As libertarians, you would assume I am not writing this to defend the president, but, in the unlikely event this reflection escapes into the wild, I want to go on record that I did not vote for him last time around. I will not vote for him next time, I do not believe we should have troops in Iraq, and I do not think he should have killed Qassem Soleimani last week.
I think we should have done it years ago . . . the moment we first had him in our sights. I can speak with some authority on this because, half a century ago, the moral cowardice of doing nothing cost me five months in a series of army hospitals and the lives of something like 19 of my buddies.
Back when I drove a patrol boat in Vietnam I was assigned, along with a lot of others, Americans and soldiers of the Republic of Vietnam, to guard a bridge across the Saigon River. The North Vietnamese, naturally, wanted to blow up that bridge. They only had one group of sappers capable of doing that, and only four bridges in South Vietnam worth their effort. Three were on the coast. Ours was inland near the Cambodian border.
The moral cowardice of doing nothing cost me five months in a series of army hospitals and the lives of something like 19 of my buddies.
The odd thing is, we knew where the sappers were. We knew it at the squad level because, every now and then, our sergeant would update us.
“They’re in Hanoi, resting and refitting,” was the first thing we heard.
A few weeks later they’d disappeared from Hanoi. “If they show up on the coast, we’re off the hook. If they’re coming down the Ho Chi Minh trail, they’re heading for us.”
Then, “They’re in Laos. On the Trail.”
In a week or two they were in Cambodia.
We knew America had firepower unparalleled in the history of the world. What we did not have was the political will to use it.
Not long after, they were just across the Cambodian border: 32 river miles upstream. We knew where they were.
We knew why they were there, too. Officers. Men. Sergeants. We all knew.
And we knew something else: we knew America had firepower unparalleled in the history of the world. We had B-52’s. We had carrier-based bombers. We had AC-47 gunships that could put a 7.62 mm NATO slug into every square foot of an acre within seconds. We had attack helicopters with rockets and door gunners. We had artillery and mobile assault teams. What we did not have was the political will to use them and so, we sat on our hands
When sampans started drifting beneath our bridge, the men inside waved as they went by. Three nights later, the bridge went up in a huge explosion. My buddies died. Others were wounded. A bridge that had cost our nation taxes and thought and sweat and skill was gone and I was in the hospital knowing in my bones how serious wars are for the people we send to fight them. And how, if we’re not willing to fight, we shouldn’t be there.
But when we do have people there, we undertake an absolute moral obligation to treat the war as seriously as they have to, which means doing everything in our power to cover their backs. This means not shillyshallying around while the enemy gets into position to kill our people. And it definitely means not giving the likes of Qassem Soleimani a free pass to roam the Middle East murdering Americans.
A bridge that had cost our nation taxes and thought and sweat and skill was gone and I was in the hospital knowing in my bones how serious wars are for the people we send to fight them.
That man wasn’t sitting in his living room watching Netflix when we took him out. He was a uniformed soldier conducting military operations against our country. Specifically, he was an Iranian who, three days earlier, had dispatched a militia to attack the American embassy in Baghdad. He was as legitimate a target as a target could get, as legitimate as Isoroku Yamamoto when we sent our airmen to shoot him down over Bougainville.
I have no opinion as to whether taking out Soleimani disrupted specific future attacks on our troops. What I do have an opinion on is that Soleimani was a soldier, in uniform, on the battlefield, hip deep in killing Americans. And that Iranians have overrun and looted our embassies in the past, and taken our diplomats hostage. And that putting a stop to him was our only possible ethical response. Anything less would have been a betrayal of the people we send to fight people like Soleimani.