Amid widespread misgivings in the US Congress and among American analysts about the assassination of a serving general of a sovereign nation, the Trump administration is belatedly making the case that Iranian General Qassim Suleimani was a terrorist and a war criminal who should have been targeted a long time ago, even though he was not on any global proscribed list.
In fact, top administration officials are going so far as to link Iran and Suleimani to 9/11, even though the US Commission that carried out a monumental inquiry into the attack found no such connection. The 9/11 attack was carried out by Sunni extremists, mostly from Saudi Arabia, who by most accounts had little or no connection to Shia-majority Iran, a hated regional rival.
US vice-president Mike Pence was among those who wheeled out this 9/11 connection in a series of tweets listing Suleimani’s purported terrorist activities, alleging that he “assisted in the clandestine travel to Afghanistan of 10 of the 12 terrorists who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.”
Pence was eviscerated by analysts for “gaslighting” the American public, with experts arguing that the idea that Suleimani would assist in 9/11 — knowingly or otherwise — made no sense, because besides being Shia, he actually cooperated with the US government against the Taliban in Afghanistan, which hosted the 9/11 plotters and perpetrators.
Indeed, the assassination of general Suleimani opened a can of worms for the Trump administration with some Af-Pak experts asking why Washington should not target Pakistani generals who have a more established record of backing and carrying out terrorist attacks.
“Important point: why aren’t the Americans confronting the Taliban masters in Pakistan in a similar manner? The Taliban and their masters in Rawalpindi are responsible for the killing of 3500 US servicemen in Afghanistan,” asked Saad Mohseni, a prominent Afghan entrepreneur.
And from a US military veteran on Twitter: So Americans killed by a foreign proxy group are worthy of revenge when it is Iran providing the support, but when it is Pakistan supporting the Taliban and HQN killing Americans in AFG they get a peace deal and Pakistan gets aid.
Several US military commanders and administration officials have accused Pakistan’s military intelligence agency ISI of using Taliban proxies to kill American personnel in Afghanistan with no retribution from successive administrations in Washington except for aid cuts and downgraded ties.
Earlier this week, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo revealed in a tweet that he had phoned Pakistan’s Chief of Staff General Bajwa and to brief him about “US defensive action to kill Qassim Suleimani,” adding that “the #Iran regime’s actions in the region are destabilizing and our resolve in protecting American interests, personnel, facilities, and partners will not waver.” It was not clear if Pompeo intended it to be a warning to Bajwa and Pakistan, which in the eyes of some US analysts has long carried out a covert proxy war against US forces in Afghanistan.
Separately, Washington is rife with speculation as to why Trump decided to go in for such precipitate action against Suleimani that is resulting in something the President has pointedly sought to avoid: deploying more US troops abroad. One explanation is that Trump felt he looked weak after his 2019 decision to call off an airstrike against Iran after it downed the US surveillance drone.
There is also conjecture that Trump resented being trolled by Suleimani on social media. The Iranian general was apparently quite adept on Twitter, frequently taunting Trump, including calling him a “bartender” and a “casino manager.”
There are also more serious wag-the-dog explanations for the strike, with one prominent American scribe saying it is “hard to decouple his (Sulemani’s) killing from the impeachment saga.” Indeed, the impeachment saga has been blown off the news cycle, at least for now.