Iran: War is not the answer

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The assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad international airport, on the specific orders of US President Donald Trump, risks enflaming the whole Persian Gulf region and maybe beyond.

I am no supporter of what the deceased General’s Al Quds brigade has been up to in Iraq and Syria, but the extrajudicial killing of a such a senior Iranian figure is reckless beyond words. And counter-productive.

Only last week, many thousands of ordinary Iranians were demonstrating against fuel price rises and for democratic reform. But today larger numbers have been out on the streets of Iranian streets chanting “Death to America!”.

Congratulations, Mr Trump, for such an obvious own goal, even before the inevitable repercussions kick in. This is likely to include attacks on US troops and civilians, as well on those of countries deemed guilty by association, not least Israel and the United Kingdom.

Did we really deserve this? Was Tel Aviv consulted before the assassination operation, because London certainly wasn’t. Trump is a loner, in North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un mode, which is maybe why they seem to get on so well together.

But it is important that permanent members of the UN Security Council, including Britain and France, now distance themselves from the White House’s unilateralism.

Charles Kennedy was so right to stand up against Tony Blair’s entry into the Iraq War in 2003, which is why Liberal Democrats again now need to stand up (as Ed Davey has done) and make clear that War is not the answer.

Indeed, it very rarely is.

* Jonathan Fryer is Chair of the Federal International Relations Committee.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Nigel Jones 4th Jan '20 - 10:54am

    I agree; as a nation the UK needs to stand out with its own view on this along the lines you suggest. It is in our interests not to be seen to support the US. At least our foreign secretary did not show enthusiasm for Trump’s actions, though I still fear that due to Boris’ commitment to distance ourselves from the EU, we will end up going backwards and closer to the US.
    Looking long-term, is it not true that the balance of power around the world is continuing to shift and we need to abandon the past scenarios of West versus East or North versus South ? Is it still possible therefore to see mileage in Barnier’s recent hope that we and the EU can still work closely together on global issues ?

  • This is not like the second Iraq war. Iraq was already broken when Bush and Blair decided to invade and any problems could have been solved in other ways. Iran is far more dangerous, they are spreading violence and unrest around the world and need to be stopped. Whether it’s murder and bloodshed in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, killing hundreds of protesters in their own country or attacking selected targets in other parts of the world – they need to be stopped and in truth should have been many years ago. Well done America, the world is a better place without the likes of General Soleimani.

  • Richard Underhill 4th Jan '20 - 11:20am

    Jonathon: Do you think the President had a political motive?

  • malc 4th Jan ’20 – 11:13am…

    Thank you Mr. Trump. Exactly the same retoric was used as an excuse to invade Iraq, remove Gadafi and prolong a civil war in Syria.

    What makes you think that throwing petrol onto a smpouldering situation will make the region more stable?

  • David Becket 4th Jan '20 - 1:16pm

    You might think it OK for one state to murder a senior figure in his home state a satisfactory way of conducting international relations, but I suggest few would agree with you. This is the path to international anarchy.
    The fault lies with the nations who have made money by pouring arms into the middle east for generations. This needs to stop now, no ifs no buts. We need an agreement with other countries that we will not interfere in the middle east or attempt to bring those countries into our sphere of influence. Arms sales must stop immediately. The UK could stop very quickly.
    Liberal Democrats need to make this point, and shout it from the rooftops. As it is we are still going on about “winning here” and “Stopping Brexit” (see our web site). If it is going to survive this party needs to wake up and provide leadership that has been absent since Charles and Paddy.

  • Jonathan begins his article with “The assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.”
    However, it isn’t “assassination” simply because an individual is targeted in an otherwise lawful military operation. The killing of Soleimani wasn’t for “political purposes” as in assassination, but instead a defense against imminent attacks against U.S. and allied persons and interests.
    The issue then is – does this act constitute a legitimate act of self-defense as enshrined under article 51 of the UN charter The inherent right of self-defense is widely understood to include “anticipatory self-defense.” This often is interpreted in accordance with the standard established in the famous 1837 Caroline case, in which British soldiers in Canada crossed the Niagara River to attack and send over Niagara Falls the American steamship Caroline that was assisting Canadian rebels. The British asserted that they attacked in self-defense, but then-Secretary of State Daniel Webster wrote in correspondence with the British government in 1842 that the use of force prior to suffering an attack qualifies as legitimate self-defense only when the need to act is “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.”
    if the Trump administration is able show that it has met that standard then It can and should be supported by the UN.
    Britain cannot wash its hands of US policy in the Gulf. The UK is a permanent member of the security council. British troops are embedded in US bases round the gulf and British commercial shipping and warships passing through the straits of Hormuz are reliant on the American navy for security and air cover.
    Both American and Iran use proxies in the middle east to exert influence. As a consequence, I think Jonathan is right to surmise that countries deemed guilty by association with the US, not least Israel and the United Kingdom, may well experience attacks of some form.

