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The Lawless and Cruel Iran Hawks

National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster (Jamestown Foundation/YouTube)

A recent debate on Iran policy confirmed that many Iran hawks are nothing but advocates for lawlessness and cruelty:

Former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster delivered a fiery defense of the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a debate at the Hoover Institution on Tuesday. The debate was focused on whether the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran is working.

“It was the righteous use of violence,” McMaster said. “I don’t really care what international law said. I think Article II of the Constitution gave the president the authority to make the decision he made.”

McMaster evidently doesn’t care about the Constitution, either, because the president is not permitted to order an attack on another state without first having Congressional approval. Article II does not give the president license to initiate hostilities against other governments. McMaster’s dismissive attitude towards international law is consistent with what we have heard from him before. After all, he was National Security Advisor who kept floating the possibility of waging illegal preventive war against North Korea. The former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reportedly described him in very unflattering terms in 2017 because of McMaster’s support for taking military action against Iran and Syria:

But an unnamed former White House official told the Examiner that McMaster favored attacking Iran and intervening in Syria, putting him at odds with Mattis.

Mattis inadvertently made his thoughts known about McMaster during the 2017 conference call, when the cabinet secretaries mistakenly thought that McMaster was no longer on the line, according to the Examiner.

“They thought the White House hung up our side of the phone call,” the former official told the Examiner. “Mattis was like: ‘Rex, are you still here?’ [Mattis] was like: ‘Oh my God, that moron is going to get us all killed. He is an unstable asshole.’ McMaster was standing there over his desk. … He was turning bright red.”

So it comes as no surprise that McMaster is a big defender of Soleimani’s illegal assassination, because he has been a reliable supporter of launching wars against other states for some time. He didn’t end up at the hard-line Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) by accident. Like many other Iran hawks, McMaster views the law as an inconvenience to be tossed aside, and he celebrates the lawless use of violence as “righteous.” Our foreign policy debates are marred by these vile arguments because the people that make them are never held accountable for the outrageous things they say. Matt Duss comments:

McMaster’s teammate in the debate was Victor Davis Hanson, who had this to say about the impact of sanctions on the Iranian people:

Early in the debate, Hansen also argued for restrictive sanctions against Iran, saying that the “short-term suffering” they cause the Iranian people are justified by the potential for long-term regime change.

During the audience-question portion, a woman challenged Hansen’s [sic] description of the sanctions’ impacts as short-term.

“How is it that the impact of my people not having food, not having medicine, is dismissed as a temporary issue?” she asked.

Hanson supports the cruel collective punishment of the civilian population. Unlike some Iran hawks, he doesn’t deny that the sanctions are responsible for a lot of the Iranian people’s suffering. He still thinks that can somehow be justified by the “long-term” goal of regime change. This is a morally bankrupt position to take. Knowingly inflicting suffering on innocent people in an attempt to bring down their government is monstrous and criminal. The ends don’t justify the means. Depriving sick people of medicine for any reason is contemptible, but many Iran hawks believe it to be worth doing. Eli Clifton just reported on the efforts of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a hard-line anti-Iranian organization, to pressure pharmaceutical companies to stop doing business with Iran while Iranians try to cope with the terrible coronavirus outbreak:

“U.S. sanctions have had a long-term impact on Iran’s ability to freely import medical supplies,” said Tyler Cullis, an attorney specializing in sanctions law at Ferrari & Associates. He pointed to “outside groups” that seek to bolster the Treasury Department’s investigatory heft and provide information on companies doing trade with Iran. “In tandem with U.S. sanctions,” Cullis said, “these groups have sought to impose reputational costs on companies that engage in lawful and legitimate trade with Iran, including humanitarian trade.”

The medical and humanitarian trade are carved out of crippling sanctions against Iran through special licenses issued by the Treasury Department. But companies must apply for the licenses then carry out the trade — something United Against Nuclear Iran, known as UANI, seeks to discourage.

“Their efforts are not insignificant,” Cullis said. “It is, after all, not an altogether lucrative enterprise selling medical supplies to Iran, so the name-and-shame operations of outside groups have a significant impact on the cost-benefit analysis associated with doing business with Iran.”

All of this ought to discredit supporters of the economic war on Iran. It is a measure of how warped our foreign policy debates are that it never does.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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