Much has happened in the past 24 hours. Below are the five most important developments today following the assassination of Qassem Soleimani.Iraqi prime minister says Soleimani was in Iraq for mediation effortIraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has made some shocking revelations that put the assassination of Soleimani in a completely different light. He told the Iraqi parliament on Sunday that he “was supposed to meet Soleimani on the morning of the day he was killed, he came to deliver me a message from Iran responding to the message we delivered from Saudi to Iran.”If this account is true, Trump — perhaps deliberately — acted to scuttle an effort to reduce tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.But it also shows that as the United States was signaling that it would not go to war with Iran — as Trump did earlier this summer — this compelled Saudi Arabia and the UAE to begin quiet negotiations with Iran to resolve their tension. As long as the Saudis and the Emiratis felt they could push the U.S. to go to war with Iran, they had no interest in diplomacy with Iran. The U.S.’s military protection of these countries essentially disincentivized them from pursuing peace.In the past few months, under the impression that Trump had opted against war, they began careful diplomacy with Tehran. The U.S. should have welcomed this development. But the killing of Soleimani may have at the same time killed that effort and once again given Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Emiratis a license to continue recklessness and destabilization. Soleimani’s death has unified IranRather than being a blow to Iran, the assassination of Soleimani has fueled nationalist sentiments in Iran and unified the political elite as well as the country. The crowds of mourners in the cities where his casket has been taken were in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions.Only a few months ago, there were widespread protests against the Iranian government, which were met with brutal force and repression. Now, Iranians are protesting alongside the government, not against it.Iraqi Parliament voted to expel U.S. forcesThe Iraqi parliament on Sunday voted to expel all U.S. military forces from Iraq, as a direct consequence of the Soleimani assassination. Iraqis have tried to walk a fine balance between the U.S. and Iran, but the assassination made that balance untenable. Iraqis don’t want their country to become the arena for a U.S.-Iran war, and the U.S. military presence made that risk all too likely. While many will point out that this is a victory for Soleimani and Iran, it is also important to note that this is also what the American public wants. In fact, this is what Trump promised them he'd do.The U.S. military presence in Iraq does not add to U.S. national security. Instead, it increases the threat of what would be a disastrous U.S.-Iran war. The U.S. does not need to have 5,000 troops in Iraq to assist in the fight against ISIS. Trump should welcome the vote and bring American military servicemen and women home to be with their families. Pompeo's absurd claim that war with Iran started with the nuclear deal“This war kicked off when the JCPOA was entered into,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. This is an astonishing statement. In Pompeo’s view, the U.S. and the entire international community (save Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) entering an agreement to block Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb was tantamount to starting a war. What threatens Pompeo is not war. It's peace. He is doing everything he can to ensure that tensions with Iran don’t get resolved. For him, the “war” to start a war with Iran started when the U.S. embarked on a path of resolving its tensions with Iran.Iran announces further reductions in its commitments to the JCPOAIran has announced the fifth reduction of its commitments to the JCPOA. This is not tantamount to Iran quitting the JCPOA, as it has left the door open to recommit itself to all of the restrictions of the nuclear agreement if the U.S. lifts sanctions on Iran. (Those sanctions, it should be mentioned, are a violation of the JCPOA as well as the United Nations Security Council Resolution that embodies the JCPOA). Nevertheless, this is a step that will further increase tensions.
Trita Parsi is the co-founder and Executive Vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
People attend a funeral procession for Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport, in Ahvaz, Iran January 5, 2020. Hossein Mersadi/Fars news agency/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY
Journalists in the press room watch as Republican presidential candidate and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and fellow candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy discuss an issue during the fourth Republican candidates' debate of the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign hosted by NewsNation at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, U.S., December 6, 2023. REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer
It's as if the Ukraine War has all but ended — at least for American politics.
If the Republican debates had occurred last year, they would have been consumed with talk over whether Vladimir Putin was readying to roll across Europe and how weak President Biden was for not giving Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky our best tanks, our most powerful fighter aircraft, the longest range missiles we had — maybe even access to nukes.
But Zelensky wasn’t anywhere near the debate stage in Alabama last night, his name not even invoked. Fitting, we guess, since the Senate failed to pass an aid package yesterday that would have sent another $60 billion to Ukraine. This, despite administration claims that the war effort is literally running out of money. Biden even took to the airwaves Wednesday to warn of a NATO war if the funding wasn’t approved.