  • David Becket
    I very much agree and would only add that after the best part of twenty years of military, humanitarian and political failure it’s time lessons were learned. Have any of these recent attempts at policing the region resulted in more stability? No, they’ve made bad situations worse, got innocent people killed and have contributed to a serious refugee crisis.

  • David Evans 4th Jan '20 - 3:13pm

    Joebourke – You begin your comment “Jonathan begins his article with ‘The assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.’ However, it isn’t ‘assassination’ simply because an individual is targeted in an otherwise lawful military operation.”

    Can you have ‘an otherwise lawful military operation’ without a declaration of war?

  • David Evans,
    In military/security studies and international relations, “police action” is a euphemism for a military action undertaken without a formal declaration of war.
    Since World War II, formal declarations of war have been rare, especially actions conducted by developed nations in connection with the Cold War. Rather, nations involved in military conflict (especially the major-power nations) sometimes describe the conflict by fighting the war under the auspices of a “police action” to show that it is a limited military operation different from total war.
    In the US, the Korean war was initially described by President Harry S. Truman as a “police action” as the United States never formally declared war on its opponents and the operation was conducted under the auspices of the United Nations.

    The Korean War was among the most destructive conflicts of the modern era, with approximately 3 million war fatalities and a larger proportional civilian death toll than World War II or the Vietnam War. It incurred the destruction of virtually all of Korea’s major cities, thousands of massacres by both sides (including the mass killing of tens of thousands of suspected communists by the South Korean government), and the torture and starvation of prisoners of war by the North Korean command. North Korea became among the most heavily bombed countries in history.
    The fighting ended in 1953 when the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed. However, no peace treaty was ever signed, and the two Koreas are technically still at war, engaged in a frozen conflict that sees 23,000 US troops stationed in the country to this day.
    In an age of asymmetric warfare and counter-terrorism, I expect we will continue to see so-called “police actions” or limited military operations as opposed to formal declarations of war between contending states.

  • Richard Malim 4th Jan '20 - 5:23pm

    How do you or anyone else know that it was the same party of Iranians who demonstrated against petrol prices as were directed to go out and demonstrate the mourning of the loss of the regime’s enforcer in chief?

  • So what is the west supposed to do in the middle east? We can sit back and let Iran take over Iraq or large parts of Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen. Perhaps we should sit back and let them sponsor terrorist attacks around the world or disrupt the world’s oil supplies by attacking Saudi or tankers going through the Strait of Hormuz. Perhaps we should trust them not to build nuclear weapons or we can turn a blind eye to their ambition to destroy the State of Israel? I’m not a fan of Trump, but this time he is absolutely right. If Iran retaliates I would be more than happy if the west destroys their military bases, their oil fields, their industry or their ports and airfields. The Iranian regime has behaved like bullying thugs to their own people and other countries for to long – time to put an end to it.

  • …………………Charles Kennedy was so right to stand up against Tony Blair’s entry into the Iraq War in 2003, which is why Liberal Democrats again now need to stand up (as Ed Davey has done) and make clear that War is not the answer………….

    Sadly, Nick Clegg and Tim Farron were ‘for’ the military action in Libya and Syria. History has shown that war was not the answer there either,

  • Denis Mollison 4th Jan '20 - 10:34pm

    @malc – “Iran is far more dangerous, they are spreading violence and unrest around the world and need to be stopped.”

    You could equally well say that the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia are spreading violence and unrest around the world and need to be stopped. The Middle East is a very complicated mess of violent alliances, and putting all the blame on one side gets us nowhere. The US and UK destabilised Iran by overthrowing its democratic government in 1953, and we are still living with the consequences.

