We begin 2020 with the death of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani. President Trump ordered the drone/air strike. The President said:
“The attack was necessary because Soleimani was planning massive attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.”
America has been heavily involved in the Middle East since World War II. Our role until 1990 was mainly diplomatic with some force of arms as a threat. In 1990 we invaded Iraq and re-invaded Iraq in 2003 although we have not completely disengaged since our first incursion.
After the 911 attacks of 2001 we invaded Afghanistan in the hopes of quelling further attacks by Al-Qaeda members who were using Afghanistan to plan operations in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. In 2014 America intervened militarily and diplomatically in the Syrian Civil War.
Iranian college students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran in 1979 and held 52 American hostages until 1981. All were released. The U.S. has had a prickly relationship with Iran since but it has been almost totally a war of words and sanctions.
If we point to 1990 as the metaphorical “Firing on Fort Sumter”, we have been engaged in military actions in the Middle East for 30 years. The strike on Soleimani may expand and extend our involvement. A calculation of costs and benefits of our 30 years of war is far beyond my knowledge. How does one evaluate the lives lost when there is no accounting for them? Did we eliminate terrorists or innocents, a future dictator or someone who might find a cure for cancer? We cannot know. We surely have expended trillions of dollars of national treasure, but would we have spent it any more wisely at home?
Over the last 30 years what have we done with our lives and treasure within our own country? More particularly what have we, and I mean me too, accomplished in our system of criminal justice? If America seeks to punish foreigners for transgressions and seeks to force other countries to behave as we think best, what are we doing and how have we done on imposing justice upon and modifying the behavior of our fellow citizens whom we convict of crimes? These issues, while always at play, rise up as salient as the New Year ensues.
Instead of war with Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Iran can we think about the legal system and Chris, Danny, Jackie and Jason? Is it logical to compare the behavior of countries to the behavior of individuals? Is it relevant? Is it meaningful or just another method of hoping instead of helping?
Each of the people named were at one time considered by our legal system to be in need of rehabilitation, much as America thinks of those named Middle Eastern countries. And while I have dealt with thousands of our fellow citizens in our legal system as lawyer, prosecutor and judge, this New Year season I have been musing about these four above-named survivors of my attempts at punishment and rehabilitation. In essence these four were given the opportunity to modify their own behavior and they did. Each is now a productive citizen and of more import to me, each is now my friend. Do I deserve any credit; no. Do they; yes.
But if society had continued to demand a pound of flesh from these, and so many others who have turned their lives around, each of them might have returned our slings and arrows with ballistic behavior. Yes, society held each to account just as we must do with other countries. But giving individuals and nations an opportunity for redemption might be worth contemplating.