Soleimani died as he had killed, and jus­tice was served

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION -

Rea­son­able peo­ple will de­bate the like­li­est ram­i­fi­ca­tions of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion to or­der the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard com­man­der whose power in Iran was sec­ond only to that of the supreme leader, Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei — and whose power in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq was ar­guably sec­ond to none.

What shouldn’t be in doubt is the jus­tice.

By far the best ac­count of Soleimani’s life was writ­ten by Dex­ter Filkins for The New Yorker in 2013. It’s worth repris­ing some of the de­tails.

In 1998, Soleimani as­sumed com­mand of the Quds Force — the Guard’s ex­trater­ri­to­rial ter­ror­ist wing — whose prior ex­ploits in­cluded a role in the bomb­ing of a Jewish com­mu­nity cen­ter in Buenos Aires that killed 85 peo­ple.

In 2003, Filkins wrote, “Amer­i­cans re­ceived in­tel­li­gence that al-Qaida fight­ers in Iran,” op­er­at­ing with Tehran’s pro­tec­tion and con­sent, “were prepar­ing an at­tack on Western tar­gets in Saudi Ara­bia.” De­spite U.S. warn­ings to Iran, ter­ror­ists “bombed three res­i­den­tial com­pounds in Riyadh, killing 35 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 9 Amer­i­cans.”

In 2004, Soleimani “be­gan flood­ing Iraq with lethal road­side bombs” known as ex­plo­sively formed pro­jec­tiles, which, ac­cord­ing to re­tired Gen. Stan­ley McChrys­tal, “killed hun­dreds of Amer­i­cans.”

In 2005, the for­mer Lebanese prime min­is­ter, Rafik Hariri, and 21 oth­ers were killed in a mas­sive car bomb­ing in Beirut, car­ried out by Hezbol­lah.

“There were Ira­ni­ans on the phones di­rect­ing the at­tack,” one for­mer CIA of­fi­cial told Filkins. “If in­deed Iran was in­volved, Soleimani was un­doubt­edly at the cen­ter of this.”

In 2006, Hezbol­lah op­er­a­tives ab­ducted and killed Is­raeli sol­diers in an op­er­a­tion that, ac­cord­ing to Filkins, was “car­ried out with Soleimani’s help.” It sparked a monthlong war in which thou­sands of peo­ple were killed.

There’s a great deal more of this. And that was just the pre­am­ble to his cen­tral role in res­cu­ing Syria’s Bashar As­sad and sus­tain­ing Ye­men’s Houthi mili­tia in power, goals pur­sued through poli­cies of

COM­MEN­TARY un­re­stricted bru­tal­ity. As an agent of in­ter­na­tional may­hem, Soleimani’s peers were Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi. To think of him as a wor­thy ad­ver­sary — an Ira­nian Er­win Rom­mel — is wrong. He was an evil man who died as he had killed so many oth­ers.

The prox­i­mate rea­son for Soleimani’s killing, ac­cord­ing to a De­fense Depart­ment state­ment, is that he “was ac­tively de­vel­op­ing plans to at­tack Amer­i­can diplo­mats and ser­vice mem­bers in Iraq and through­out the re­gion.”

If so — and it hardly stretches credulity that he was — the strike was an act of pre­emp­tion. No U.S. pres­i­dent, of any party, should ever con­vey to an en­emy the im­pres­sion it can plot at­tacks against Amer­i­cans with im­punity. To do oth­er­wise is to in­vite worse.

Trump’s prob­lem is that, un­til Thursday, that’s what he had done. For al­most a year, an es­ca­lat­ing se­ries of Ira­nian at­tacks on U.S. and al­lied as­sets were met by a con­spic­u­ous fail­ure to re­spond mil­i­tar­ily. Trump also kept sig­nal­ing his de­sire to with­draw U.S. forces from the re­gion.

The re­sult was to em­bolden the Ira­ni­ans to hit harder. In­stead of a cal­i­brated cy­cle of es­ca­la­tion matched to a tacit sense of lim­its, the Ira­ni­ans reached un­til they over­reached. On Wednesday, Khamenei taunted Trump with the mes­sage that “there is no damn thing you can do.” The supreme leader is now a pub­licly hu­mil­i­ated man. That is enor­mously sat­is­fy­ing — and im­mensely dan­ger­ous. Rash­ness of­ten springs from wounded pride.

One pos­si­ble out­come is that a spooked Ira­nian lead­er­ship, al­ready reel­ing from dev­as­tat­ing sanc­tions and mass demon­stra­tions, will pre­fer to tread lightly, at least for the time be­ing. “Soleimani’s death could bring a sense of re­al­ism to the Is­lamic Repub­lic’s think­ing,” says Ira­nian Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist Masih Aline­jad. For 40 years, the regime has suc­ceeded abroad be­cause it’s been will­ing to play dirty games against gen­er­ally feck­less op­po­nents. It may now take its time to re­assess that view.

The clearer we are in limn­ing the cour­ses of hope and fear, the like­lier we are to achieve a sta­ble bal­ance be­tween them.

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