In the aftermath of the United States’ latest war crime — the assassination-by-drone strike in Baghdad of Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — Fox News decided to educate its audience on the proper takeaway from the episode.
The upshot was not, of course, that the illegal killing was kind of a big deal or that the person who authorized it — Donald Trump — had potentially set the stage for calamity and bloodshed of untold proportions. Rather, the crucial point to focus on was the “polarized reaction by American news outlets.”
Trotted out to confirm the severity of the situation was one William A. Jacobson of Cornell Law School, who bemoaned the sad state of the “liberal media”: “Take any topic and they portray Trump as irresponsible and ignorant. This time those portrayals are on steroids, with Trump being portrayed as a warmonger surrounded by sycophants isolated from reality.”
In reality, the oft-invoked allegation of “polarization” in the media and the broader political establishment hardly holds water; it’s like arguing that 21 degrees Fahrenheit and 22 degrees Fahrenheit are polar opposites. Just recall, for example, that time Trump fired cruise missiles at Syria and the liberal media thought it was pretty much the most exciting thing to have ever happened.
A glance at media coverage of the Soleimani assassination also fails to produce much evidence of a fanatical anti-Trump campaign. The lead paragraph of a New York Times article about the “Master of Iran’s Intrigue” is devoted to establishing how Soleimani was “behind hundreds of American deaths in Iraq and waves of militia attacks against Israel.” The second paragraph reiterates that he was a “powerful and shadowy . . . spymaster at the head of Iran’s security machinery.”
In other words: he deserved it. And never mind that the United States has been behind countless thousands of Iraqi deaths in Iraq or that — as the article later reveals — the “waves of militia attacks” took place during the brutal twenty-two-year military occupation of south Lebanon by Israel, which also boasts the distinction of having slaughtered tens of thousands of people in that country.
When you’re not actually in the business of speaking truth to power, some things are better left unsaid.
The New York Times article also mentions that Soleimani and other Iranian officials were “designated as terrorists by the United States and Israel in 2011, accused of a plot to kill the ambassador of Saudi Arabia . . . in Washington.” Although that whole alleged plot has been soundly debunked, it bears raising the question: if the United States assassinated an Iranian official on foreign soil, doesn’t that qualify as terrorism?
The Washington Post opinion section, meanwhile, offered the analysis that, in killing Soleimani, Trump competently “enforce[d] the red line he drew on Iran” — i.e., everything is Iran’s fault, and if the country “miscalculates again, then the regime has been warned: Next time, the target will likely be Iran.”
This is not to say there has been no media criticism — there has been — but the problem is that the concern over the fallout of Trump’s bellicose act has to do primarily with the possibility of Iranian retaliation against the US military, US “assets,” and US “interests.” Yet these three components of US empire are precisely what have helped made life hell for Iranians, from the 1953 CIA-orchestrated coup against Mohammad Mossadegh — which enabled a lengthy reign of terror by the torture-happy shah, an overzealous purchaser of US weaponry — to the current crippling sanctions regime, a form of warfare in its own right.
Furthermore, seeing as the media has devoted much time lately to cheerleading for war with Iran — perpetuating the nuclear weapons myth and engaging in a general vilification of all things Iranian, much like in the run-up to the Iraq War — it’s not clear why anyone should be particularly shocked by the assassination.
And while Fox News may prefer to despair over toxic media polarization and the allegedly vast ideological chasm between Republicans and Democrats, let’s not forget that years before John Bolton advocated — on the pages of the New York Times — to “bomb Iran,” Hillary Clinton threatened to “totally obliterate” the country.
The Democratic reaction to Trump’s latest stunt has been disingenuous at best. As Sarah Lazare and Michael Arria point out over at In These Times, Democratic ruckus over the manner in which the president has chosen to go to battle with Iran — without congressional approval — “belie[s] Democrats’ role in helping lay the groundwork for the growing confrontation” in the first place. The $738 billion defense bill for 2020, for instance, was passed with Democratic support after being purged of two amendments: one “to block funding for a war with Iran barring congressional approval,” and one to repeal the existing “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists,” which Trump administration officials have “suggested . . . may give them authority to go to war with Iran.”
Democrats like Joe Biden have made sure to qualify their objections to Trump’s supposed recklessness with an affirmation of Soleimani’s diabolical, terroristic nature and the justice that was supposedly achieved by eradicating him from the face of the earth.
As Trump and his accomplices — including his de facto allies in the Democratic Party — pursue isolation from reality to the lethal detriment of the rest of the world, who knows when they’ll finally cross a red line of their own.