Gen. Soleimani was an ally in the fight against ISIS, just as Saddam was an ally against Iran. Why did the U.S. turn against them?


Story Transcript

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Marc Steiner: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us. When you look at the coverage of the killing of Soleimani, the situation in Iraq and Iran, pulling out of the nuclear treaty with Iran, and the subsequent sanctions against that country, you have to begin to ask yourself, who’s been asking the tough questions, that we laud the murders of those the United States classifies as terrorists and, on the wake of Soleimani, we see that lies were told once again, that this has been in the works since 2017, not just over the last couple of weeks.
We read stories in the New York Times and see on TV news programs stories of Iraq War veterans killed and maimed. They’re now suing Iraq. I understand the pain they go through, but do we have amnesia here? Are the lies told to us about Bush, Cheney, Tenent, Rumsfeld that got us into this war in the first place? Do you remember the United States worked with Soleimani to fight ISIS? Do you remember that? And now the choices of increased conflicts in the Middle and Near East have grown exponentially.
We’re going to figure this out today, at least part of it, with our guest, Khury Petersen-Smith, Middle East research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, whose most recent article appeared in In These Times, called We Need a Strong Antiwar Movement, Yesterday. Khury, welcome. Good to have you back with us.

Khury P.: Thank you. It’s always great to be here, Marc.

Marc Steiner: Essentially, you started your article off with reminding us of not what just happened on January the 3rd, reminding us what happened on January the 1st, 2019 when Jamal al-Badawi was assassinated.

Khury P.: Yeah, exactly. Folks who have been paying attention to the drone war that the United States started after declaring the so-called war on terror under Bush and then wildly escalated under Obama, know that that war has been shrouded in secrecy. It’s been operated by the Department of Defense and the CIA and they have not disclosed who was on the list of people to be killed, how you get off the list, when the killings happened, et cetera. Journalists and scholars and activists had been trying to figure this out for a long time.
Last year, January 1st opens with a U.S. drone strike in Yemen and CENTCOM, under the Department of Defense, tweets it out on Twitter a few days later. Here we do have some information where the U.S. is publicly assassinating somebody by drone. Yet, where were the questions about that assassination and whether or not it was justified, about the legality of the U.S. carrying out an extrajudicial assassination elsewhere in the world?
Presumably, we want these things to be public. They shouldn’t be happening at all, but they should be public and transparent so that these institutions can be held accountable. Yet, the institutions that are supposed to have that accountability, like Congress, the mainstream media, really have failed to ask questions with that assassination. There’s any number of things that happened over the past year that Congress in particular did not ask questions about when the U.S. did all kinds of things, not only in terms of threatening Iran, but in terms of escalating the war on terror in Somalia, continuing operations in Yemen and, of course, in Iraq and elsewhere in the region, in Syria and so on.
This is really the most recent stage that gets us up to this point. Last week we had a situation where the U.S. really was on the brink of war with Iran in Iraq, and it was good to see members of Congress asking questions about the justification of the assassination of Soleimani. It was good talking about the fact that Congress is the entity that has a say in the Declaration of War and so on, but there were all these other actions that really paved the way to get us to that point. We have to look at all of those.

Marc Steiner: Let’s look at a couple of things here. Let’s start with this. This is an interesting montage of the U.S. media in the wake of Soleimani’s assassination.

Media clips: I think with these Democrats, largely, you’re seeing these are lawmakers in more conservative districts.
You can’t have this debate in this kind of supercharged partisan atmosphere.
Nancy Pelosi does it again and her Democrats fall right in line.
By the way, I don’t care about Iranian cultural sites. This is the resistance continuing overseas as adamantly as we’ve seen it here at home.

Marc Steiner: If you take that, and also if you look at the article that was in New York Times today about the kind of fluctuating expectations for the Soleimani strike, explanations, I should say, that the Trump administration gave. There were a lot of lies leading up to this, so the question is, let me talk to you a bit about your thoughts that I know you have you’ve been writing about, about what has not been asked and what should have been asked.

