The killing of General Suleimani has taken the United States into new territory. For starters, General Suleimani, who led the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, wasn’t a nonstate actor — a basic premise of the targeted killing policy that was designed for members of terrorist organizations. He was a senior figure in a sovereign government’s military. The distinction is an important one. The policy of a war designed for nonstate actors has now slipped into a conflict between nation-states. In this regard, it resembles the assassinations that the presidential bans have sought to steer clear of.
In employing the euphemism “targeted killing” for a member of a sovereign state, the Trump administration has exposed the faulty assumptions and dangerous legacy posed by the war on terror’s targeted killing policy. A policy that attempted to cordon off the war on terror from the rules of war, that depended on “trust me” government, and that rationalized the expansion of executive authority without congressional approval, set the foundation for last week’s killing and its unleashing of threats of violent retaliation.