Last Thursday, the US military assassinated Iran’s military chief and second most-powerful leader, General Qasem Suleimani, near Baghdad airport in Iraq. It was carrying out the explicit, personally-issued order of President Donald J. Trump.
This dramatic and frightening act of escalation of hostilities was not an inevitable result of some “logic” of imperialism. Nor was it an inevitable result of the drive toward war with Iran that hawks in the US national-security establishment have long fomented. Senior Defense Department and administration officials told the New York Times that top military officials were “flabbergasted” when Trump chose to assassinate Suleimani; it was the most extreme of the possible actions that they had outlined for him, and they had advised against it. They “were immediately alarmed about the prospect of Iranian retaliatory strikes on American troops in the region.”
Trump acted on his own. He not only bypassed Congress’ power to declare war. He also ignored his duty to inform it of the assassination ahead of time.
Notwithstanding the pathetically absurd lies that Trump and his underlings are telling us, his all-too-personal motive for the escalation against Iran is fairly obvious. This was just one more move in Trump’s desperate battle to protect his liberty and his property, by evading federal and state investigations and prosecutions.
To be sure, one reason Trump ordered Suleimani’s assassination is that an escalation of hostilities may well incite pro-war, “patriotic,” sentiment in the US and thereby bolster his shot at re-election. Another is that news-media coverage of the assassination and its aftermath weakens the effort to remove Trump from office by means of impeachment and conviction, by “wagging the dog”––diverting the public’s attention elsewhere. (In the two weeks between Trump’s impeachment and the assassination, the media had focused on the Democrats’ attempt to force the Republicans to conduct a genuine trial of Trump in the Senate rather than the “exonerating” cover-up they have planned. And the assassination took place on the very same day that Just Security disclosed information from unredacted Pentagon documents which reveals that Trump personally ordered the withholding of military aid to Ukraine.)
In short, he is trying to remain in office through a second term (and perhaps thereafter). But Trump’s ultimate goals are to stay out of prison and to keep his wealth intact. Remaining in office for another five years, and perhaps indefinitely, is simply a means to those ends––the best means that Trump has to evade the criminal prosecutions that threaten his liberty and property. (According to Department of Justice policy, he can be prosecuted as soon as he leaves office, but not until then.).
Others have signaled in more guarded ways at least some of what we are able to say openly. A press release issued on Friday by Maxine Waters––a black Democratic congresswoman from California and founding member of the “Congressional No War With Iran Caucus”—contains the following:
Perhaps Donald Trump believes that if he drags the country into war, the American people and Congress will rally behind him. Perhaps he thinks that war is a diversionary tactic. Perhaps he thinks it will drown out the criticisms of his scandal-plagued administration and protect him from removal by the Senate.
Jan. 4, 2020 protest against war with Iran, Times Square, New York City (one of dozens throughout the US).
Credit: Mandy (@hungrypinguina)
It is imperative that antiwar forces understand the real reasons behind Trump’s escalation, and understand that the escalation is specifically, personally, Trump’s responsibility. To attribute it to some supposedly inexorable “logic” of imperialism, or to the national-security establishment as a whole, is exceedingly dangerous, for two reasons:
First, it fails to come to grips with the extraordinary dangers we face that flow precisely from the fact that Trump (rather than someone else) is President and commander-in-chief. As we warned prior to the 2016 presidential election, although some “leftists” who are soft on Trump “regard him as a positive alternative to well-known establishment oppressors like Clinton, etc., since he is an outsider and, supposedly, less belligerent to foreign powers,” “[h]is track record has made clear that he is exceedingly thin-skinned and hot-headed, a vindictive bully, and proudly ‘unpredictable.’” Subsequent events have borne out this warning. The flip-flop that Trump executed by ordering the assassination of Suleimani, after apparently having called off strikes against Iran in June, is the most recent such event.
Second, misattributing Trump’s escalation against Iran to ever-present imperialism, or the entire US military establishment, makes it seem as if the drive to war is all but unstoppable. It makes antiwar forces seem to be weak and isolated, standing alone against both history and the whole of official society. That is not the case, and presenting matters in this way can only demoralize antiwar forces and impede the fight to prevent further escalation. In fact, there is widespread reluctance to accept at face value Trump’s attempted justification for assassinating Suleimani, as well as widespread opposition to further escalation. It is coming not only from antiwar protesters, but also from much of the news media, Democratic policy makers and presidential candidates, and many national-security experts. It is even coming from within Trump’s administration and from right-wingers such as Tucker Carlson.