Khury P.: Right. We can go back. Of course, there’s a whole long history and questions that haven’t been asked, but even just going back to December, the month opens with the Washington Post publishing what they call the Afghanistan papers, a whole trove of documents and articles that constitute an investigation about how the U.S. lied over years, over these 18 years that the U.S. has been waging war in Afghanistan and that U.S. officials, even from their strategic standpoint, don’t have a way of winning the war, if you can call it that.
Yet, they have continued to maintain these operations, to continue funding the operations and so on. That was an opportunity for Congress to say, wow, we should have some congressional hearings into the fact that officials have been lying about U.S. operations in this country under so-called war on terror.
Shortly after that, the New York Times published a set of documents, including interviews with Navy SEALS, that really confirm what we already knew, that a Navy SEAL, Eddie Gallagher, who was charged with committing war crimes in Iraq, was in fact guilty of those crimes. Again, this is another area where the U.S. has been doing military operations for years and years. We have evidence of the U.S. committing war crimes in that country as well.
Yet, where were the congressional hearings? In fact, the opposite thing happened. Congress passed a new military budget, $733 billion dollars, really giving Trump the green light to continue the operations that he has been carrying out. By the way, there were provisions, such as that reported by [inaudible 00:06:45] that say that the president does not have the authority to declare war on Iran, that were stripped, actually, from that final bill. That was voted on with the support of 188 Democrats in the House. There was any number of, even before we get to the assassination of Soleimani, Congress has essentially given Trump a green light repeatedly in terms of military activity.

Marc Steiner: What you’re referring to here is the National Defense Authorization Act that took place on December the 10th, and the vote was 377 to 48. If you juxtapose that with this graphic here of the weapons contractors and the profit they’re making, how their shares soared, I should say, after the killing of Soleimani, there’s a direct connection between that act, weapons contractors, the U.S. Congress, and why people vote the way they do without asking questions. That, to me, is at the heart of this.

Khury P.: Yeah, absolutely. Essentially it’s just the U.S. military machine. It’s like a runaway train and there’s nobody providing any kind of oversight for what the U.S. is doing in these wars. It’s really kind of incredible. Again, I’ve referred to a couple of things. We’re talking about U.S. operations in Afghanistan, in Iraq as well with Iran. We have a Congress that’s repeatedly voted to put sanctions on Iran, too. In any number of ways, Trump has been given the green light to go ahead and basically do anything. The U.S. military is able to do anything.
We have evidence from Afghanistan to Somalia that the war on terror has only brought destruction and catastrophe and yet, year after year, we see support for that kind of war. Similarly, last week- that’s, think, in terms of government officials, particularly in Congress, who, really, it’s their role to be providing some oversight and I really think have failed to.
Similarly, when we’re talking about the mainstream media, it is good that we are seeing some questions after the fact, after the assassination, after we were on the precipice of a new round of war with Iran, but during that week when we were on the brink, these questions were not being asked in the mainstream media nearly enough. These institutions that are supposed to be checks on the power of the U.S. military are really failing, and I think that points to the importance of an antiwar movement to hold the government accountable.

Marc Steiner: Let’s talk a bit about that, because we don’t know how this is going to unfold. It could unfold in some major confrontations inside of Iraq and Iran. We see massive movements in both of those countries, against their own governments and also against American intervention. They’re not for the Americans, or they’re for their own nation trying to be a place where they can live in a civil society.

Khury P.: Right.

Marc Steiner: You see that taking place and you see articles like in the New York Times today about American soldiers who were maimed and/or killed in Iraq, now suing Iran. Again, it’s like when you’re talking about an antiwar movement, it’s almost like the left is stuck in some ways between a rock and a hard place. When you look at those articles, my first thought, why aren’t we blaming George Bush and Dick Cheney for lying us into this war that killed these Americans and maimed these Americans, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and dismembering an entire nation.
There’s an emotionality to it all. Americans who were killed and maimed are seen as fighting for their country. The same thing happened in Vietnam. You can go all the way back to the Spanish American War with the antiwar movement. Let’s talk about the difficulty here of building that opposition. You only have 48 people in Congress voting against the national authorization, the defense act.

Khury P.: Right.

Marc Steiner: Let’s maybe take, extrapolate out, this idea you have about building an antiwar movement with that difficulty people face in the popular mind.

