A Nation, Distracted

A protester during an anti-Trump travel ban march in London. (Photo: Alisdare Hickson/Flickr, February 4, 2017)

Since leaving the Weekly, I have kept relatively quiet on issues related to Armenian and international affairs, to focus on reporting about plastic pollution and climate change, which I view as existential threats (and, more optimistically, opportunities for solutions). But following our nation’s assassination of an Iranian national icon, the dial has turned, and I feel compelled to speak.

Donald Trump’s recent action—assassinating a nation’s top military lead without visible, immediate provocation—was sufficiently dangerous as to warrant a conversation that as yet, I don’t see happening outside of specialist circles. As citizens, as Americans, as Armenian Americans—many of whom have cultural and ethnic ties to Iran—it is our civic duty to tune in. How do we feel about this? We don’t have to be in consensus, but we should be on the same terms about what just happened. Because the worst thing that could happen is that this action be mistaken for business as usual. 

For those without context, we can compare Trump’s actions towards Iran to a foreign power drone striking the head of the CIA. If Iran is to respond appropriately aggressively, the consequences of this action are going to be the equivalent of war. 

This has nothing to do with how you or I feel about Donald Trump as a person or president, so let’s put our differences aside for a moment. Whether Qassem Soleimani “deserved what he got” is not currently the question. The question is whether it is constitutional to essentially declare war, subverting the checks and balances that make the United States a democratic nation. I’d like to have an open and honest conversation about whether we as a nation really appreciate the gravity of the events that have transpired and are to follow. 

There’s no way the masterminds at the Pentagon—some of the brightest military minds in the world—did not foresee this outcome, which is why I have so much trouble believing the government’s argument that the action was a defensive one. 

From a basic military strategy perspective, Donald Trump is president of a country divided. His government is tripping over itself, finding ways to impeach him. This is not a secret. The entire world knows this about us. It is inarguably our nation’s weakness, vulnerability and embarrassment.

While we remain divided, Trump’s actions have created an Iran that possibly has never been more united in its modern history. With the weight of a full consensus, Iran now vows swift revenge against the United States. Soleimani is actually more dangerous to us as a martyr than he was as a man. It will take some serious convincing to make the case that the American people are safer now than they were before. 

If there was intelligence upon which this action was determined necessary without due process, it is the right of citizens to know the full extent of that intelligence to validate claims that it was in our national interest. Until then, we must view this situation appropriately: Donald Trump declared a war without permission. There was no vote. There were no checks and balances. While some voice support after the fact, feeling Soleimani deserved what he got and was long a target of US military forces, it doesn’t explain the nature of the action.  

But what has been more discouraging is how few Americans actually want to have a regular conversation about it. What I’m experiencing in the aftermath of Soleimani’s assassination is a very different experience than what I observed another time in my life when the threat of war was near, when I was living in Armenia and fighting broke out on the Karabakh border. 

The air was thick with fear and tension from both sides. It was all the average citizen could think or speak about. Their brothers, their husbands, their relatives’ lives were at stake. For an American like me, who had already lived through one of our country’s proxy wars (Iraq) without much thought, it was a wake-up call (one which I later wrote about for the Weekly). For the first time, I was terrified. I understood the gravity.

Being afraid is awful.

I don’t know how else to say this. Being afraid is awful. But when your country declares war on another, it is appropriate. Especially when the grounds for war are as unclear as they are in this scenario.

I’m disturbed by how disenfranchised the average American is. How unafraid. Or if they’re afraid, how quiet. I fear the average citizen—like me 10 years ago—perhaps does not understand the karmic price of war. And our antipathy speaks volumes. It is essentially permission for a government to do whatever it wants. 

But when your country declares war on another, it is appropriate.

I understand the average American is busy. I understand this is happening far away. And believe me, I am not one to suggest we discard our local issues and concerns in favor of what’s going on in the international arena. For this paper, I have written staunchly and adamantly on the importance of local news and affairs. But if we can’t stop what we’re doing in the face of war, then, well, on what grounds are we citizens? 

Regardless of your stance, we need to talk. Yes, us everyday citizens; not just specialists or talking heads on CNN or NPR. You and I. We must converse in a basic way about it. 

It’s funny how hard people will fight for their freedom to speak up, but when they have it, turns out they have better things to do. A country, distracted, is a recipe for ruin. And there are many ways to govern a nation; democracy is just one of them, and it only works as well as the people that pay attention to it.

