A Hard Morning!
It is not possible to write a cheery “Good Sunday Morning” after the multiple tragedies of this week. As a country, we are in mourning with deep pockets of grief in ever widening circles around each victim. We grieve with increasing intensity as we learn more of the individual lives cut short by the missile strike against a civilian airliner.
We know who was innocent. Every life lost on the ill-fated Ukrainian Airlines flight was innocent, from the Ukrainian flight attendants to the Canadian-Iranian newlyweds, to the brilliant graduate students heading back to Canada, to the babies.
It is harder to know who was individually guilty, but many decisions led to this tragedy.
The proximate causes start with President Trump’s reckless decision to assassinate General Qassem Soleimani. In our media, I have heard it compared with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand that led to the First World War. That comparison struck me as false from the outset. This was no rogue element, no individual radical with a hand gun as the Bosnian separatist who killed Archduke Ferdinand in 1914. This was the President of the United States, a man with access to the most powerful and deadly of military arsenals, launching a drone to kill. Whether General Qassem Soleimani was a nice man or a deadly murderer himself is irrelevant in international law. When the West found it convenient to enlist his help in the fight against Daesh (ISIS), he was a U.S. ally. The question is not, as a disturbingly large number of Canadian commentators would have it (Conrad Black “the world is a better place without him” and John Robson “killing Soleimani was a no-brainer” among others) was he a terrible human being? The question is: did the US government have a legally defensible rationale for a deliberate murder? Was it legal under US law, a question with which the US Congress is now grappling? Was it legal under international law?
To be legal under the United Nations Charter, there would have had to be proof of an imminent threat, that the actions were necessary and proportionate. That test may still be met by evidence which – at this point – no one has seen. I am grateful, at least, that Canada has not taken an official view on the legality of the assassination.
The wide support for an extra-judicial targeted assassination of a foreign country’s official because he was “bad” is beyond dangerous. We can all think of brutal killers and dictators and dangerous people globally. Some of them lead countries with which the US is on cozy terms. But any international stability requires respect for international law.
The assassination of General Soleimani was at least reckless. What were Trump’s motivations? It is premature to insist the president did not have valid security intelligence to justify his actions. But it is also naïve to dismiss the domestic political scene – the pending impeachment and the fall election — as factors. In fact, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Trump was influenced to assassinate Soleimani to secure support from his Republican allies in the Senate. Senator Lindsay Graham appears to have been the only, or at least one of a handful, of people briefed in advance. (Link)
Iranian reaction to the assassination in the form of very targeted missile strikes on the US base in Iraq was deemed “proportionate” and careful by most commentators. And just as Trump was tweeting out “all is well” and that no American military had been killed in that missile strike, the Iranian ground to air missile was launched – by mistake – killing all on board Ukraine International Airlines flight 752.
The Iranian regime is also brutal and anti-democratic. Nevertheless, it had been honouring the agreement with the U.S. negotiated under former President Obama’s administration. That agreement was a significant step toward security in the region. In May 2018, Trump denounced the deal and launched new economic sanctions against Iran. Many other world leaders urged the US to re-engage. France’s Emmanuel Macron has been one of the strongest advocates globally to rescue the deal after Trump’s pull out. Just months ago, in September 2019, France went so far as to be brokering direct talks with Tehran offering a $15 billion bail-out package to compensate for economic losses due to US sanctions, so long as Iran honored the deal and its nuclear inspections. (Link)
The possibility that Iran could be induced to maintain the deal was crushed following Soleimani’s assassination. Within days, Tehran announced it would fully withdraw from compliance, over the pleas of Germany, the UK and France. (Link)
Clearly, actions by Trump have been destabilizing in the region. The assassination of General Soleimani worsened the situation. And the consequences are beyond tragic.
No question that the Iranian government has committed an outrageous act. It has acknowledged responsibility for the horrific crash that killed so many people. That accident would not have happened if Trump had not launched the drone to kill Soleimani. To call it “human error” seems an understatement.
Yet, it is human error. It is human error to build up vast killing machines and think that in times of heightened fear mistakes will not happen. The people who bear the blame for this disaster are many. And they are not all in one country.
For now, I want to share my gratitude to Justin Trudeau for representing who we are as a country, in this moment of grief. I appreciate that officials from Foreign Affairs and our department of defence have taken the time to brief me and other opposition party MPs. I appreciate a personal phone call from the prime minister with one focus. Now is the time to do all we can to support those who lost loved ones. Light a candle. Attend a vigil.
Let us each do whatever we can to extend our love to those whose friends and family members died so tragically in the grip of the reckless actions of powerful men.
Love and peace,
This weekly blog is published by Elizabeth’s EDA in Saanich-Gulf Islands. You can sign up for it here.