements and after President Trump gave the order to slay him, when his movements at the Baghdad airport exposed him and his entourage, there was an opportunity to take action and our military did. While our president seems impulsive, in this case there was a developed plan to assassinate Soleimani.

Two things make this different. First, Soleimani was revered in Shia Muslim culture. His death by unmanned drone attack elevated him to martyrdom and could bring a ruptured Iranian society together in opposition to the United States. Second, he was part of the Iranian government the way Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley is. It is important to note Soleimani’s status was distinct from a figure like Osama bin Laden who was a rogue, non-state actor. People who make a proportional comparison between Soleimani and bin Laden are wrong to do so.

The politics of this have been predictable as Heather Cox Richardson pointed out in her daily Letters from an American:

Last night’s news about the assassination of Iran’s military leader Qassem Soleimani has today turned into a predictable split. Defenders of the president insist that Soleimani was an evildoer and the United States absolutely should have taken him out. They have no patience for anyone questioning Trump’s decision, suggesting that those questioners are anti-American and pro-terrorist if they do not support the killing of a man they insist has been one of our key enemies for years.

Those questioning the president’s decision to assassinate a member of a foreign government as a terrorist freely acknowledge that Soleimani was a dangerous man. But they are concerned that Trump appears to have ordered the man assassinated illegally and has, in the process, ignited a firestorm.

If you are reading this post, you should consider subscribing to Richardson’s daily emails.

Whether President Trump had constitutional or legal authority to assassinate a member of the Iranian government without consulting the Congress remains an open question. The administration claimed it was free to act under the 2002 Authority for the Use of Military Force enacted by congress in the wake of the 911 terrorist attacks. The U.S. named the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, of which Quds Force is a part, a terrorist organization. Friends Committee on National Legislation has been lobbying the Congress to repeal the 2002 AUMF. The incident yesterday in Baghdad highlights the pressing nature of Congress reasserting its authority over the executive branch of government in matters of war and peace.

In today’s Iowa City Press Citizen, Zachary Oren Smith posted the reactions of three people running for congress. Smith’s framing was “early reactions to the U.S. military strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani fell along party lines in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.

Democrat Newman Abuissa, a native of Damascus, Syria, reacted to the assassination, “If the goal of the U.S. is a regime change or to negotiate a better deal, this attack makes both goals impossible to achieve. It strengthens the government of Iran and makes it impossible for them to sit down with the U.S. president.”

Both Republicans supported the president and Schilling was quoted at length, parroting long-debunked talking points.

What makes easy media narratives like Smith’s difficult is the decades-long context in which Thursday’s assassination took place. Simple comparisons serve little purpose and push a struggling news outlet closer to irrelevance.

My questions from yesterday aren’t answered. After spending too much time following the news, my work on other projects lagged behind. I need to keep moving. 2020 is here and there is much I want to accomplish.

I did make time to visit a friend whose spouse died Wednesday. She said of him, “at least he got out of here before all this shit happened.” It remains for those of us living to deal with it and carry on.

Living in Society

Questions About Our New War With Iran

Photo Credit: Des Moines Register

At 3:15 a.m. CST my phone rang. It was an international call from Jordan. I don’t know anyone in Jordan and the caller did not leave a message.

I know a few people who travel in the Middle East from time to time. None of them stood out as a person who might be calling the morning our country assassinated Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Quds Force, as a target of opportunity at the Baghdad airport.

I had not heard of Soleimani so I found and read Dexter Filkins Sept. 23, 2013 New Yorker profile. However this decision was made, intentionally or not, the U.S. Government kicked the beehive of Shia efforts toward hegemony in the Middle East. We will likely be stung by this extrajudicial exercise of American military force.

There is not enough information despite the rapid response of social media. The vacuum generates questions:

Why didn’t the president inform the gang of eight of the imminent assassination? Given the prominence of the target in Iranian and Middle East society he should have. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was clear he hadn’t.

Why didn’t the administration seek an authorization for the use of force from the U.S. Congress? According to Pelosi, there is no existing authorization relative to Iran.

When will the president address the public on what he did and why?

Was this assassination retaliation for the recent attack on the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad or part of a long-term plan to enter war with Iran?

What will be the consequences for U.S. interests in the region? Iranian officials have already stated publicly there will be revenge for the slaying. We can expect them to act with thoughtful reserve and to think outside the box.

Who will replace Soleimani in the established and future operations for which he was responsible?

What was the benefit to U.S. interests of elevating Soleimani to the status of martyr?

There are a lot of questions, few answers, and a grim pall has been cast over this Friday in Iowa.

Living in Society Sustainability Work Life

Thursday Trifecta

Photo Credit - Misty Rebik
Photo Credit – Misty Rebik

Yesterday brought a truckload of news on three important issues: nuclear non-proliferation, the Iowa caucuses and local worklife.

Democrats in the U.S. Senate blocked a vote on legislation intended to derail the process of bringing the Islamic Republic of Iran into compliance with its obligations under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. By signing and ratifying the NPT Iran is entitled to a peaceful nuclear program in the areas of medicine and electricity generation as long as they comply with treaty terms. They weren’t in compliance.

How did Iran get to the point where developing a nuclear weapon became imminent? Thank the George W. Bush administration and its laissez-faire attitude toward Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Bush wouldn’t talk to Iran, or do much to enforce its obligations under the NPT. The Obama administration changed all of that, talked to Iran, and together with the P5 +1 nations forged an agreement to bring Iran into compliance.

