Soleimani, the top Iranian military commander, who was assassinated this week
by the United States in Baghdad, while he was on a peaceful mission, is just
the latest, but perhaps most brazen and alarming, declaration by the United
States that it is bound by no law and no moral principles. That is the sign of
a morally bankrupt government and a similar culture that would support such
By Dr. Robert P. Abele
This reflection will examine these two issues: the moral codes and the legal codes that do and necessarily must exist between nations and peoples that the U.S. blithely ignores, most horrendously in the case of the Soleimani assassination. I will assume that we can agree that morality is the condition of legality. If one has no concern for the former, there will be no concern for the latter, except what the law allows one to get away with.
brevity’s sake, let us limit our moral examination to two moral codes: the U.S.
Declaration of Independence, and its underpinnings in John Locke’s philosophy.
The Declaration says that it is “self-evident” that all people are have equal
moral standing, “unalienable rights,” that “among these are Life, Liberty and
the pursuit of Happiness.” To secure these rights is the prupose of government,
according to the Declaration. Thomas Jefferson openly admitted to borrowing
from the philosopher John Locke to write these words. Locke’s moral concerns
were with the freedom of people “to order their actions, possessions, and
persons as they think fit,” and with the “state of equality”—i.e., no one has
more power than another (i.e., no one has more power over another). Locke
stipulated that the “state of liberty…[is] not a state of license”—i.e. no one
has the liberty to destroy any other creature beyond what preservation calls
second moral code concerns the morality of war and violence against another
This is not
discussed anymore in the U.S. political arena, and certainly not in the U.S.
media. But this does not imply that leaders and media are exempt from moral
laws of conduct, even if they choose to ignore them. We should keep them in the
public debate arena.
principles of morality—one domestically originated, the other
internationally—are what keeps governments in check.
moral realm there are specific issues concerning the use of violence by the
State that leaders are called to account for. Especially given current events
in the U.S. meddling in the Middle East, we should call them to account for
these moral failings.
This refers to an imminent attack by another country on one’s own. Short of
this requirement, a just cause is not only lacking, but a military action is
not a war. Rather, it is an immoral attack on another nation’s sovereignty.
What is the moral cause of Soleimani’s assassination? Our government doesn’t
have one. They don’t even appeal to one; they just act as they will. This is
the very definition of a “rogue state,” one that has lost the moral authority
to be followed by its citizens. By any definition of such a state, it is one that
is a threat to the world’s peace. The criteria used to define such a state
varies, but it is safe to maintain that any State that ignores or rejects
another state’s sovereignty by invasion or assassination of its leaders cannot
have a moral standing. Therefore, it cannot claim the assent of its people.
Further, those so attacked have a right to fight back, as we now see Iran has
done in its missile attack on American installations in Iraq. This “return
fire” toward a nation that has attacked them is part of the definition of a
Wars: Are They Lawful?
Intention. Intention deals with the principle justifying the goals of
contemplated action. As far as we know and can surmise, the only plausible
intention of the U.S. in its actions with other nations and with the killing of
Soleimani is to exert its own hegemony in the region. This is not a moral
principle, and not even a pragmatic one. It is an imperialist one, and thus to
be condemned by any moral analysis.
Authority. In the U.S., only Congress can declare war. Further, only Congress
can fund war. It has taken responsibility for neither.
War is to be the resort only when all attempts at negotiation have failed. But
Trump never negotiated with Iran at all.
Civilians are exempt from military attacks. How many civilians have been killed
without discrimination by the war actions of Obama, Trump, and other
Proportionality requires that the good that results must outweigh the evils of
the war. By all accounts, the results of killing Soleimani are far likelier to
be negative than positive.
only a cursory glance to see that the U.S. Congress has long since abdicated
its moral and legal role in refusing to take responsibility for its fulfillment
of its constitutional mandate to both take back its power declare war, and to
control the budget, including the military monies it showers on the Pentagon
(both of these mandates and responsibilities are in Article I, Section 8 of the
U.S. Constitution. The power to declare war was made even more explicit in the
War Powers Resolution of 1973, which specifies that it is the power of the
Congress to commit the U.S. to armed conflict, not the power of the President).
not just a “Trump issue,” either.