Republicans have been souring on the aid for months now, which might account for Ukraine’s diminished importance in the conversation. It was outweighed last night by the conflict in Israel, which in itself only drew three questions: Do we send in special forces to get the eight remaining American hostages back from Hamas? What kind of punishment can a president mete out to university presidents who allow “pro Hamas” protests on campus? And how do we “get” Iran for purportedly being behind it all?
Ukraine was wielded, albeit briefly, as the bluntest of instruments. At the very least it gave us the tiniest of glimpses into the competing world views of the hawks on the dais (Chris Christie and Nikki Haley) and their chief agitant, Vivek Ramaswamy.
Haley raised the issue (without being asked about it) by fitting it into her usual Domino Theory frame:
“The problem is, you have to see that all of these are related. If you look at the fact Russia was losing that war with Ukraine, Putin had hit rock bottom, they had raised the draft age to 65. He was getting drones and missiles — drones from Iran, missiles from North Korea. And so what happened when he hit rock bottom, all of a sudden his other friend, Iran, Hamas goes and invades Israel and butchers those people on Putin's birthday. There is no one happier right now than Putin because all of the attention America had on Ukraine suddenly went to Israel. And that's what they were hoping is going to happen. We need to make sure that we have full clarity, that there is a reason again that Taiwanese want to help Ukrainians because they know if Ukraine wins China won't invade Taiwan. There's a reason the Ukrainians want to help Israelis because they know that if Iran wins, Russia wins. These are all connected. But what wins all of that is a strong America, not a weak America. And that's what Joe Biden has given us.”
Vivek Ramaswamy responds:
“I want to say one thing about that tie to Ukraine. Foreign policy experience is not the same as foreign policy wisdom. I was the first person to say we need a reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. Now a lot of the neocons are quietly coming along to that position with the exceptions of Nikki Haley and Joe Biden, who still support this, what I believe, is pointless war in Ukraine. …One thing that Joe Biden and Nikki Haley have in common is that neither of them could even state for you three provinces in eastern Ukraine that they want to send our troops to actually fight for. … So reject this myth that they've been selling you that somebody had a cup of coffee stint at the UN and then makes eight million bucks after has real foreign policy experience. It takes an outsider to see this through.”
To which Chris Christie retorted:
“Let me just say something here, you know, his (Ramaswamy’s) reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. He made it clear. Give them all the land they've already stolen. Promise Putin you'll never put Ukraine in Russia, and then trust Putin not to have a relationship with China.” (Christie then essentially calls Ramaswamy a liar for suggesting he never said that.)
"These people are lying. These are the same people who told you about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify that invasion didn't know the first thing about it if they send thousands of our sons and daughters to go die. The same people who told you the same in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is still in charge. Twenty years later, seven trillion of our national debt due to these toxic neocons. You can put lipstick on a Dick Cheney, it is still a fascist neocon today."
That was basically it. After $130 billion in U.S. taxpayer money since 2022, most of which we are being told has been spent in Ukraine. After hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians dead and maimed, Ukraine’s economy in such a state that the West has to prop it up, and NATO pledging more troops and weapons it doesn’t even seem to have, the issue was afforded a scant few minutes, and used only in the broadest of ways to pound each other. Gone was even the ghost of the old argument that the free world was at stake or that our obligation to Ukrainians was a moral imperative. It’s been reduced to a political cudgel, which is the first step to being memory holed in Washington. It happened to Iraq and Afghanistan in prior president debates 2012 and 2016.
The gist seems to be, maybe if we ignore it, it will just go away?
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FILE PHOTO: A view shows houses and buildings destroyed by Israeli strikes in Gaza City, October 10, 2023. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo
Roughly three in four Democrats support a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, according to a new poll from Data for Progress that highlights the sharp divide between the Democratic Party and its supporters as Israel resumes its ground campaign in the war-torn strip. A total of 61% of Americans polled said they were in favor of a ceasefire.
While the Biden administration has signaled that it is concerned about the level of civilian casualties in Gaza, the White House maintains that any sustained pause in fighting would embolden Hamas and enable future attacks against Israel.
The administration’s hard-line position stands in contrast to the growing support for a ceasefire in the House, where roughly half of the Democratic caucus has called for an end to the war. Biden’s policy has, however, earned a better reception in the Senate, with only two Democrats saying they back a ceasefire.
