Black Hats and White Hats

I’m restarting my Running Commentary category to cover what may prove to be Bush’s Iraq and Johnson’s Viet Nam.

Most Americans, I am willing to bet, are completely unwilling to contemplate the issues involved with the targeted killing of Suleimani, actually an assassination. Having been raised on Hollywood Westerns, the formula is planted in their minds: White Hat = good, Black Hat = bad, and it’s OK to shoot the Black Hats. Once you’ve labeled a person a Black Hat, no further questions need be asked; a man of action just shoots him the way John Wayne would. There doesn’t even have to be a hat involved, just Black will do.

Col. Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former aide, laid it out well: this hasn’t been done since 1648 when the European nations set up institutions based on sovereignty as nations. You don’t assassinate the leaders of another country you are not at war with. If you do take out a foreign leader, you do it covertly and then disavow it. I don’t think assassinating Ho Chi Minh would have been legal. How about Sadam Hussein? We turned him over to his countrymen for trial. It was a sham, but it was a legal sham. If we had wanted them gone, or Castro or Ortega or any one of many leaders we did not think were serving our interests, we could have used covert operations and did in some cases.

The split in our country over the CIA’s and other covert operations dealt with just this issue. Many Americans just did not understand why the U.S.A. can’t do anything it wants. The conceit they operate under is the America is moral and righteous and so anyone opposing us is the opposite: immoral and unrighteous and therefore eligible for punishment. We have the right to punish because we represent the moral order. They cannot get past that and so call people who want to follow established laws, norms, policies and agreements names that indicate weakness, pusillanimousness, cowardice, and lack of manhood. They usually label it a lack of leadership. To those on one side of the split, leadership equals demonstrations of strength and strength equals the willingness to use violence as punishment. Bolton is typical of this sort of thinking. We must punish Iran, probably for 1979, never mind us undermining and decapitating their democratically elected government in 1953 and engineering it from our Tehran embassy (thus the 1979 takeover of it, to prevent the same thing from happening to the Ayatollah. Remember, after 1953 we installed a dictator who ruled ruthlessly until 1979).

But after we backed out of the nuclear deal and now this, we open the road to them amping up nuclear development, leading to nuclear proliferation in the region. Pompeo is a religious fanatic and says, “Bring it on!” when the threat of Armageddon looms. The Iranians possess numerous advantages in their region and have a worldwide reach in the form of terrorist attacks through proxies. Everyone who knows anything is laughing at the idea of invading Iran, but we can destroy them with our airpower, maybe. Where will that put us on the world stage?

And here is where the Black Hat/White Hat mentality comes in: who cares? Trumpers have contempt for norms and for foreigners. They also believe that if we invade Iran, we could overcome them. The memory of Iraq, a smaller and less sophisticated country, is way too far back in their pea-brain memories now.

Jan. 7 2020 Update: Wilkerson noted on another appearance that Trump’s move has now given the Iranians the initiative, the ball is in their court and they will play it. I’m betting the Iranians will not do anything stupid but stunning. It will hurt and may not cause blowback on them, further isolating the U.S. in the world. Trump would lose support and though he may not be convicted in the Senate he will lose the election, poetic justice for the Iranians whose president we overthrew in 1953. If Trumpers can’t remember Iraq, the sure can’t remember Mossadegh.

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