Karine Vann

Karine Vann

Karine Vann is a former editor of the Armenian Weekly. A musician who was deeply affected by the poverty and environmental degradation she observed living in Armenia from 2014 to 2017, she now covers topics at the intersection of consumerism and the environment for local and national publications as a journalist. In addition to writing for the Weekly, her work has appeared in Dig Boston, The Counter, Civil Eats and Waste Dive. To supplement her writing, she has worked in jobs traversing the Greater Boston area's food economy, from farming to fair trade spices. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and anxious beagle, Rasa.
Karine Vann

@karinevann

writer, researcher, thinking about trash, literally. words in @CivilEats @TheCounter @WasteDive. former editor @ArmenianWeekly
@Buckhunter77 @onewmphoto @guardian Again, we need to be able to draw lines between a healthy dose of skepticism (a… https://t.co/VyhX2abJQP - 10 hours ago

8 Comments

  1. We are a nation deeply ” Divided” not “Distracted”.
    Karine has written an objective and thought provoking article. However with the sad prevailing apathy,I doubt if there will be serious participation in the dialogue. I hope I am wrong.
    The issues with Iran are highly complex entangled in security matters that are mostly classified. We do not know them; Even the Congress is not fully informed. War is destructive and the loss of human life on either conflicting side is enormous, scary and costly. No one wants or supports war.
    The current partisan divide in Congress makes matters worse.
    It is though a reality that Iran has been provocative and masterminding attacks
    against US interests; a reaction was inevitable.
    Hopefully tensions will ease. There are back channel communications through the Swiss that are taking place; I do hope it will lead to averting outright war. Iran cannot afford/sustain a war with the US; they are not suicidal, but can perform selective attacks on American interests/facilities.
    Vart Adjemian

    • How sad, didn’t we lean anything from history. Had the world learn from the Armenian genocide there may not have been the mass killing of Jews etc. by the Nazis. If Iran is allowed to get away with all the horrible things it is doing around the world, it will be encouraged. I do not want a war with Iran nor do I want Iran to do what is doing in other countries. .
      The question is how the best way to prevent a war and prevent Iranian aggression?

  2. What is this nonsense? We didn’t declare war on Iran. Second, why not write something positive and uplifting that discusses how many Americans support this President for what he does to PREVENT war and his strides for peace. Let’s face it, we needed to kill Suleimani as he was the biggest terrorist on the face of this planet. Did you forget how Obama sent billions of dollars to Iran and that same money paid for the exact instruments of war that killed Americans and our allies??? Don’t let the left leaning anti Trump media lure you into their vortex of hate for this current commander in chief.

    • Well said Levon. This man has been a cancer to any attempt for peace, or at least civility, in the region for decades. Perhaps a few more billions delivered in the dark would have been a better option. Iran knows THIS President isn’t afraid to do what’s right for the USA.
      Trump 2020.

  3. Well most people in the world think the US is a cancer–and Angela Merkel, who has led Germany brilliantly thinks Trump is the biggest threat to the word now (and please don’t bring up WWII–that was 75 years ago)–so what’s your point. Karine wrote a cogent, intelligent piece. trump did in fact declare war on Iran more or less unilaterally. He is a cancer.
    I always find it interesting that the right wingers like you guys are usually against abortion but ok with assassinating people and starting wars. The reason the Mullahs took over in Iran in the first place is because the CIA assassinated Mossadaq in the 70s and installed the Shah, a terrible dictator. We spend $700 Million a day on War since–unabated since Vietman–another catastrophe–yet can’t fund good public schools or health care. Kind of frightening.
    MAY I REMIND YOU AS WELL TAHT IRAN IS ARMENIA’S NUMBER ONE ALLY IN THE REGION WITH RUSSIA AND SECOND LARGEST TRADING PARTNER??? If Iran goes to war or falls or we continue to hurt its economy, Armenia loses big time. We are blockaded by Turkey and Azerbaijan on 2 sides, Iran falling would make 3–untenable as Georgia could dictate all trade policies and would seize the opportunity to do so. Whether or not you like Soleimani or not is beside sthe point, you can’t just drone kill the head of a foreogn power’s military. Why not do that to Putin or the leader of North Korea, a far bigger threat? Oh yeah, because they would nuke South Korea and the US and the world would go up in flames….

  4. Atamian, yes, us right wingers are against abortion (innocent) and for doing away with terrorist. Not sure why that is bad. Lefties on the other hand are for the killing of innocent LIFE and supporting terrorist such as QS. Nice to have a prez with a backbone. Trump 2020!!!!! I am not surprised you are a Merkel fan.

  5. Great piece. Glad to see it published in the Weekly and glad to see the Weekly supporting young, progressive voices. As usual, depressed by some of the comments but am hopeful that the younger generation is more enlightened.

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