    As an example of the complexity, the originally admirable Syrian rebellion has morphed gradually into one whose main active elements are closely related to “Islamic State”. Syria, with Turkish and Russian support, has been driving out IS, and it is the US/Israel who have been helping IS take refuge in Iraq; it was apparently to oppose this that Suleimani made his ill-fated visit to Baghdad. [see

    I suggest looking out for journalism by well-informed independent sources such as Patrick Cockburn. Sadly, mainstream UK media including the BBC are pretty useless for understanding what is really going on in the Middle East.

  • Denis Mollison

    “Syria, with Turkish and Russian support, has been driving out IS, and it is the US/Israel who have been helping IS take refuge in Iraq;”

    Do you really think the US and Israel are helping IS? Perhaps they are helping Hamas and Hezbollah as well. If Lib Dems think the current regimes in Syria, Turkey and Russia (we can add Iran to that bunch) are good guys the world as truly gone mad. Get ready for Jeremy Corbyn to apply for Lib Dem membership!

  • Denis Mollison 5th Jan '20 - 8:26am

    PS – that link should read
    – if the editor reads this, could you please correct the link and delete this PS

  • Denis Mollison 5th Jan '20 - 8:43am

    Visiting Craig Murray’s site to check on the link above, I see that he has a new post –
    that comprehensively demolishes the US’s justification for this assassination.

  • Andrew McCaig 5th Jan '20 - 10:01am

    Can you actually give us any examples of international terrorism sponsored by Iran? There are plenty sponsored by Saudi interests of course, and they recently murdered a journalist in their own embassy… All the main international terrorist organisations are Sunni, and on the opposite side from Iran in the Middle East power struggle.
    Craig Murray is not an unbiased source, but i would regard him as significantly more reliable than the current US State Department.

    This assassination has a good deal more to do with distracting the media from Trump’s impeachment than any imminent threat to the USA. Trump has always been annoyed that Obama managed to “get” Bin Laden..

  • Denis Mollison 5th Jan '20 - 1:01pm

    I did not say that Syria, Turkey and Russia are good guys. But they have been cooperating against ISIL. The Middle East is not so much mad as complex. The US and UK have got themselves into alliance mainly with the Sunni side (particularly Saudi Arabia) in a Sunni-Shia conflict.
    This is despite most of the worst violence – including 9/11 – being due to the Sunni side.
    I do recommend that you read Craig Murray’s piece
    or anything on the Middle East conflict by Patrick Cockburn.

  • Peter Hirst 5th Jan '20 - 4:48pm

    When Iran weighs up its options, an attack on an ally of America that does not have as much capacity to retaliate must appeal. What is the capacity of Iran’s intelligence operations overseas? The consequences of this action are of great concern or should be to all of us.

  • now see that the international coalition fighting Islamic State has suspended operations against the terrorist group so its forces can concentrate on protecting it’s own forces (US, UK and other troops at bases in Iraq) following the killing of Qassem Suleimani.

    Furthermore the Iraqi parliament passed a motion calling for the expulsion of US troops, in the aftermath of the assassination by the US of the Iranian general…..

    So, ‘at a stroke’, Trump has managed to allow IS an indetermined breathing space to regroup and dig in and, with the democratic vote by the Iranian parliament for US troops to withdraw, the troops can only remain as an illegal occupation army in contravention of international law…

  • Denis Mollison 5th Jan '20 - 6:59pm

    I think they’re likely to take action nearer to home. Getting the US – and its allies such as the UK 🙁 – out of Iraq wouls seem a likely aim – and probably feasible unless the US really wants to escalate to a major war. Perhaps closing the gulf to oil traffic, too – which from the climate emergency point of view would be a welcome step!

  • Nasser Butt 5th Jan '20 - 7:25pm

    Thanks Jonathan.
    I agree with all your sentiments.
    I note some hot heads amongst us but we wouldnt be a Political Party if we didnt have people from all walks of life amongst us in the Party.

  • Jonathan Coulter 6th Jan '20 - 9:40pm

    Thank you Jonathan for opening this discussion, and thank you furthermore Steve Trevethan and Denis Mollison for pointing us to Craig Murray’s piece that demolishes the worthless doctrine that the American administration has used to justify this killing, and HMG previously used to justify the invasion of Iraq. I would like to see the Liberal Democrats raise their head and call out the Tory Government on these matters.

  • Richard Underhill 6th Jan '20 - 10:48pm

    4th Jan ’20 – 11:20am
    Why do this? Can it be presented to “the base” as the patriotic thing to do?
    Why now? Possibly because he can.

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