We can add
that every U.S. President has been a rogue leader in terms of moral values and international
law, including Trump’s predecessor, President Obama. Under Obama, drone
assassinations, the invasion of Libya, and the little noticed directive to
upgrade nuclear weapons to make them not only more tactical (i.e. usable), but
to make them radar-proof. Trump’s missile strike on Syria and the assassination
of Soleimani simply add to the long history of the immoral actions of the U.S.
regarding other countries, such as the overthrow of legitimate governments in
Iran, Iraq, Libya, Honduras, Iraq, and support for the Bolivia coup and support
of ongoing coup attempt in Venezuela.
legal viewpoint, what Trump did in striking Syria with missiles and now in
assassinating Soleimani (and what Obama did in his drone assassinations) are war
crimes, prohibited by both U.S. law and international law. War crimes, as
defined in 18 U.S. Code, §2441, are any breach of the Geneva Conventions, such
as intentionally killing or conspiring to kill “one or more persons taking no
active part” in a war. Since there was no official war taking place between the
U.S. and Iran, and since Soleimani was not in Iraq to make war plans, Trump’s
killing is an international war crime of murder.
specifically in law, the Hague Convention also defines war crimes as including
the murder of a non-belligerent. The Hague Convention further includes “Crimes
Against Peace” and “Crimes Against Humanity.” The former deals with “planning,
preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression;” the latter includes
“murder.” Importantly, Article 7 states that Heads of State “shall not be
considered as exempt from responsibility” for these war crimes.
It does no
good to simply state that these are war crimes and then let it go. Action needs
to be taken against the war criminals, but that the U.S. media and large a
swath of U.S. citizens ignore these concerns is yet another indication of lack
of concern in the U.S. for moral and legal codes to which we are all bound in
our international relations.
many other issues that need only be mentioned here but should be part of the
discussion regarding the war criminals in the U.S. government and their
domestic enablers. But let us mention only two, just for discussion purposes.
First, part of what underlies this lack of morality in U.S. leaders and their
willingness to follow international law is their enslavement to capitalist
requirements: money in exchange for doing the bidding of the corporation
capitalists, such that all the elites—both political leaders and corporate
managers—profit. This is most clear in the case of military corporate
contracts. Our leaders have coopted their leadership role and commitment to
their citizens for a neoliberal philosophy of individual benefit, leaving such
values as equality of all humans and citizen good far behind them.
issue just to be mentioned here concerns our militaristic culture and its faux
patriotism; for example, the celebration of militarism in sports, and thus as
sport, by association of one with the other. For example, not only does the NFL
constantly celebrate militarism, but it makes it a part of the game, with
officially approved camouflage towels, caps, and uniforms, jets flying
overhead, military commercials, etc., and all pasted over with a U.S. flag.
Watch how often those militaristic celebrations occur in the NFL playoff
culminating in the Super Bowl, and you will have an indication of the culture
of militarism that allows people like Trump, Pence, Pompeo, and their
predecessors to get away with their crimes.
brief reflection sounds too abstract to be of practical value, one of the
important points here is that what the United States government is willing to
do to citizens of a foreign land, and innocent citizens from another country
(including immigrants trying to come to the U.S.), they are willing to do to
anyone, its own citizens included.
If we want
to live in peace, we must stand strong against the brazen immoralities and
illegalities of U.S. Presidents and their compliant and complicit Congresses,
starting now; starting with standing against Trump’s assassinations and wars,
and maintaining a commitment to stand against any presidential war crimes in
the future, by Democrats or by Republicans. If we don’t stand now, the same
crimes may well be visited upon us in the near future.
Dr. Robert Abele is a professor of philosophy at Diablo Valley College, located in Pleasant Hill, California in the San Francisco Bay area. He is the author of four books: A User’s Guide to the USA PATRIOT Act (2005); The Anatomy of a Deception: A Logical and Ethical Analysis of the Decision to Invade Iraq (2009); Democracy Gone: A Chronicle of the Last Chapters of the Great American Democratic Experiment (2009), and eleven chapters for the International Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Global Justice. He and has written numerous articles and done interviews on politics and U.S. government foreign and domestic policies.
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With courtesy Global Research