Now that Qasem Soleimani's mortal coil has reached room temperature, and he is enjoying the fruits of his martyrdom, sympathizers everywhere are mourning him and praising him. His postmortem fan-club members are all denizens of the Left — media figures, celebrities, politicians, and especially academics. Their somber, cliché-ridden eulogies range from stupid Twitter commentary to well-written articles, with praise for Soleimani, unalloyed contempt for Donald Trump, and dire predictions of retribution in the days ahead.
In the stupid Twitter category, celebrities take the lead. Rose McGowan's "Dear Iran" tweet got the ball rolling, with "Dear #Iran. The USA has disrespected your country, your flag, your people. 52% of us humbly apologize. We want peace with your nation. We are being held hostage by a terrorist regime. We do not know how to escape. Please do not kill us. #Soleimani."
While it may be tempting to dismiss McGowan's attempts at wit, her line of reasoning, however faulty, is echoed by nearly all the Democrats on the campaign trail and by virtually every Middle East specialist in the media and in academia. Her apologetic plea for peace and her moral equivalency between Trump's "terrorist regime" and "#Soleimani" differ from tweets of her erudite allies only in the number of polysyllabic words and historical references. Otherwise they are quite similar, in some cases practically identical.
McGowan elicits praise and respect from such foreign-policy luminaries as Alyssa Milano, John Cusack, John Legend, and other inhabitants of the self-contained, fact-resistant, intellectually gated community of Hollywood. But no educated media or hyper-educated academic figures would stoop to call the president of the United States a terrorist, the equivalent of the commander of the IRGC's Quds Force, right? Wrong. Ervand Abrahamian of Baruch College, CUNY, told Democracy Now! that killing Soleimani makes the U.S. "a state terrorist power."
Sophomoric claims by the actress-activist that the U.S. has "disrespected your country, your flag, your people" are restated by those with advanced degrees, but in more nuanced ways and sprinkled with accusations of international law and U.N. charter violations. Mehran Kamrava of Georgetown University's Qatar campus told the Russian "news" outlet Sputnik that Trump had "badly misread the situation" and committed a "blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty."
Yet it is the Left that badly misreads Iranian history, naïvely portraying Iran's government, the IRGC, and the Quds Force as honorable men worthy of diplomatic respect rather than as autocratic murderers and terrorists. Were it not for Trump, they contend, all would be well. Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, accurately predicted that Iran would use Soleimani's death as an excuse to not comply with the JCPOA Iran nuclear deal, but shows his naiveté in believing that it ever complied with Obama's flawed agreement.
Meanwhile, exaggerations of Soleimani's greatness and the depth of his intellect are common. Time magazine compared him to Cardinal Richelieu and Machiavelli. Prompted by Fareed Zakaria's claim that Soleimani was "regarded in Iran as a completely heroic figure, personally very brave," Anderson Cooper compared him to Charles de Gaulle. Rosanna Arquette compared Trump to Hitler for killing the great Soleimani.
Clichés about the killing abound. Wag the Dog charges are popular, as are parallels to Bill Clinton's firing missiles at al-Qaeda targets during his impeachment. Squad members Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib tweeted, respectively, that "Trump wants war" and "we cannot stay silent as this lawless President recklessly moves us closer to yet another unnecessary war."
Hamid Dabashi, Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies at Columbia University, writes on his Facebook page that "the targeted assassination of Qassem Soleimani in Iraq is the first major salvo of Trump's 2020 re-election campaign." Lest anyone miss his subtlety, Dabashi announces "this is Wag the Dog galore." His advice — "do not trust a word coming out of US or Iranian officials' — being at least 50 percent accurate should improve his average. But like most of his Facebook rants, this one quickly devolves into bizarre conspiracy theories, such as his assertion that "the New York Times etc just like the state media in Iran are now the official mouthpiece of US and Iran propaganda."
Also popular is the stability cliché, which claims that killing Soleimani destabilized the Middle East. One less prone to groupthink might ask, When was the Middle East stable? Was it in the good old days before the Trump administration, or perhaps before 9/11? Or was it before the Iranian Revolution, or the Balfour Declaration, or the Ottoman Empire?
In the University of Michigan's Experts Advisory addressing "Implications of Soleimani's death," Ronald Grigor Suny, professor of history and political science, embraced both the stability and wag-the-dog clichés in his assertion that Trump has "created an incredibly unstable and unpredictable situation" that doubles as a "crisis [that] aids the president in his moment of vulnerability, when he has been impeached and faces a trial in the Senate."
His colleague Michael Traugott, professor of political science and communications, fears that "the decision to target General Soleimani . . . was an attempt to distract from new disclosures about internal emails related to the withholding of aid to Ukraine."
Juan Cole, professor of history and the third expert in Michigan's shura council, warns of war and accuses Trump of crimes: "By murdering Qassem Soleimani," he argued, "Trump has brought the United States to the brink of war with Iran." But fear not, for Cole assures us that "Iran's leadership is too shrewd to rush to the battlements at this moment" and will likely just continue to stir up "massive protest at the U.S. embassy and at bases housing U.S. troops."
Cole is an outlier in his belief that war between the U.S. and Iran is not imminent. Nearly everyone on the left fears that killing Soleimani will bring a reprisal that will escalate into war. Foreign-policy maven Rosie O'Donnell tweeted: "off to war — god help us #RemoveTrump." Likewise, Professor Abrahamian, quoted above, predicts a "110% chance" of all-out war between Iran and the U.S. if Trump is reelected.
The Hollywood script of Trump as bumbling reactionary is more honed among the professoriate, but the elements are the same. It follows well-established patterns developed during the Reagan and both Bush presidencies. No surprise, then, that both Iraq and Iran experts agree that Iran's leaders are wilier than Trump. Abbas Kadhim, Johns Hopkins University's Iraq specialist, claims that Iran "set a trap" for the U.S. by killing an American contractor in Kirkuk, prompting a response that they hoped would be severe, "exactly giving the provocateurs what they wanted" — escalation.
From the squad to the quad, contempt for Donald Trump has led many to "respond . . . with immediate causticness, getting all chummy with the enemy of my enemy," as Jack Fowler put it. Some of them can't help themselves (who expects restraint from Alec Baldwin?), but others should know better.
A.J. Caschetta is a Ginsberg-Ingerman fellow at the Middle East Forum and a principal lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.