US Foreign Policy by Assassination

By Graham E. Fuller (

4 January 2020


The United States, through its assassination of top-ranking Iranian General Qasim Soleimani, has once again opened Pandora’s box in its conduct of foreign policy. How long does Washington think it can enjoy unique monopoly over exercise of these forms of international violence before they are turned against us? For a brief period we had a monopoly on the use of military use of drones—now everybody is doing it and the US can now fall victim as readily as it uses them against others. Ditto for cyberattacks, pioneered by the US, but now a weapon at the disposal of any number of middle sized countries.

Assassination is not, of course, a new tactic in the annals of wartime. In what technically we must call “peace-time”—despite the many wars the US has going at the moment—assassination is a dangerous tool, especially when used in the conduct of foreign policy against top-ranking foreign officials. General Soleimani was not just the commander of al-Quds military forces. Far more accurately he should be considered the number two figure of importance in the entire Iranian ruling structure, and perhaps the most popular political/military figure in Iran. Or he could be likened to a National Security Adviser in the US, or to a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, or any number of US regional commanders put together. Mark you, this was a blatantly political assassination, and, in the calculations of most practitioners of international law it was an act of war. One can only imagine the US response to a similar Iranian assassination of a top US regional commander.

That General Soleimani was a formidable opponent of the US is beyond question. His strategy, tactics and policies ran circles around the leaden and ill-conceived policies and leaders of the US war in Iraq—still ongoing 17 years later and that has already cost the US dearly in its feckless goal to dominate and master Iraq. The US has long since lost the geopolitical lead in the Middle East as a whole—going back decades.

The trembling puffery and outrage on the part of most politicians and commentators in the US that “Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of any number of American soldiers in Iraq” reflects either childish naivete or massive self-delusion about what the nature of war is all about. Iran knew it was in the US neocon cross-hairs when the US invaded Iraq in 2003; the standing joke in the US then was that war with Iraq is fine, but  “real men go to war with Iran.” The US had fully supported Saddam Hussein’s vicious war against Iran throughout the 1980s. It was not surprising then that Iran aided the massive uprising of Iraqi Sunni and Shi’a forces to resist the US military invasion and occupation of Iraq—a presence that lacked any legal standing. Naturally Iran provided advice and weapons to Iraqi guerrillas to facilitate killing the soldiers of the American occupation, that’s what war is.  The US has supported any number of guerrilla forces around the world to fight against enemies and regimes we don’t like, starting with military aid, training, intelligence, joint missions, etc., as we have seen most recently in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. There is precious little ground for US moral outrage in all of this—unless one simply assumes, as the US usually does—that America by definition represents the “moral cause,” the “good guys,”  and has a god-given right to intervene anywhere and everywhere in the name of freedom, democracy or human rights or to protect whatever it is.

When it comes to lives lost, the US of course has itself been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq as well as generation of massive internal and external refugee flows. Yet we convince ourselves that killing others in the name of the US cause is OK, but anyone resisting, or actually killing Americans represents an outrage.

Let’s at least have a little sophistication here about the nature of war and conflict and drop the double standards.

It’s chastening to recall that even during the Cold War the US and the Soviet Union, by at least tacit agreement, avoided assassination of significant enemy leaders—although the US did try repeatedly to assassinate Fidel Castro, among other leaders of smaller hostile states.

So does Washington really want to open the floodgates to a new policy—to the assassination of top-ranking officials in countries we dislike?  Next thing we know, everybody can play. For that matter, Israel already leads the world in conducting political assassinations according to an Israeli scholar.

The assassination of General Soleimani also revealed Washington’s continuing assumption of a right to violate the sovereignty of any country in the world if it deems it in its interest to do so. And this time Iraq will surely expel all US troops from Iraq in response to this violation. Not that withdrawal of US troops from this war, ill-conceived from the start, is necessarily a bad thing from the perspective of many, but it surely represents an ignominious end to a failing, pointless, and brutal invasion that Washington had actually believed would swing Iraq over into the “pro-US column” as an ally of the US in the Middle East.

Such naivete further reflects another American deeply cherished assumption that countries with semi-democratic political systems will automatically be pro-American. Has nobody ever heard of national interests?  Or do we believe that US interests globally are now basically coterminous with the global interests of all peoples (deep down)?

A still bigger issue is at stake here. The US is has increasingly come to be regarded with dismay by any number of friends and “allies” for its demand of support for its dangerous and ill-conceived international policies, threats and wars. To sign on to the US global security vision is to have to sign on to policies many countries are very uncomfortable with. They are not ready to support US routinely hostile policies towards Russia, China, Iran, Cuba, and many others. Nor are they ready to lend the automatic support to Israel that Washington demands. This growing reluctance of one-time friends and allies has grown under Trump, but goes back at the very least  to George W. Bush and the Global War on Terror—“you’re either with us or against us.”  No one in Europe and few in the world supported Washington’s tearing up of the nuclear treaty with Iran, nor do they support the crushing sanctions the US has imposed upon Iran since then for which it demands compliance. Increasingly Europe and other “allies” no longer find it comfortable to be allied with a US whose foreign policies are obsessively focussed on identification of enemies and where we expect our allies to fall into line—starting before the US invasion of Iraq.

This latest act of “foreign policy by assassination” will be largely rejected by most in the world. Only a few craven Gulf kings and princes—and Israel—will applaud it. And worst of all, the US has now taken one more giant step towards convincing the world that the US has indeed become a “rogue nation” no longer willing to follow the rules of international law and procedure—and wisdom—that it claims to lead. Fewer and fewer countries anywhere are going to sign up for war or searches for “alliances” that can be turned against Russia or China.

Indeed, as the era of US global dominance is drawing to an end it looks like the US is taking the process very, very hard indeed. It may soon deprive itself of most influence and respect if policies like the assassinations of top leaders of countries we don’t like become the new US norm.


Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his first novel is “Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan”; his second one is BEAR—a novel of eco-violence. (Amazon, Kindle).



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