The poll, which surveyed roughly 1,200 likely voters between Nov. 22 and 25, also found that a plurality (49%) of Republican voters support a ceasefire, though that number dropped by more than 10 points when respondents were told that such a move would “keep Hamas in power and allow them to prepare another attack against Israel.”
The survey highlights the political headwinds facing Biden as he continues to publicly back Israel’s assault in Gaza, which has left more than 15,000 Palestinians dead, the majority of whom are women or children.
A coalition of Arab American and Muslim leaders have launched a campaign calling on their supporters to not vote for Biden in the 2024 election. The #AbandonBiden movement, which focuses on swing states with significant Arab or Muslim populations, could have a significant impact on the Democratic president’s reelection chances, according to Shadi Hamid of the Washington Post.
“If the 2024 election is close, Arab and Muslim Americans could be numerous enough to make a difference,” Hamid wrote in a recent column. “If Arab and Muslim voters abstain in unusually large numbers, others might follow suit. Note that 70 percent of young voters of all ethnicities disapprove of Biden’s handling of the war.”
The new poll confirms the finding that Hamid referenced: 63% of respondents under 45 said they support a ceasefire, while only 22% said they were opposed.
Voters also overwhelmingly support the idea that weapons sales to Israel should be conditioned on human rights, according to the survey. That trend is particularly strong among Democrats, 76% of whom say Tel Aviv should only receive weapons if it uses them in accordance with “our standards for human rights.”
The Biden administration, however, has shown little interest in conditioning aid to Israel despite its own policy on arms transfers, which says the U.S. will not give weapons to a country that will “more likely than not” use them to commit serious violations of human rights.
That position has drawn some blowback in the Senate, with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) saying that it “would be irresponsible for us to provide an additional $10.1 billion in unconditional military aid that will allow the Netanyahu government to continue its current offensive military approach.” But Sanders’ opposition will likely not be enough to block a funding package for Israel given the broad, bipartisan support that Tel Aviv enjoys in Congress.
When asked which actions the Biden administration should take in response to the war, only 19% of Democrats and 34% of Republicans said the U.S. should prioritize sending weapons to Israel. A slim majority of Democratic respondents said the White House should prioritize diplomatic talks aimed at de-escalating violence and securing the release of hostages.
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Wounded Palestinians were transferred to Al-Najjar Hospital after being targeted by Israeli warplanes, in the city of Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip, on October 13, 2023. (Shutterstock/Anas-Mohammed)
United States policy toward Israel’s war in Gaza was neatly summarized by Secretary of State Antony Blinken on November 30: “Israel has one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world. It is capable of neutralizing the threat posed by Hamas while minimizing harm to innocent civilians. And it has an obligation to do so.”
This posture — destroy Hamas but do so in observance of the laws of war — is not that of the administration alone. It has been widely embraced by official Washington.
A key defense of what would emerge as the hallmark of the Biden administration’s Gaza outlook came from Jo-Ann Mort and Michael Walzer in the New Republic on October 18. “A just war requires the defeat of Hamas,” they wrote. “It is a maxim of just war theory that the rules of war cannot make it impossible to fight a just war. There has to be a way to fight.”
In their view, the best way was “to fight with restraint, to reject indiscriminate bombing and shelling, to respect enemy civilians (many, many Gazans are opposed to Hamas), and take necessary risks to reduce their risks, and finally to maintain a clear goal: defeat for Hamas. Nothing more.”
Walzer is the author of Just and Unjust Wars, a hugely influential treatise on morality in war that has gone through successive editions since its publication in 1977. Walzer’s meditation on the just war was especially impressive for taking on a wide range of historical examples, but it was written under the shadow of the war in Vietnam. Walzer condemned that war not only as an unjustified intervention but also as one that was “carried on in so brutal a manner that even had it initially been defensible, it would have to be condemned, not in this or that aspect but generally.”
In his treatise, Walzer closely considered both jus ad bellum (the right of going to war) and jus in bello (the law governing its conduct). As Walzer noted, “considerations of jus ad bellum and jus in bello are logically independent, and the judgments we make in terms of one and the other are not necessarily the same.”
But in the case of Vietnam, he argued, they came together. “The war cannot be won, and it should not be won. It cannot be won, because the only available strategy involves a war against civilians; and it should not be won, because the degree of civilian support that rules out alternative strategies also makes the guerillas the legitimate rulers of the country.”
