2020 Starts with a Bang
A lot of people may not have come to grips with it yet, but 2020 has started out with a big bang and I mean that literally! I am referring to the assassination, or as the Trump White House has put it, the “taking out”, of the infamous Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, this guy was clearly a scumbag, dedicating his life to terrorism against the United States and Israel and anyone else who did not fit with his particular and very narrow Islamic views. He was a dangerous gamechanger in Middle East alliances. The world is better off without him. Many people in the United States and around the globe, will celebrate his demise as they celebrated the death of Osama Bin Laden.
There is a difference, however. Bin Laden orchestrated the attack on the United States in 2001. He started that fight that eventually led to his death. This time, to some extent, it is the other way around. The United States fired first.
No doubt, we will be debating for some time to come whether this was the right thing or the wrong thing to do. Perhaps only time will tell, but one thing is certain: U.S. President Donald Trump’s unilateral decision to “take out” a leading Iranian official, on foreign soil—a man who was very popular in his own country—has stirred a very dangerous viper’s nest. Iran will respond. To fail to do so would drastically reduce their influence in the Middle East and they will not allow that, and their allies will not allow that. The Iranian leader has promised “harsh retaliation”. Inevitably, it is coming.
The United States Government knows there will be a response and they have issued a warning to their citizens at home and abroad to that effect. Large cities like New York are significantly increasing security measures in anticipation of some kind of revenge attack. Other countries, especially Israel, are ramping up their defenses. I imagine Canada is taking steps as well.
The question which should be on everyone’s mind is where is this all going to lead? There are those who believe it could advance to the brink of another World War, with Russia and China siding with Iran. A long shot to be sure, but one should remember that the First World War started with an assassination.
The cynic in me causes me to wonder about the real reason that Donald Trump has lit this tinderbox, with potential ramifications well beyond the Middle East. Was there really a clear and present danger to the United States? If so, where is the evidence for this? It was only about eight years ago that Donald Trump was wondering out loud if then-President Barack Obama was planning a war in the Middle East to boost his chances for re-election. And now, here we are less than a year away from Trump facing the electorate for another four-year mandate.
I remember, years ago, attending a service at an Episcopal church in Southern Florida a few days after George Bush the second sent troops into Iraq. The priest was relatively new to that parish and he delivered a sermon entitled “The Immorality of a Nation”. I will never forget it. He was vehemently opposed to the war and made no bones about it. As I left the church, which we attended fairly regularly, I heard a great deal of muttering from folks whom we knew to be of different political stripes. They were not happy and when we returned the following fall, that priest was gone. When it comes to war, Americans usually stand together, at least until it is over!
Donald Trump knows that Americans at heart are patriots. Little else is more important. If the United States is at war, or threatened with war, it is much less likely an incumbent president would be deposed in an election during that period of time. Trump believed that eight years ago and it is for certain that he remembers it now. As an added bonus for President Trump, with war as a prospect, whether just with Iran or on a much wider scale, impeachment of the President will fizzle like a wet candle.
So, which is it? Was this a necessary and strategic action by the United States to get rid of a dangerous enemy who posed a genuine threat to American security? Is there a plan in place for the next steps that will certainly be required when this unilateral action on the part of the United States escalates? Or was it politically motivated to gain much-needed support for the current President of the United States as a national election draws near? If so, is the risk much greater than the benefit?
The hard facts are that whatever the motivation, the game is now afoot, and it has the potential to be a deadly one. The tension between the United States and Iran is the worst it has been in almost half a century and it has real potential to broaden well beyond those borders. If ever there was a time in our current society that effective diplomacy was required, that time is now, and that brings me back to Canada.
John Ibbitson, a columnist for The Globe and Mail, had an interesting commentary in yesterday’s edition in which he says that Justin Trudeau’s handling of the Iran crisis could define his second term. He also said that Canada and the rest of the Western Alliance have been drawn into a new confrontation in the Middle East. He is right on both counts.
Although not a Liberal, I am reminded by all of this of a former prime minister, Lester B. Pearson. He won international acclaim and, if I remember correctly, a Nobel Peace Prize for extraordinary diplomacy at a time of extreme tension in global affairs. We need that again.
In some ways, Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister of Canada is between a rock and a hard place. The United States, on the one hand, is our closest neighbour and largest trading partner. On the other, there is an opportunity here for Canada to follow a historic pattern of peace-making at a time when the entire world is in a mode of tension and change in one form or another. It is times like these when society in general is at its most vulnerable. It will be interesting to see if Justin Trudeau can fill an important and much-needed diplomatic role, as did some of his predecessors, during a period when it is most desperately needed. If he can, his legacy as Prime Minister, which currently is filled with cracks, will be forever changed for the better.
I, for one, could live with that!
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