Assassinations are tools of the trade for many global actors. Even if not always successful, they can send a strong message to the international community. With Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny recently out of a medically induced coma after being poisoned, there is no better time to discuss political assassinations. What do they mean for global security and the future of Democracy? Are they just another trick up the sleeve of powerful governments or are they more impactful?
In the past few years, we have seen many countries attempt to assassinate political and military leaders as well as journalists and members of the opposition. These countries range from Russia and Saudi Arabia to The United States. While not all attempts have been successful and not all countries have acknowledged that they had anything to do with these murder attempts they are still important to discuss. From the killing of Jamal Khashoggi to the attempted poisonings of Alexei Navalny, and Sergei Skripal countries use their immense power to eliminate individuals who pose any type of threat. Instead of discussing all of these assassinations, I would like to focus on one I have not mentioned yet. This one is slightly different. I am referring to the assassination of Qasem Soleimani by the United States. There are still questions about whether or not President Trump broke the law when he ordered the airstrike.
While this assassination was a rather prominent news story at the beginning of 2020, it may be helpful for the reader to understand who he was and why he was killed before diving into whether or not Donald Trump’s actions are an example of democratic backsliding or not. As was mentioned above, Qasem Soleimani was killed by an airstrike ordered by President Donald Trump on January 3rd, 2020. Soleimani was in Baghdad International Airport. Who was he? He was General and head of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. The Quds Force was the Foreign branch of the IRGC and throughout his years he strengthened ties between Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. He was known as Iran’s “shadow commander,” Soleimani was referred to as a “living martyr” by the leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But the United States saw him as a ruthless killer. He was killed because he was believed to be instrumental in the injuring and killing of hundreds of US Troops according to President Trump and the Pentagon. And in an attempt to prevent more lives lost, The US took preventative measures by killing Soleimani.
Donald Trump launched this attack without congressional approval. This already starts him off on a bad foot. Trump and his aides cited “imminent and sinister attacks” to justify this attack. The President then added “We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.” Top Democratic officials in Congress are skeptical about these so-called attacks that may never be made public. According to Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, “It is debatable whether there was legal justification for this strike” and later he added that “this is the equivalent of the Iranians assassinating the US secretary of defense.” If this was to happen, The United States’ Government would respond disproportionately and swiftly.
My goal in this is to make some sense and prove that The President knowingly engaged in democratic backsliding like actions. According to Bobby Chesney, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, the “US president may use force short of war to protect American interests”. This essentially means that, if the facts are as the President says they are, he has clear justification for his actions. So he is off the hook? Not so fast, we cannot forget the 1973 War Powers Act. This states that “sustained hostilities that put US forces in harm’s way require prior approval from Congress”. Based on all of this it would seem that Donald Trump broke the law and what he did was illegal. So why has nothing been done about it more than nine months down the road?
By this precedent, the United States, or the “Leader of the Free World”, should simply be able to kill with impunity. President Trump wants to kill Qassem Soleimani so he should just be able to do so? This is such a blatant violation of global democracy. I do not believe Soleimani was innocent but as I mentioned earlier, people believe in the death penalty because they see it as a deterrent for crime. This is simply a military sanctioned death penalty and there is no evidence that the death penalty works so why would this be an exception.
Should President Trump be allowed to get away with killing whomever he pleases? The United States, when President Trump ordered to kill Soleimani had not received congressional approval for said action. The disappointing part of American History is we have appointed ourselves the “World’s Sherif” and everything we do is justified because we fight in the name of global freedom. This action was, in the bluntest sense, an act of war. The President justified his actions by saying it would protect the American people, but it was such a reckless gamble to make. Even with all the inhumane nature of political assassinations, it is still jeopardizing American lives. This could have turned into an all-out war with Iran.
Killing those we disagree with is never the right answer in the world of global politics. In a world with so many opinions and people who hold them so unflinchingly, it’s important to be communicative with everyone. Obviously, this is naïve of one to believe. There is no way that this entire world could put aside its differences and agree. So until we can do just that we are going to have to experience politically charged assassinations. Just do not speak out against any major countries and you will be fine. Which is just not how we should live our lives.