New decade, same old Middle East deception
Updated 13:52, 05-Jan-2020
Tom Fowdy

Editor's note: Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain and the U.S. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

We have recently entered a new decade, but those watching coverage of events in the Middle East will be met instead with a familiar nostalgia.

As the United States assassinated Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, authorities in Washington have rushed to justify the illegal killing as a pre-emptive measure of self-defense, conducted out of necessity to stop what they claim was a decisive series of terror attacks against American diplomats and personnel stationed in the Middle East. Mike Pence rushed to link the deceased general to the organizers of 9/11, whilst Trump claimed the move would "prevent a war" and Pompeo professed the U.S. was "committed to de-escalation."

The same old themes continue to repeat themselves again and again; the hyperinflation and outright fabrication of a terrorist threat in order to justify aggressive action in the Middle East under the mantle of "self-defence".

However, those wise to the strategies of American foreign policy will recognize that the country has long used this playbook to pursue war and sustain public consent for it. With the rules of the international system strongly against aggressors in this point of history, the justification for war has to be pursued under a façade: that there is "no other way" and thus "war is peace". A new era opens up with the same old deception, an exaggerated and whimsical terrorist bogeyman.

The 20th century was a period of drastic change in the rules and norms of warfare. The days of European powers casually invading each other and using warfare as an open tool of statecraft are long over. World Wars I and II illustrated the disastrous cost of unbridled aggression and heralded in an international order which outlawed the use of force for every purpose except self-defense.

This shift raised the stakes for states to justify the pursuit of war; it can no longer be a convenient dispute resolution: It must be a necessary and last resort.

Major General Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran's Quds forces, was thought to have controlled Iran's foreign policy in much of the Middle East. /AP Photo

Major General Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran's Quds forces, was thought to have controlled Iran's foreign policy in much of the Middle East. /AP Photo

Of course, the moral incentives against war do not take away the structural factors and interests which create it. As a result has led contemporary states to resort to deception in order to justify conflict. The tactics they use are the misleading presentation of offensive action as "defensive action," be it against the country in question, or on an alleged concern for the lives of civilians and under the mantle of a "humanitarian intervention."

Never has this been more relevant to the country that wages more wars and engages in more military activity than any country on earth, the United States.

In the modern era, Washington has used phenomenal levels of deception to pursue its agenda, dramatically exaggerating and falsifying foreign threats in order to justify its decisions and win support from its population.

In a manner identical to what we see today, the George W. Bush administration pursued an invasion of Iraq on the false premise that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed "weapons of mass destruction" which would be given to terror groups to use against Western countries. The claim had no evidence and was used opportunistically in an environment of mass hysteria; fear was weaponized to publicly shame those who opposed the conflict as appeasers of terror.

Thus on Friday, once again the White House rolled out false cultural stereotypes to fabricate claims that Qasem Soleimani was plotting imminent terrorist attacks against the United States and therefore, his annihilation was a legal act of self-defense.

This is of course, nonsense. Iran is a nation state, not a terror group. Yet the mainstream media take this discourse and twists it into something factual and believable.

Donald Trump faces re-election and an impeachment trial. Sanctioning the airstrike was in practice a spurious act of self-centered political gain aiming to fan the flames of nationalism, knowing well that it would galvanize his core support and distract from his own woes. Any retaliation effectively dances to Trump's tune, allowing him and his advisers to frame the struggle as a binary battle between "freedom and democracy" and "terrorism", and thus claim to represent the interests and hopes of all Americans, a common trope of U.S foreign policy.

Thus, a new decade arrives with the same old deception. War is peace, and peace is war. Up is down, and left is right. The United States is masterful at justifying open belligerence behind a falsified mantra of self-defense or desperation.

The airstrike on Qasem Soleimani is simply a continuation of an age old playbook, but one designed to favor the individual political interests of an insecure, unstable and volatile leader. The world is left wondering what happens next, but rest assured that all we will hear is that it is Iran's fault, either way.

(Cover photo: Mourners attend the funeral of the Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani and the Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad, Iraq, January 4, 2020. /Reuters Photo)

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