In the morning of Sept. 30, 2011, a Muslim cleric by the name of Anwar al-Awlaki was blown to bits by a Hellfire missile fired from a U.S. drone circling far above Yemen’s Shabwa province.
Awlaki’s death was a good thing for the United States but also a troubling precedent. Born in April 1971 in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Awlaki moved with his family to Yemen when he was 7 but returned to the U.S. in 1991 and graduated from Colorado State University in 1994. While at CSU, he visited Afghanistan and spent time with the mujahedeen — probably beginning his association with al-Qaida. Seen as a “moderate” Muslim cleric, he also began working his way into the upper levels of U.S. decision-making circles concerned about the Middle East.
Al-Awlaki returned to Yemen permanently in 2004 after trips to coordinate with terrorist cells in the United Kingdom and Europe. He was arrested by the Yemeni government in 2006, released in 2007 and went into hiding in his tribe’s home in Shabwa province, where he deepened his ties with various terrorist organizations responsible for attacks in Europe and the U.S. He was involved with Major Nidal Hasan, Umar Abdulmutallab and several others over the next four years.
After al-Awlaki was killed, there were questions. He was a natural-born American citizen, and despite his nefarious activities, there was no evidence that he had formally renounced his U.S. citizenship, nor was he adjudicated to have “committed an expatriating act.” So he very well might have been an American citizen targeted by the president for an extrajudicial killing using U.S. military forces. When questioned by Congress about this troubling possibility, then-Attorney General Eric Holder breezily replied by memorandum that the killing “… was lawful, it was considered, and it was just.” Even The New York Times found Holder’s argument “flimsy.”
But not Nancy Pelosi. The then-House minority leader was fully on board, even suggesting that in future the administration should keep secret similar killings when American citizens were targeted. Other Democrats took the same line.
Then there’s Qasem Soleimani, a major general in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Since 1998, he commanded the Guard’s Quds Force and was responsible for thousands of deaths — American, Iranian, Iraqi and those of many other nations. He was widely acknowledged to be the mastermind behind Iran’s terror network throughout the Middle East, with which Iran is waging a low-intensity conflict against Western interests and the Sunni powers associated with them.
Despite leading a terrorist organization, despite being spattered with blood spilled from Lebanon to the Golan to Egypt and Iraq, many Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have trouble calling him a terrorist. Others, like Ilhan Omar, claim that President Donald Trump’s order was meant to cause a war with Iran to divert attention from impeachment.
It was nothing of the sort. Following a series of escalating provocations — attacks against American and allied personnel, tankers, oil processing facilities and finally, the death an American contractor, a retaliatory strike and the partial destruction of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad by Shi’ite militiamen, the president took action. Remember: An embassy is “sovereign territory,” so the Baghdad mob was really attacking the United States, just as the Iranians did in 1979.
Soleimani was killed by a drone strike Jan. 5 outside Baghdad airport, where he went to meet a group of Shi’ite militia leaders and others to plan further actions following the Embassy attack.
The important thing in this comparison is not that the two dead men were the same; they were not. They were both terrorists, but al-Awlaki might have been a U.S. citizen victim of an extrajudicial killing, whose death was greeted with applause among Democrats because then-President Barack Obama ordered it. Soleimani was a blood-spattered terrorist mastermind, a homicidal lynchpin of Iran’s plans for the Middle East, whose death was loudly decried by Democrats because Trump ordered it.
His death will not ignite a war, since war is already being prosecuted against us by Iran and its proxies, with three objectives that have not changed in 40 years: to wipe Israel from the map, to drive the United States and the rest of the West from the region, and to become the Hegemon from the Maghreb to the Indus, bringing the entirety under Tehran’s theocratic totalitarianism. So Soleimani’s death is cause for celebration, not trepidation — and only those who wish this country ill see it otherwise.
Morgan Liddick’s column “On Your Right” publishes Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Liddick spent 27 years working for the U.S. Foreign Service, primarily living abroad. He also spent 12 years teaching U.S. history and Western civilization at community colleges in Colorado and Texas. He lived in Summit County as recently as 2015. Contact him at [email protected].