Not everything is black and white. Take, for example, the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani near a Baghdad airport on Thursday, an event that drew mixed reactions from all sides of the political spectrum. There were, of course, the usual suspects always looking for an excuse to attack or question President Trump. Democrats and media figures on the left, like Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, MSNBC contributor Joyce Alene, CNN commentator Karen Finney, and many more accused him of ordering the strike to create a “distraction” from domestic issues. Former Obama staffer Ben Rhodes wondered if Trump “is equipped to handle a complex, enduring, international crisis that could play out in many countries and demand expertise, rigorous process, and judicious decision-making?” Among countless others to question the president’s ability to handle the situation included Vox founder Ezra Klein, Harvard professor Samantha Power, and Washington Post columnist Brian Klaas.
And then there was Hollywood actress Rose McGowan, who, believe it or not, actually apologized to Iran for his death. “We are being held hostage by a terrorist regime,” she wrote. “We do not know how to escape. Please do not kill us.”
The liberal media seemed inclined to almost celebrate the life of the notorious Quds leader. “Master of Iran’s Intrigue,” headlined The New York Times in a sometimes glowing, exhaustive obituary that, in fairness, also acknowledged the general’s role in the deaths of many Americans. Yet, like many, the Times also expressed concern that his death could mean the end of any chance of peace or a deal with Iran. “This one life lost will likely cost many more Iranian, Iraqi, American and others,” said Ali Vaez, director of Iran program for International Crisis Group, as quoted by the Times. “It is not just Suleimani’s death, but likely the death knell of the Iran nuclear deal and any prospect of diplomacy between Iran and the U.S.”
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and other hawks on the right celebrated the strike. Calling Soleimani “one of the most ruthless and vicious members of the Ayatollah’s regime” and his death a “major blow” to a regime “that has American blood on its hands,” Graham tweeted that the “price of killing and injuring Americans has just gone up drastically.” Ever true to form, former National Security Advisor John Bolton expressed hope that the general’s death is but the first step toward “regime change” in Iran. (Hey John, the 2000s called. They want their “Mission Accomplished” banner back.)
Others on both sides of the political aisle expressed concern that things could escalate, and quickly. After all, wasn’t a world war once sparked by the assassination of a seemingly random archduke? Calling Soleimani “an enemy of the United States,” Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy wondered if the U.S. didn’t “just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?”
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who, like Graham, has the president’s ear but, unlike Graham, is a longtime skeptic of endless, pointless wars, particularly in the no-win Middle East, was predictably more skeptical. “President Trump viscerally understands that the toppling of Saddam Hussein made Iran stronger,” Paul wrote. “Soleimani, like Hussein, was an evil man who ordered the killing of Americans. Yet, the question remains, whether his death will lead to more instability in the Middle East or less.” The Kentucky senator went on to question if Soleimani’s death “will expand the war to endanger the lives of every American soldier or diplomat in the Middle East?” and caution that the “Constitution dictates that we declare war” if we are going to go to war with Iran.
In its statement about the killing, the U.S. Department of Defense insisted Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region” and had also “approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week.”
Yet, in a Friday morning “Fox & Friends” exchange with co-host Brian Kilmeade, Geraldo Rivera, like The New York Times in its obituary, noted that the deceased Quds general was once an ally when ISIS controlled half of the Middle East. “Do you remember, do we remember ISIS?” Rivera asked. “It’s like ISIS never existed. ISIS was the, had a caliphate, they were cutting people’s heads off … they were burning Americans. We know who ISIS is, who helped us defeat ISIS? This same guy.”
American Conservative senior writer Curt Mills worried that the killing, as another did over 100 years ago, could get “the world into a world war.” Iran may be “a problem for the U.S. and its allies in the region,” argued Mills, but it isn’t “an existential threat.”
“The American way of war has always been to assume that we can dictate conflict terms that will maximize our safety and convenience,” wrote NYT columnist Max Fisher. “Topple Saddam with no need to occupy; stabilize South Vietnam with no need to defeat North; attack Iran but only in Iraq. Rarely works out.”
Fox News host Tucker Carlson seemed to concur with that general mindset. Reacting to news of Soleimani’s death on his Thursday night program, Carlson warned about “reckless and incompetent” people thirsting for war. After noting the irony of those “demanding action against Iran” being the same people who demand that Americans ignore “the invasion of America now in progress from the South, the millions, the tens of millions of foreign nationals living among us illegally, the torrent, more significantly of Mexican narcotics that has killed and disabled entire generations of Americans,” the Fox News host called the warmongers “liars” who “don’t care about you.”
As a conservative, it’s easy to dismiss the criticisms of those who seem to only want to bash Trump, no matter the issue. But this is infinitely more nuanced than that, and it goes beyond whether or not you support the president. However, if you do, it would be wise to hope he seeks and listens to the counsel of those, like Paul and Carlson, who want the best for both our president and our country. Because the last time we marched off to war on the scale many are proposing, it didn’t just cost the precious lives of thousands of U.S. service members, it also cost Republicans the presidency and both houses of Congress.
Follow Scott on Twitter at @SKMorefield