Republicans howled that the deal was struck. Now that the political process has run its course, they shouldn’t have much to complain about. However, they do despite the administration’s cooperation with the Congress. Or as Laura Rozen, reporter for Al-Monitor posted on twitter,

In a survey of 832 likely Iowa Democratic caucus participants, Bernie Sanders closed the gap with Hillary Clinton to within the margin of error in the new Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday. People feeling “the bern” were quick to state Sanders now leads Clinton, but it’s early and one poll doesn’t mean as much as they may hope on Sept. 10.

Nonetheless, it is good news for Sanders to poll leading Clinton, even if it is within the margin of error. Already his campaign is raising money from the poll although the long odds continue to favor Clinton as the Democratic nominee. Steve Rattner of the New York Times posted the following analysis:

In a unanimous vote, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance to raise the county-wide minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017. It was cause for celebration for the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa which helped organize a demonstration supporting the ordinance prior to the vote. The first $0.95 per hour increase is effective Nov. 1, although cities within the county can nullify terms of the ordinance, which they have been waiting for the county to finalize.

In the end this ordinance does little to alleviate the issues driving poverty in our county. According to Pew Research Institute, increasing the minimum wage benefits what Pew calls “near minimum wage earners,” or people who earn less than $10.10 per hour. “The near-minimum-wage workers are young (just under half are 30 or younger), mostly white (76%), and more likely to be female (54%) than male (46%). A majority (56%) have no more than a high-school education,” according to Pew.

The Iowa Policy Project uses the Economic Policy Institute data on minimum wage. Pew says 20.6 million people nationwide would be impacted by an increase in minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. EPI puts the number at 27.8 million. It is prudent to look at both numbers, but as low wage workers understand, the primary impact of public policy is on individual lives, more than broad statistics.

I favor the analysis of local author Paul Street who used the EPI family budget calculator to break down the impact of a minimum wage increase in Johnson County. He said, “considering all this, I can be forgiven, perhaps, for not showering praise on the Johnson County Supervisors for moving forward on a proposal that would raise the county’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour by 2017.”

Read Street’s guest opinion in the Sept. 7 Iowa City Press Citizen here.

Thursday was not a bad day for those paying attention. I drove to the county seat to pay my property taxes. Coming straight from the garden, I wore rolled up blue jeans, sandals and a T-shirt, funding the government for another six months.

Living in Society

January in Winter

Garden Cart in Winter
Garden Cart in Winter

The ambient temperature dropped four degrees since waking. Morning’s gray light brightened the plains as the new day arrived without fanfare.

One of the dozens of viruses and colds making the rounds has me feeling punk. That’s understating it. The arc of disease seems to be on the downside: there is energy to post a few items.

In what seemed like a fragmented, hesitantly delivered speech, Governor Branstad today reported “the condition of Iowa is strong.” It is hard to argue with the general topic areas of his initiatives for the coming legislative session: moving the economy forward, education reform, strong and healthy families, agricultural production, protecting our resources, transportation, safety and security, and open government. It was Branstad’s 20th condition of the state address, and we’ve heard much of it before.

A couple of progressive web commenters complained that Branstad used fallacious job creation numbers and made no mention of “middle class priorities” like increasing the minimum wage. There was a decided lack of interest in the speech, so few were likely listening to the commentators or the governor.

No one is listening. There is a lack of interest in government among a middle class that makes up most of 3.1 million Iowans. If some have their interests, written on a legislative agenda, most do not. The disinterest goes beyond what the 86th Iowa General Assembly does or does not accomplish.

The bubble in which we Americans live is real and is becoming the ridicule of the world. It is as if we took what’s best about our country and locked it up in a strongbox to protect it from those who might steal it. We venture from our borders to loot planetary resources, wage war and assert hegemony where we can. We have become exceptional in these things and our culture is the less for it.

The near term prospects for making a change are not good.

That’s not to say it is hopeless. In a world that has grown increasingly small during my lifetime, global cooperation is more important than ever. The rest of the world is coming together around a few issues—the environment, nuclear abolition, and poverty—but like in the French rallies over the weekend, the U.S. has been noticeably absent.

The current debate over Iran is a good example. Much of the world has come together to bring Iran’s nuclear program into compliance with their obligations under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to which they are a party. A deadline was set to conclude the talks, but the State Department asked for more time. Political hawks believe this is a stalling tactic on the part of the Iranians to further develop enriched uranium for nuclear warheads. The State Department and those who watch it believe negotiations are almost finished and a resolution at hand.

Rather than give the negotiations more time, the Republican majority in congress is poised to pass new sanctions against Iran.

“If we pull the trigger on new nuclear-related sanctions now,” Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said, “we will go from isolating Iran to potentially isolating ourselves.”

The political hawks don’t mind, because to them, all that matters is assertion of American hegemony and sovereignty.

The late Howard Zinn points us in the right direction for action.

“History is instructive,” Zinn said in a 2005 interview.

And what it suggests to people is that even if they do little things, if they walk on the picket line, if they join a vigil, if they write a letter to their local newspaper. Anything they do, however small, becomes part of a much, much larger sort of flow of energy. And when enough people do enough things, however small they are, then change takes place.

This short piece may not be much—it is a little thing. But what ails me is not a virus contracted while living in society, or the cold weather. It is the disinterest in things that matter: a reversion to what in the Siouan language was Ioway—the sleepy ones. We must wake up and soon.