The Chinese government newspaper Global Times published a column Tuesday repeating a conspiracy theory growing popular among Democrat circles in Washington: that President Donald Trump ordered an airstrike against Iranian terror chief Qasem Soleimani to distract from impeachment proceedings.
The impeachment process is frozen at press time due to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi refusing to send the articles of impeachment that the House passed in December onto the Senate, where the process should legally continue. Nonetheless, multiple 2020 Democrat presidential candidates and several members of Congress have attempted to conflate the Soleimani strike with the impeachment process, suggesting that Trump chose to attack Soleimani last week to distract from it.
Soleimani – the Iranian general in charge of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, its international terrorism outfit – had reportedly been helping Iraq for months subdue a popular uprising against Iranian colonization of the country, organizing sniper attacks on civilians. He had arrived at an airport in Baghdad with the U.S. military struck his convoy. Less than a week before the strike, pro-Iranian paramilitary fighters had attempted to storm the U.S. embassy in the Iraqi capital, leaving “Soleimani is our commander” scrawled on the outside of the building. American officials have said they had evidence the terror chief was planning an “imminent” attack against American citizens.
The Global Times column posited that distraction from impeachment was one of two reasons for the strike against Soleimani, a more charitable interpretation than those on the American left. The first, the Chinese propaganda outlet claimed, was “trying to continue suppressing Iran’s influence in the Middle East, especially in Iraq.” That goal, the Times argued, was “basically impossible” because Iraq is also a Shiite Muslim majority nation with centuries of history tied to the Persian empire.
The second reason, “to divert domestic attention” away from impeachment, may have only temporarily succeeded, the Global Times claimed.
“Currently, Trump is facing impeachment as well as harsh criticisms for improper handling of the Korean and Iranian nuclear issues. By eliminating an Iranian high-profile military official, Trump can show how tough he is,” the Chinese newspaper claimed. “However, Trump is now facing more criticism from the U.S. because of his impulsive decision. The assassination of Soleimani has exposed the US to greater danger.”
The newspaper concluded that “the actual effect of the assassination [legal targeted strike on a designated terrorist] was far from what it was intended to be,” accusing Trump of being disingenuous about wanting to exit foreign entanglements and instead pushing America “deeper into the mire” in the Middle East.
The Global Times does not elaborate on how eliminating Soleimani would help Trump in avoiding impeachment.
Democrats at home similarly accused Trump of using the strike as a blow against impeachment without specifics on what the two issues have to do with each other.
Shortly after news of the strike surfaced, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) asked on Twitter, “So what if Trump wants war, knows this leads to war and needs the distraction?” Omar later modified her conspiracy theory to say that Trump could “provoke war over the loss of revenue” at his hotels.
“I think that the question that we ought to focus on is why now? Why not a month ago, and why not a month from now? And the answer from the administration seems to be that they can’t keep their story straight on this,” senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said on Sunday. “Next week, the president of the United States could be facing an impeachment trial in the Senate. We know that he is deeply upset about that. I think that people are reasonably asking why this moment? Why does he pick now to take this highly inflammatory, highly dangerous action that moves us closer to war?”
Warren said it was “a reasonable question to ask” if Trump believed removing a dangerous terrorist from the battlefield would help him in his impeachment battle.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) said last week that the strike had “a lot to do” with impeachment, stating so rather than phrasing it as a possibility.
“Donald Trump was just impeached a week and a half ago. And we need to get to the bottom of how and who helped him carry out this illegal cover-up to allow him to withhold aid to help him politically and personally, allowing Ukraine to interfere in the presidential election in 2020,” Wasserman Schultz said. “That’s outrageous, and I think that has a lot to do with what this attack was about.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) also accused the president of creating “chaos in the Middle East,” implying the situation in the region was not previously chaotic, because he “is so concerned about the impending impeachment trial that this is a heck of a way to distract us.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who is also still running for president, did not go as far as some of her colleagues, saying on Monday, “You look at all of his patterns, so often, he does things to distract. I just hope it’s not true” that the strike was tied to impeachment.
Unlike many in the United States, the Chinese state media outlet did not appear concerned that Soleimani’s removal from head of the Quds Force via airsrike would lead to a conventional war.
“There is, of course, little chance that the assassination will directly lead to a full-scale war,” a different column on Tuesday predicted, “a large-scale war is not an optimal option for both Washington and Tehran.”
The Global Times predicted that Iran did not have the financial resources to fight a war with the United States because of ongoing sanctions on its economy by the United States.
“Under US sanctions, Iran’s economic development has been severely affected with increasing social instability. At this point, an all-out war with the US will only exacerbate Iran’s plight,” the outlet contended.
Chinese government channels outside its official media have condemned America’s airstrike but largely abstained from addressing Soleimani. In remarks Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang condemned the U.S. military without mentioning Iran or Soleimani once in the English transcript the ministry posted of his regular briefing online.
On Tuesday, Geng refused to answer a reporter’s question on if China believed the United Nations Security Council should condemn Soleimani’s death.
“As a permanent member of the Security Council, China will, in an objective and fair spirit, continue to work with other parties to uphold international law, international justice as well as peace and security in the Middle East and the Gulf region,” Geng replied. “In the meantime, we will keep in close contact with Russia — China’s comprehensive strategic partner of coordination — and other Security Council members.”