‘So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from hell
Blue skies from pain
‘Did you exchange
A walk-on part in the war
For a lead role in the cage’
Bad Guy Theory (BGT), was back in the news this week. It was used to justify the assassination of Qassem Soleimani.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with a deadpan delivery, as though he had been taken over by zombies, explained the killing:
‘This was a bad guy we took him off the playing field It’s very clear that the world is a safer place.’
Here at the Diary, money is our beat…not foreign policy. But nothing is ‘very clear’ to us. Murky is the best we can do. But as we explored yesterday, when the money goes bad, almost everything seems to go bad with it — including foreign policy.
At least, that’s our cloudy hypothesis. Funny money corrupts the whole society. It leads the Secretary of State, for example, to think a war zone is a ‘playing field’. And it turns the elected president of what is supposed to be a peace-loving democracy, into an executioner and an assassin.
Not that Mr Soleimani didn’t have it coming. But how do we know?
Killing people is a serious business. The Constitution requires an act of Congress before the US goes to war. And it anticipated that the politicians would also find the real money to pay for it:
‘The Congress shall have Power…To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
‘To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years.’
US Constitution, Article I,
section 8, clauses 11–16
If you’re going to wage war, after all, you’re going to have to make sacrifices.
In a civil setting, killing people isn’t easy, either. An accused man typically stands trial before he gets the death penalty. Witnesses are called. Evidence is weighed by a jury. Often, a verdict, which seemed certain at the trial’s beginning, is turned around by its end.
But BGT maintains that no declaration of war is required. No trial is necessary. No jury needs to deliberate. No witnesses need to be presented. No judge needs to preside.
If the president thinks you’re a ‘bad guy’, you’re finished. No mercy. No appeal. No pardon.
In the case of General Soleimani, even Trump critics agreed that he was a ‘bad guy’. They quibbled about Trump’s recklessness. They objected to what they saw as a foreign policy mistake. Thomas Friedman, in The New York Times, added that not only was Soleimani evil, he was stupid.
And yet, when Christopher Browning studied the bad guys who exterminated Jews in the Second World War, he found that they were not monsters at all. They were just ‘ordinary men’.
Similarly, when Hannah Arendt covered the Adolf Eichmann trial for The New Yorker in 1963, she discovered that the man who was charged with such horrible war crimes was ‘terrifyingly normal’.
Most people did not appreciate Ms Arendt’s insights. She suggested that the line between good guys and bad guys was, well, murky and almost all guys were capable of doing bad things.
Or, as we say here at the Diary, people are neither all good nor all bad…but always subject to influence. And the influence of bad money is particularly corrosive and dangerous.
Sinners and saints
Germany couldn’t fund its First World War spending by raising taxes. Instead, it borrowed. This left it deep in debt by the end of the war. Plus, it was forced to use its remaining gold to pay reparations to the Allies. What could it do? It printed up fake money.
The German pre-war mark had been worth one ounce of gold. Before the hyperinflation was over in 1923, it took a trillion marks to buy an ounce of gold. Germany — so recently the most sophisticated and prosperous society in Europe — was ruined.
And then, when a half-mad corporal came forward and blamed Germany’s collapse on bad guys — Jews, communists, ‘international capitalists,’ and others — people listened.
But how did he know the Jews were ‘bad guys’? And how would Donald J Trump — former leveraged real estate speculator and reality TV star — know General Soleimani was a ‘bad guy’? How can he — or anyone — separate the sinners from the saints? Isn’t that what God does?
Gates of heaven
Let’s imagine that we stood at the gates of Heaven on 3 January, the day a US airstrike killed Soleimani. There, before us, appeared the Iranian general. We interrogate him:
‘General, you have a long and distinguished military career. But we don’t like professional killers up here. What do you have to say for yourself?’
‘Well, I began my career working on a construction site, to pay off my father’s farming debts. Then, I joined the army to fight the Iraqis – who were backed by the Americans. The Iraqis had invaded Iranian territory, not the other way around. I signed up to defend my homeland. And the war was brutal. They used chemical weapons against us. Altogether about half a million people died.
‘I myself was seriously injured in the battle of Tariq al-Qods.
‘After the war was over, I continued my career in the army. For example, when you Americans asked for our help after the World Trade Center bombings — another strike by Sunni extremists — we worked with you to destroy the Taliban in Afghanistan. We also helped define Al-Qaeda targets for your bombing campaign.
‘But then, for reasons I don’t understand, George W. Bush named Iran as part of the ‘Axis of Evil.’ He said we were bad guys, and the cooperation came to an end. This was especially strange to us, because all of the terrorists involved in 9/11 were Sunni jihadists. Al-Qaeda, too. And ISIS. And the Taliban.
‘And we’re Shia. We were fighting against the Sunni terrorists, not with them.
‘Later, I was given the task of supporting our allies in the region. For example, I helped the Kurds fight against the ISIS terrorists. I helped the Syrian government fight against terrorists. And I helped the Iraqis against their American invaders.’
‘But General, Mr Trump says you are a terrorist who deserved to be killed. How do you respond to that?’
‘I am just a soldier, doing my duty as best as I could.
‘Mr Trump had heel spurs, remember. He never put on a uniform. Never was in combat. Never was wounded. How can he judge me?
‘And who’s the terrorist here? He killed me. I didn’t kill him. He has his troops all around Iran…bombing…droning…assassinating. Do we have our soldiers in Mexico? Did we invade Canada?
‘The American CIA overthrew the democratically elected government of my country in 1953. It was called ‘Operation Ajax.’ Did Iran ever bring about a coup in the US?
‘The US has invaded 42 different countries since its founding in 1776. Iran? None.
‘The US has nuclear bombs. Iran agreed not to make nuclear weapons. The US is also the only country ever to use atomic weapons in war; it killed some 185,000 women and children in Japan with them.
‘Who’s the terrorist? Who’s the Bad Guy?’
Bad Guy Theory makes it sound so easy. But only Heaven knows.