Newspapers are bulging and airwaves exploding with pacifist shrieks about the assassination of Gen Soleimani.
These are emanating from assorted leftists, with Peter Hitchens adding his ex-leftist voice to the discordant choir (my lifelong conviction is that no leftist is ever truly ex, but we shan’t go into that).
The leitmotif revolves around apocalyptic predictions, typically based on parallels drawn with the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by a Serbian terrorist.
However, President Trump isn’t exactly Gavrilo Princip, Gen Soleimani was certainly no Archduke and, most important, today’s hybrid warfare is a far cry from conflicts of 100 years ago.
Regular armies and their high-yield weapons are these days used mainly for blackmail purposes, a sort of sword of Damocles hanging overhead but never quite falling. The frontline troops are terrorists with their bombs, hackers with their computers, propagandists with their media, journalists either bribed or seduced into doing the dirty work.
The long-term aim is to paralyse the West’s will to defend itself, creating a climate of scary uncertainty, and pushing the West towards appeasement.
The Middle East is the hottest flashpoint at present, and there the terrorist arm of hybrid war is swinging within a wide amplitude. Muslim states and their proxies use the region as both the target for terrorism and its home base.
At present, Iran is the principal Islamic perpetrator of anti-Western jihad, an effort that was led by Gen Soleimani. Yet ‘principal’ doesn’t mean the only one, far from it.
The role of Saudi Arabia in financing and harbouring terrorists is well-known, if not widely publicised for realpolitik reasons. Remarkably little has, for example, been made of the Saudi origin of most of the 9/11 terrorists, not to mention their leader Osama bin-Laden.
However, quite apart from its economic importance, Sunni Saudi Arabia is seen as a counterweight to the Shi’ite power of Iran. Moreover, the Saudis have no discernible ambition to develop nuclear weapons and use them against Israel, the only reliable ally of the West in the region.
Gen Soleimani was an infinitely more powerful version of Osama. Unlike the latter, he had committed to his operations the full resources of a major state, including its army of over 500,000. Moreover, he effectively had under his command a whole raft of terrorist organisations, including Hezbollah and Hamas.
His efforts have taken hundreds of thousands of lives, including thousands of Western lives that tend to be valued rather more highly by their countries than Muslim ones are by theirs.
All told, as we look at the late Gen Soleimani, he typologically begins to resemble Osama more and more and Archduke Ferdinand less and less. Nor will the consequences of his assassination be as dire.
The United States and its allies enjoy a prohibitive military superiority over the Muslim world in general and Iran in particular. This would count for nothing in the absence of the will to use force in defence of Western interests. However, President Trump’s action and his subsequent threat to destroy 52 important sites in Iran show a hardening of will, which is encouraging.
That’s why I suspect that Iran’s retaliatory response will be largely symbolic. The ayatollahs probably realise that the devastation Nato could wreak may lead to a popular revolt against their power.
To his credit, Peter Hitchens doesn’t look for parallels in such a distant past. To his discredit, those he does draw range from spurious to intellectually irresponsible to deranged.
He opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, as did I. That action, I believe, was taken for frivolous reasons. Some of them were emotive, a we-must-do-something reaction to the 9/11 outrage. Others were simply unsound, such as the foolhardy hope to bring American-style democracy to every tribal society in the world.
That action was wrong, but this doesn’t mean that no action was called for. My contention was then and still remains that it should have been purely punitive, with democracy never even coming up, and no nation-building dangled as an achievable end.
The United States and its allies have the wherewithal to cause catastrophic damage to terrorist states without risking Western lives. The damage could be economic and, as President Trump indicated, also cultural. I don’t know if he has Iran’s holy city of Qom in his crosshairs, but that’s a possibility.
The alternative to that is giving Muslim terrorism a free hand not only in the Middle East but also around the world. Any sane person ought to have realised by now that bloodstained regimes see any attempt to appease them as a sign of weakness. And weaknesses are to be pounced on, any bully knows that.
Hence only three responses to Muslim terrorism are possible: remote-control devastation, boots on the ground (and hence bodies in the ground) – and none. The assassination of Gen Soleimani shows that President Trump is wisely opting for the first one.
Since Mr Hitchens is offering no alternative, one has to assume he’d prefer the ‘none’ option. That way he re-establishes the temporarily lost common ground with his erstwhile comrades, which is his prerogative. Call of the heart and all that.
Yet he also has a public persona, which should have given him some sense of responsibility. Alas, all he can manage is calling the US action “bloody stupid” – this, without even hinting at a bloody clever alternative.
The old leftist canard of moral equivalence also sees the light of day. “Can you begin to imagine the justified rage in the USA if a senior American general were shot dead on the steps of the Pentagon by an Iranian hit team?” asks Mr Hitchens rhetorically. “Yet what, in the end, would be the moral difference between the two acts?”
That’s one of those questions that, if asked, can’t be answered this side of a lunatic asylum. Yet I’ll try.
The moral difference is that Gen Soleimani threatened and took the lives of Westerners and their allies, waging a perfidious hybrid war on the West and fomenting a potential for global conflagration.
The hypothetical US general, on the other hand, would have devoted his life to protecting the West – well, us – from the likes of Gen Soleimani. To say that there’s no moral difference between the two is to see no moral difference between friend and foe, which betokens moral idiocy.
Yet Mr Hitchens doesn’t limit himself to the moral kind. Intellectual idiocy is also on offer: “We see it [the same continuing disaster] in Ukraine, where American and EU aggression finally came up against hard resistance.”
So, by invading the Ukraine, Putin offered “hard resistance” to “American and EU aggression”. Even as we speak, I’m feverishly and in vain looking for reports of US armour sweeping eastwards along the old Smolensk road.
To Mr Hitchens any thwarting of Russia’s imperial expansion clearly constitutes ipso facto aggression, even if this is done by strictly peaceful means. This view of the world is peculiar to either insane ideologues or Russia’s paid agents of influence, and I’ll leave you to decide which group Mr Hitchens belongs to.
“A US President can now start a war, if he picks his enemy carefully, without needing to fear a nuclear exchange,” further laments my favourite pundit. Would he prefer a situation where such a fear is imminent? Wouldn’t put it past him.
“These are crazy times,” concludes Mt Hitchens. They are. And made even crazier by the likes of him.