Today’s crisis in the Middle East is dangerous and volatile. The region is in flames, so to speak. Across the icy Atlantic, geostrategies have become frightfully hostile in the four days since the killing of the Iranian General, Qassem Suleimani, in a surgical strike by US drones on Baghdad international airport. Donald Trump, who is reported to have ordered the assassination of an admittedly shadowy soldier, was on Sunday engaged in a grotesque bout of defending the indefensible.
It is hard not to wonder whether the US President is determined to bin the certitudes of international law. Targeting cultural sites is prohibited by international conventions signed in Geneva and at The Hague. In 2017, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution condemning the destruction of heritage sites. It is generally feared that Trump’s proposed plan of action will involve the deaths of civilians.
He has threatened to attack 52 Iranian cultural sites, a signal of intent that has been interpreted ~ and not merely by his detractors ~ as a war crime on foreign soil in a fight with Iran and its regional allies. The threat goes beyond posturing by an impetuous President. The bluster that is implicit in the tweet ~ “The targets will be hit very fast and very hard” ~ is bound to resonate in the echo chambers of Tehran, Baghdad and also, of course, the Pentagon.
Apart from Iran and its nuclear ambition, Iraq has also emerged as a target of his ire post the killing of the General. It is a measure of Trump’s bellicosity that he has lashed out at Iraq following its Parliament’s demand for American troops to be expelled from that country. He has vowed to respond with crippling sanctions on an embattled country. Though sanctions do not usually result in a change of guard, the risk of further impoverishment in Iran and Iraq is profound.
The net result will almost certainly be a dramatic change in regional game theory. In the immediate aftermath of General Suleimani’s killing, so awesome a prospect is today dangerously real. As real perhaps as the possibility of a counter-mobilisation by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, very much under the authority of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
Far from an essay towards defusing the ferment, Trump’s statement of intent comes after the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, defended the assertion that the drone strike against Suleimani in Baghdad prevented an imminent attack on US interests. That defence was rather presumptuous.
As presumptuous as the supplementary ~ “We would have been culpably negligent had we not taken this action,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. The portents are ominous going by the dirge of Suleimani’s daughter, Zeinab, at his funeral ceremony ~ “The US and its ally Israel face a dark day for his death”. President Trump’s self-arrogated right to kill is bound to ignite more problems than it solves. The murk is overwhelming.