Do not these strictures apply to Israel’s war in Gaza? Hamas hides behind civilians, or is rather closely intermingled with them, as the Viet Cong once were. It has enjoyed an equal or greater amount of support from the local population. Its acts of assassination and terrorism fall far short, numerically, of those committed by the VC. Walzer was rightly shocked by the civilian toll in Vietnam, which saw a civilian-combatant fatality ratio of approximately two to one. In Gaza, the proportion of civilian-to-combatant deaths is at least five to one and probably much greater. Israeli leaders have made clear that their war is on the whole population. Their criteria for when to bomb, aided by AI, has blown past previous restraints.
Another case taken up by Walzer in Just and Unjust Wars was America’s atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The decision was justified at the time as the only way to avert the far larger casualties likely to ensue were the United States to have attempted an invasion of Japan. Walzer rejected this argument. “It does not have the form: if we don’t do x (bomb cities), they will do y (win the war, establish tyrannical rule, slaughter their opponents).”
Instead, the U.S. government in effect argued that “if we don’t do x, we will do y.” The real problem, Walzer argued, was the policy of unconditional surrender — that is, it had to do with U.S. war aims. Walzer approved the policy of unconditional surrender when applied to Germany — Hitler’s regime represented a “supreme emergency” — but not when applied to Japan.
“Japan’s rulers were engaged in a more ordinary sort of military expansion, and all that was morally required was that they be defeated, not that they be conquered and totally overthrown,” he wrote.
Walzer’s treatment of Vietnam and Hiroshima suggests that there are imperative reasons to stop short of total victory as a war aim, if the result of pursuing it is a moral enormity. If you have to commit wickedness on a titanic scale in order to achieve total victory, you should accept limited war and seek the containment of the enemy, not his obliteration.
This is especially so, one might add, if the enemy one aims to annihilate elicits widespread sympathies elsewhere, making probable some kind of over-the-top retribution in the future. There are 2.2 million Gazans. There are 1.8 billion Muslims. Germany and Japan were friendless in 1945.
It is obvious that Israel’s war in Gaza bears no relationship to the war that Mort and Walzer recommended on October 18. Israel has not fought with restraint, has not rejected indiscriminate bombing and shelling, has not respected enemy civilians. Operation Swords of Iron has been instead the most elaborate and twisted application yet of the Dahiya Doctrine, Israel’s longstanding war plan that makes a virtue out of wildly disproportionate retributions.
That Israel intended to do this was apparent from the outset — 6,000 bombs were dropped in the war’s first six days — but went strangely unnoticed by Mort and Walzer when their piece appeared. The authors stressed the need to get humanitarian aid into Gaza but didn’t mention the Israeli blockade on all things requisite to life, a radical policy totally opposed to laws of war and imposed by Israel on the war’s first day.
In a subsequent interview on October 30, Walzer conceded that there was no justification for Israel’s blockades of Gaza’s electricity, water, and food supply, but also questioned the idea that a humanitarian pause would be justified before Hamas was defeated.
“Acts that shock the moral conscience of mankind” was one of Walzer’s most resonant phrases in Just and Unjust Wars. He meant by that “old-fashioned phrase” not the solipsistic prevarications of political leaders, but “the moral convictions of ordinary men and women, acquired in the course of their everyday activities.”
Clearly, Israel’s war in Gaza has entailed a profound shock to these sensibilities. It is this revulsion, not sympathy for Hamas, that explains world-wide public opposition to what Israel is doing.
From the beginning of the crisis, the Biden administration’s approach to the war ran closely in parallel with the course recommended by Mort and Walzer. Eliminate Hamas. Do so while sparing civilians as much as possible. Then be sweet to the Palestinians and give them an independent state.
Israel was happy to take the first part of this formula and to contemptuously reject the rest. Meanwhile, alongside these homilies to humane war, the United States has undertaken a vast effort to resupply Israel’s stock of bombs.
Confronting the escalating death toll, U.S. policymakers are dazed and confused. They’re still on autopilot in support of Israel’s war aim, while ineffectually shrieking in horror at the cost to Gaza’s civilians.
The truth is that there is no way to destroy Hamas without destroying Gaza. Contrary to Secretary Blinken’s words (and Walzer’s advice), Israel does not know how to destroy Hamas while minimizing harm to innocent civilians. Monumental harm to civilians follows from Israel’s war aim of destroying Hamas, which the Biden administration and Walzer continue to endorse. That war aim stands in urgent need of reconsideration.
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