Inside the UN, diplomats are losing sleep over Trump's assassination of Soleimani

A cynical president thinks of war as a good electoral strategy. An optimistic president would have a game plan for stability in the Middle East. A pragmatic president would start talking to allies. But none of these are Trump

Mike Pompeo criticises UK and other US allies for 'not being helpful' over Soleimani assassination

If Major General Qassim Soleimani had ever been brought in front of an international court, there would have been a very large body of evidence working against him. It would include the bombings of refineries in Saudi Arabia, attacks on ships in the Persian Gulf, and helping in the development of Assad’s strategy to annihilate resistance to his rule. The latter is the most serious. But now he’s been blown up by President Trump, we’ll never see him explain those actions.

Soleimani’s death — and the way in which he was killed — are no cause for celebration. Here inside the United Nations, there is a general feeling of shock and bemusement as Trump goes into his toy cabinet and once again pulls out a hammer. The usual back-and-forth between Iran, the US and Israel concerned small strikes, knocking out a radar array or two, and strong speeches. Nobody was under any illusion that Suleimani was a great man. Everyone knew he would one day face sanctions on the international stage. But we didn’t expect this — especially not now.

The irony is that the same countries that decry international inaction of the International Court of Justice in The Hague are the same that refuse to support it. If they were more forceful about backing international consequences for war crimes and violations of treaties, we wouldn’t get to the point of assassinations and threats of war. Refusing to use international justice and then decrying those justice systems as ineffective makes no sense. It also makes the world a much more dangerous place for all of us to live in.

President Trump is isolating the US — and not even in the way he intended. He made a campaign pledge to stop “endless wars”, and now he appears to be blundering into one. Undoubtedly, military leaders will have presented the president with a number of different options to take, with a strike on Soleimani as the most severe. For some unknown reason, after acting with restraint over a number of months, the unpredictable president decided to go all-out.

Perhaps the reason is domestic. Those wondering how the president will manage to balance a new war with an election campaign and an impeachment inquiry may well be missing the point: escalating tensions with Iran give the president something to talk about at rallies, and something “more important” to point towards while “do-nothing Democrats” continue concerning themselves with Ukraine. It’s well-known that presidents who start wars tend to enjoy a short-term boost in popularity, especially round election season. Just as Trump has managed to unite Iranian protesters round hatred of the US, perhaps he is also hoping to unite Americans round a Middle Eastern enemy.

What’s surprising, however, is how much Trump has doubled down on his strategy while cutting himself off from potential allies. The US assassinating Soleimani without warning any of its European allies speaks volumes. Normally, allies would have been given notice and the US would have had a prepared press statement available immediately. The fact they had nothing but a tweet of the American flag is a damning indictment of the environment around the president. The resignation this morning of the Defense Secretary’s chief of staff at the Pentagon is another sign that things are fraught inside the White House.

The Middle East will split further due to the assassination. Iraq has already passed motions to kick out US troops out of their country, who were supposed to be there to aid the final fight against Isis and to prevent its return. Russia will undoubtedly come back into the picture. In other times, Kissinger, President Carter or some similarly esteemed diplomatic voice would start shuttle diplomacy between friends and foes — but at this moment in time, it’s hard to imagine the American administration’s answer to: “What now?”

A cynical president could pursue a war as an electoral strategy. An optimistic president could concoct a game plan intended to provide greater stability to the Middle East after a little pain. A pragmatic president would probably jump on a plane and start loading with allies and building consensus, both globally and in the Security Council. What we’ll get will probably be a hodgepodge of all of the above with a lot of poor syntax and nonsensical grammar. It isn’t going to be good enough.

Iran is not North Korea — just look at the hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets for proof of that. Does the US understand this? With allies out of the picture, Trump is beginning to take very consequential actions with little room except to use force — the irony being that by becoming more isolationist, his ability to withdraw US troops becomes harder, not easier. He is backing himself into a corner.

For now, Iran has the chance to take another way and proceed through diplomacy. They could indicate that they are appalled by this and initiate a process of global condemnation without violence. However, there is very little likelihood that they will stay their sword. They have noted that they will respond with military action. This will pass the initiative back to America and effectively legitimize any response.

While Iran takes their time to make up their mind, diplomats are having more sleepless nights than usual. Hopefully, the US can come up with a better strategy in this time too. Use of international courts would be wise, rather than edging the world toward global conflict. One of these countries has to choose humanity over egotistical posturing for us all to benefit — but at the moment, neither seems fit to step up to the plate.

Emin Pasha is the pseudonym of a United Nations diplomat working in New York

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