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All knowledgeable commentators on geopolitical affairs and military strategy agree that Trump’s action was no mere tit-for-tat. By assassinating Suleimani, instead of taking action against one of Iran’s surrogate military forces in the region, Trump escalated the conflict between the US and Iranian regimes—severely and single-handedly.
Many consequences flow from this escalation. One immediate consequence is that the US economic sanctions on Iran, which punish not only the regime in power but the country’s people, are firmly cemented in place. Another is that hopes of patching back together a deal to rein in Iran’s development of nuclear weapons have been completely dashed. And Iran will certainly answer the assassination of Suleimani with retaliatory actions. It may choose to target only US military forces, but it might instead authorize terrorist attacks against American civilians, not only in the Middle East but also in Europe and even Latin America, and/or engage in potentially devastating cyberwarfare within the US.
One possible longer-term consequence is that the escalation gets out of control and leads to full-scale war. Such a war might be conducted solely on Iranian soil, but it could well spread throughout the region. And numerous state- and non-state actors (militias, etc.) could be drawn into the conflict. Given that even Trump’s puppetmaster, Putin, has expressed displeasure over his puppet’s latest action, the possibility of world war is not unthinkable.
Yet even if the escalation does not result in full-scale war, Trump’s assassination of Suleimani has made the world much less safe. The peoples of the Middle East bear the biggest brunt of the heightened threat. But US citizens abroad, civilians as well as military and government personnel, are also far more vulnerable to terrorist attacks and other reprisals from the Iranian regime, and those of us residing inside the US are far more vulnerable to its cyber-attack capabilities. We are more riddled with anxiety than we were even last Wednesday. After having already endured years of the public-health crisis that Trumpism has unleashed—“Trump Anxiety Disorder”—that is saying something.
This is why we insist that Trump’s drive to war is not only against Iran. It is against the American people as well. His motivation here, like his motivation for everything else he says and does, is to bolster his own power, his own wealth, his own ego. As Gordon Sondland, US Ambassador to the European Union, stated in testimony before Congress, Trump “only cares about ‘big stuff” that relates to [him] personally,” not about the lives and well-being of others, including other Americans.
For the sake of the people of Iran and the Middle East, and for our own sake as well, we have to stop the conflict with Iran from escalating further. Inasmuch as Trump’s drive to war flows naturally from his goal of remaining in office in order to protect his liberty and property—which he will do anything and everything in his power to protect––the best, and perhaps the only, way to stop the drive to war is to remove Trump from office. Antiwar and impeachment/conviction actions need to be fused together firmly. Trump’s latest impetuous action has made clear that we don’t have the luxury to wait for November’s presidential election, which is, in any case, an election that he, his underlings, and his puppetmaster are already busy rigging.
It would be foolhardy to put one’s faith in the Democrats. They were unable to defeat Trump in 2016. They have been unable to halt even his most barbaric actions––separation of refugee children from their families, genocide in Puerto Rico through willful neglect after Hurricane Maria, transformation of the courts and the Justice Department into his enforcers and tools of theocratic authoritarianism, etc., etc. The Democrats have finally managed to issue Articles of Impeachment in the House of Representatives, but there is almost no chance that they can get the two-thirds majority they would need in the Senate to convict Trump and remove him from office.
That is where matters stand, unless there is sufficient Resistance to remove Trump from office and thereby halt the drive to war. Continuous, implacable, mass mobilizations that make it politically more costly to keep Trump in office than to remove him is the only thing that can flip enough Republican votes to get the Senate to convict him. Even if that effort fails, such mass mobilizations might succeed in forcing Trump from office by other means and thereby ending his drive to war.
 “Trump himself had recently emphasized that he was no longer interested in ‘regime change’ in Iran … [but] what the latest ominous developments reveal is that regardless of what imperialist leaders might wish, the compulsion of capitalist-imperialist powers to compete and show their superiority has a logic of its own.” Alliance of Middle Eastern and North African Socialists, “Oppose U.S. and Iran War by Showing Solidarity with Uprisings in the MENA Region,” Jan. 3, 2020.
 “The Pentagon high command is recklessly bragging about this illegal, targeted assassination in the most crude and false manner. ‘This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,’ stated the lying generals. They know that the objective of the strike is just the opposite. They want a war with Iran – a country of more than 80 million people.” Answer Coalition, “More than 70 Actions Took Place on Sat. Jan. 4 To Demand – No War With Iran!,” Jan. 1 [sic], 2020.