We, as Americans, are now living in different realities. The almost completely partisan response to Donald Trump’s decision to assassinate one of Iran’s top leaders proves that once and for all. To listen to Mitch McConnell versus Nancy Pelosi – and just about all their underlings – argue about the execution, is to almost believe each are talking about a different event! It’s surreal. Trump hit Iran, he says, because Iran hit us. Trump calls Soleimani a “terrorist” mastermind; Iran calls the assassination an “act of terrorism.” Are both right? Who knows…but…who started this whole mess?!?
Truth is, few politicians or commentators on the mainstream left or right bother to ask who started the now open-shooting-conflict between Iran and America. Don’t get me wrong, both sides starkly disagree on whether Trump’s assassination of Major General Qasem Soleimani was strategic, (it wasn’t) or whether the president ought to have sought congressional approval (he should have). Still, both Democrats and Republicans almost unanimously believe that – whether war is the answer or not – Iran is ultimately in the wrong, the villain of the whole sordid tale.
I, on the other hand, sympathies aside, have the luxury of (mostly) intellectual independence. And I’m an historian. Therefore let me address the title question in a rather uncomfortable manner. The answer, I surmise, is complex, but, to trained scholar or regional analyst, unsurprising: the United States of America. This is not to say Iran hasn’t played a nefarious part of its own, or that there was zero blood on Soleimani’s hands, or that there aren’t human rights violations within the Islamic State. My narrow – but profoundly consequential – assertion is simply this: between the two adversaries, it was the United States that “started” the insults and provocations that got-us-hear, so to speak.
So, where is here, exactly? A state of war, of course. The targeted killing of a sovereign nation’s top uniformed military officer is quite obviously tantamount to war. Imagine how the U.S. would have responded if, on December 6th, 1941, the Germans assassinated Army Chief of Staff George Marshall. With a declaration of war, certainly, perhaps against Germany and its ally, Japan – potentially doing so a day before the real-world Pearl Harbor attack of December 7th. Or, in a more modern counterfactual scenario, would America eschew retaliation, at a minimum, or, more likely, open warfare, were Iran to have blown away Generals Petraeus or Mattis, back when they were still in Iraq? Don’t be silly. It’s valuable, remember, to walk a mile in an opponent’s shoes – in this case, to consider the view from Tehran….[ ]