In trying to process and respond to Soleimani’s killing, the left finds itself in a bind, torn between two competing impulses. The first impulse combines an opposition to Western imperialism with a justified skepticism toward the use of U.S. military force. Human beings desire, or perhaps even need, moral clarity. Considering America’s destructive record in the Middle East, it is easy to assume that we are the problem, particularly when the resort to military action is buttressed by murky legal rationales. The second impulse is the left’s long-standing tradition of solidarity with the victims of repression and with populations rather than the regimes that subjugate them. In the unique context of Soleimani and the Iranian regime, this second concern comes into direct conflict with the first.
It’s impossible to resolve this tension, and the best one can hope for is that it be marshaled in the service of creative policy ideas. Still, too much of the analysis on the left seems to have erred on the side of anti-imperialist critique with insufficient attention to what Iran has actually been doing for years—at tremendous human cost to Syrians and to other civilian populations in the region. It is understandably difficult to view the Iranian regime as an aggressor when it has found itself in the sights of the world’s most powerful country, which has unparalleled military projection and the largest military budget of any state in human history.