Trita Parsi: U.S. Assassination of Iranian General Is Major Escalation & Will Make America Less Safe

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The United States has assassinated Iranian commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in a major escalation of the conflict between Iran and the United States, which now threatens to engulf Iraq and the Middle East. President Trump authorized the drone strike that killed Soleimani at the Baghdad International Airport and four other people, including a high-level Iraqi militia chief, Thursday night U.S. time, Friday morning in Baghdad. Iran called Soleimani’s assassination an act of “international terrorism.” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said, “The U.S. bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.” The Pentagon justified Soleimani’s assassination as a defensive strike, saying the general was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” The Pentagon did not offer evidence of an upcoming planned attack. We get response from Iranian scholar Trita Parsi, who is executive vice president of the Quincy Institute, a new think tank.

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AMY GOODMAN: The United States has assassinated the Iranian commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in a major escalation of the conflict between Iran and the United States, which now threatens to engulf Iraq and the Middle East. President Trump authorized the drone strike that killed Soleimani at the Baghdad International Airport. It killed also four other people, including a high-level Iraqi militia chief. This happened Thursday night U.S. time, Friday morning in Baghdad.

General Soleimani has long been one of the most powerful figures in Iran. He was the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force — Iran’s powerful foreign military force, similar to a combination of the CIA and U.S. Special Forces.

Iran called Soleimani’s assassination an act of “international terrorism.” The Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said, quote, “The U.S. bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.” The Pentagon said, quote, “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” The Pentagon did not offer evidence of an upcoming Iranian planned attack.

After the assassination, President Trump tweeted from Mar-a-Lago, where he is golfing, in Florida, at his resort. He tweeted an image of an American flag.

Democratic lawmakers slammed the assassination as unconstitutional, as Trump did not have congressional authority to carry out the strike. Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy tweeted, “Did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?”

Both Presidents Obama and George W. Bush had rejected the idea of killing Soleimani, out of fears it would lead to outright war between the U.S. and Iran. This is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking after the assassination.

AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI: [translated] If the Islamic Republic decides to challenge and fight a country, it will do so unequivocally. We are strongly committed to our country’s interests and our peace. We are strongly committed to the dignity of our country. We are strongly committed to the progress and greatness of our country. And if anyone threatens that, we will, without any hesitation, confront it and strike it.

AMY GOODMAN: The targeted assassination came after members of an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia and its supporters attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and set fire to a gatehouse, in response to a slew of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria that killed two dozen members of the Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kata’ib Hezbollah. These strikes were in retaliation for the killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack in Kirkuk, Iraq, a week ago. The head of Kata’ib Hezbollah, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was also killed in the drone strike.

The New York Times reports General Soleimani had flown into Baghdad from Syria in order to urge Iranian-backed militias in Iraq to do more to stop the wave of anti-Iran protests that have swept Iraq in recent months. The militias are already accused of killing and disappearing protesters and human rights activists.

The Pentagon has sent more than 14,000 U.S. troops to the region since May. The U.S. is now warning American civilians to leave Iraq immediately.

The attack has sparked fear and alarm in Iraq and across the world. France’s deputy minister for foreign affairs said this morning, “We are waking up in a more dangerous world,” unquote. Tensions between the United States and Iran have been escalating since President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the landmark Iran nuclear deal and imposed crushing economic sanctions on Iran. In response to the assassination, protests are planned Saturday in at least 30 cities across the U.S. as part of a National Day of Action: U.S. Troops Out of Iraq.

Well, for more, we’re going to begin in Washington, D.C., with Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the new think tank, the Quincy Institute. His most recent book, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy, he’s also the author of A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Trita Parsi.

TRITA PARSI: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the assassination of Soleimani?

TRITA PARSI: I think a couple of former Obama officials on TV yesterday put it best when they said that this is an act of war. And it’s an act of war that took place without any consultation with Congress, any approval from Congress, any authorization from Congress. It’s fascinating to see that the last couple of days Pompeo has been spending a lot of time talking to the foreign ministers and the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel, and not until today did he actually start making phone calls to the Europeans and others.

So, this is something that is going to be a major point of escalation. It’s a decision that I think ultimately has made America less, rather than more, safe. I think that’s clear from the decision by the State Department today to urge all Americans to immediately leave Iraq. Rather than ending these endless wars, that Trump promised his base that he would do, he is sending more troops to the Middle East, he is doing things that is further destabilizing the Middle East, and that will probably trap American servicemen and women in the Middle East for a longer period of time.

AMY GOODMAN: John Bolton, the former national security adviser, tweeted, “Congratulations to all involved in eliminating Qassem Soleimani. Long in the making, this was a decisive blow against Iran’s malign Quds Force activities worldwide. Hope this is the first step to regime change in Tehran.” Trita Parsi?

TRITA PARSI: So, it’s clear now that even without John Bolton in the White House, Trump has surrounded himself with so many neoconservatives, or people who are very close in their thinking to the neoconservatives, that he is continuously getting advice that is very similar to the advice that the Bush administration was given went it came to the invasion of Iraq. And Bolton has for long urged not only war with Iran, but regime change in Iran, and has been pushing the United States to go in that direction. And I think part of the reason why many of these war hawks are celebrating on Twitter today is not because they think that this actually was a decisive blow to Iran or a decisive blow to the IRGC; I think it’s because they view this as a point of irreversible escalation. After this, there can only be more escalation and, ultimately, war. And that’s what they’re celebrating.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Trita, because I know you have to leave — this is such a significant day today here in the United States, in Iraq and all over the world — if you could explain: Who is Soleimani?

TRITA PARSI: So, Soleimani is head of the Quds Force, which is the external arm of the IRGC. IRGC itself has a tremendous amount of problems inside of Iran, because we’ve seen how they have been involved in the repression of the Iranian people. We’ve seen that just in the last couple of weeks. But Soleimani was head of its external activities. And as a result, he was receiving — he had an image that was separate from that of the IRGC. Polls made by U.S. entities have shown that he had popularity levels around 70% inside of Iran, which is largely because a large part of that population viewed him as a key reason as to why ISIS was defeated, a key reason as to why that type of a radicalism and terrorism did not reach Iran. So, this is not going to be something, I think, that will hurt the regime. On the contrary, I think they will utilize this in order to be able to consolidate their power and, on top of that, move the Iranian government in a much more repressive, as well as hawkish, direction than it was before.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, of course, the U.S. is calling him a terrorist; Iran, a hero. Talk about Soleimani’s significance around the world and the fact that both Obama, who you’ve written extensively about, and George W. Bush, though they too had the opportunity, did not assassinate him.

TRITA PARSI: Because they recognized that that would be such a major escalation that it likely would lead to war. It doesn’t mean that they, in any way, shape or form, had a positive view of Soleimani, but they did recognize, I think, that he is revered in corners in the Middle East that may be outside of the control of Iran. And as a result, even if the Trump administration and the government of Iran would end up in a scenario in which both of them would like to de-escalate the situation, they may not be able to do so, because they may not be able to control other entities that will seek to take revenge for Soleimani’s assassination by killing Americans. And as a result, their ability to put out this fire may be much, much more limited. I think the Bush administration and the Obama administration recognized this and, as a result, chose not to go in this direction, because they recognized how uncontrollable the situation would be.

AMY GOODMAN: Trita Parsi, we want to thank you so much for being with us, executive vice president of the new antiwar think tank, the Quincy Institute. Trita’s latest book is titled Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy, also author of A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran. He is an Iranian-American author and scholar.

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