Killing Terrorists? Hmmm. Biden State Dept Tongue-Tied About Support for Soleimani Assassination

Three years after his death, anti-regime protesters tear pictures of notorious terrorist

Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran's Quds Force / Twitter screenshot
January 9, 2023

Three years after the elimination of one of the world's most notorious terrorists, President Joe Biden's State Department is tongue-tied when it comes to articulating its support for President Donald Trump's decision to take out Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

Amid protests across Iran that have seen anti-regime demonstrators tear apart pictures of Soleimani, the State Department declined to comment on those acts of rebellion or say whether it stands by the U.S. military operation that killed Soleimani.

"We’re not going to rehash history," a State Department spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon in response to questions about whether it believes the January 2020 drone strike on Soleimani made America safer. When asked if it has comment on videos showing Iranian protesters burning pictures of Soleimani, the spokesman said, "We cannot comment on every act of protest taking place inside Iran."

The State Department’s unwillingness to comment on the Soleimani operation drew criticism from Iranian-American activist groups and congressional foreign policy leaders who have worked to isolate the hardline regime. As the protests stretch into their fourth month, the Biden administration has negotiations over a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear accord on life support. U.S. Iran envoy Robert Malley—who is under pressure to resign his post—said late last year that he is "keeping the door open for a return to diplomacy," even as the Iranian regime murders and imprisons protesters.

Bryan Leib, executive director of Iranian Americans for Liberty, an advocacy group working to support democracy in Iran, said the Biden administration should embrace the Soleimani assassination—just as Iranian dissidents are risking their lives to do so across the Islamic Republic.

"The Biden State Department continues to project weaknesses on the world stage regarding the Islamic Republic while the entire department echoes the same talking points from the feckless Robert Malley," Leib told the Free Beacon. "When asked a simple question about Soleimani, they can't muster up the courage to applaud the former administration for their actions to eliminate Soleimani and to weaken Tehran through their maximum pressure [and] maximum sanctions campaign."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and author of a 2020 resolution honoring the American service members who orchestrated the Soleimani killing, told the Free Beacon he is troubled by the Biden administration’s hesitance to embrace the operation.

"It should not be controversial for an American administration to acknowledge that eliminating Qassem Soleimani, an arch-terrorist with the blood of hundreds of Americans on his hands, made America and the world safer," Cruz said. "Right now, the people of Iran are tearing up and burning the regime’s propaganda about him. The Biden administration, however, is still committed to pursuing a catastrophic nuclear deal with the regime and so remains hell-bent on appeasing the Ayatollah."

While the State Department would not address the Soleimani operation or specific acts of protests occurring in Iran, the Biden administration maintains it is working closely with international partners to hold Iran accountable for its crackdown on demonstrators.

"We continue to vocally support the Iranian people's right to free expression and peaceful assembly in the face of a violent crackdown against them," the State Department spokesman said. "Together with allies and partners, we have been and continue to move urgently through unilateral actions, multilateral measures, and [United Nations] mechanisms to hold Iranian authorities accountable for that violent crackdown and the human rights abuses they are inflicting on their population since the peaceful protests began in September."

The spokesman also described Soleimani as a "key architect of much of Iran’s destabilizing behavior" and said the deceased terrorist "had blood on his hands, including American blood." The administration is currently working to galvanize its "partners and allies to find effective ways to confront and counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior." This includes holding Tehran accountable for its supply of lethal drones to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine, according to the State Department spokesman.

The State Department dismissed reports in Iranian state-controlled media indicating the regime is pressing the U.N. Security Council to punish the United States for its killing of Soleimani. Iran U.N. envoy Saeed Iravani delivered a letter last week to the council calling "for the punishment of the perpetrators of the cowardly assassination." The letter called for punitive action against the United States and Israel, which Iran says also played a role in Soleimani’s assassination.

The State Department spokesman said the administration has reviewed these reports and is standing firm in the face of Iranian threats, including those to assassinate current and former U.S. officials as recompense.

"Iran continues to threaten U.S. citizens and interests as so-called revenge for the death of Qassem Soleimani, including threats against current and former U.S. officials, so let us be clear: The United States will protect and defend its citizens," the spokesman said.