Khury P.: Right, absolutely. What this really gets at, I think, is the commitment to U.S. Empire, which is so strong. It is overwhelmingly bipartisan and it really presents a challenge for those of us here who are critical of what the U.S. does abroad. I think that the key is for us to have an orientation on the struggles in the region and around the world that are fighting for self-determination. That’s really got to guide us.
In other words, we need to build an antiwar movement, but the movement needs to be a solidarity movement with people who are fighting for their own futures. Before the assassination of Soleimani or, really, before the protests that took place at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, the news that captured headlines for months out of Iraq was people mobilized on the streets for months and months, fighting for a different Iraq.

Marc Steiner: Right.

Khury P.: Iraqis of various backgrounds, overcoming the sectarian divisions that have been imposed on them, saying that we want a different country. We’re against this corrupt government. We’re against the foreign influence in this country, whether that’s by the United States or by Iran. It’s important to note that because there was some coverage in this country in the mainstream media of the protests against Iran, against the Iranian consulates and in Southern Iraq and so on, that’s very significant because Iran does have great influence in Iraq.
The United States, I mean, the current Iraqi government, its origins lie in the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. That government has been given billions of dollars by the United States, particularly in a form of military aid, in terms of training and in terms of the joint operations that the U.S. has been carrying out with that Iraqi state. This was a struggle in the streets that was confronting what the U.S. is backing in Iraq.
It is, I would say, one of many inspiring troubles in the region, including in Lebanon, again, where there’s been this mobilization for months when people are fighting, again, against a corrupt government and against sectarian division and fighting for a new kind of future. We’ve seen popular protests in Iran as well. Here you have people who are fighting from Lebanon to Iraq, to Iran, to Egypt, to Syria, people who are mobilizing, and in many ways challenging the U.S. presence and the U.S. Wars in that region. The question is, what are we doing in this country to build a solidarity movement that stands with those people and that’s really important.

Marc Steiner: I think that’s very critical and I think that that sounds like a subject we should have a little round table about with you and some others about how you do that. In Vietnam, where things have turned around the Vietnam War, part of it, not all of it, was the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. You have people like Danny [inaudible 00:13:45] and Matthew Ho and other Iraqi-Afghan vets who are key to showing America that there’s a different way and what happened to them and why they changed their thinking. I think that’s, a movement does have the ability that can be stopped, because I feel like we’re being railroaded into another war, we could be being railroaded into another war.

Khury P.: Yeah, I think that that’s, I think you’re totally right. There have been courageous veterans who have spoken up against the U.S. operations, political prisoners like Chelsea Manning, who-

Marc Steiner: Right.

Khury P.: Have spoken up, right? Those voices are really critical. I also think, one thing, one difference between the U.S.’s wars today and those that took place in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and ’70s, is there is a much larger population of folks in diaspora whose nations of origin are places where the U.S. is waging war, who are living here in the United States and who have been speaking out against their oppression, against their communities, against Somali communities, against the Iraqis who have been attacked by ICE and so on in Michigan and elsewhere. Last week, one of the issues was not only, it wasn’t just that the U.S. was gunning for war with Iran, it’s that people of Iranian background were detained at the U.S. border trying to re-enter the United States as well.

Marc Steiner: Right, right.

Khury P.: That also speaks to the Muslim ban. There’s a large population of folks who are intimately connected with people in Iran and Iraq and Somalia and Yemen and those who live here, who live in North America. I think that they have a really important role to play in terms of the solidarity movement. I think that it’s backwards. We have to ask ourselves, how are we building a movement that involves that kind of solidarity? That requires not only looking at what the U.S. is doing abroad, but it also involves taking on the incredible Islamophobia and repression that has characterized domestic life in the United States here for people of that population.

Marc Steiner: I wish we had great deal more time with Khury. We’re talking with Khury Petersen-Smith, who is a Middle East research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. joining us today from Boston. Khury, thanks for your work. Look forward to continuing this discussion with you in the coming weeks and months, and seeing if that movement can’t be built at a massive scale. Thanks so much for joining us.

Khury P.: Thank you so much, Marc. It’s always a pleasure.

Marc Steiner: Mine, too. I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Please let us know what you think. Take care.


Khury Petersen-Smith

Khury Petersen-Smith is the Michael Ratner Middle East Research Fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington, DC. His latest article, "Iran is not the aggressor; the US is," was published by Foreign Policy in Focus.