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Following the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani on January 3, 2020 in a U.S. airstrike at Baghdad International Airport, Brookings experts Suzanne Maloney, Daniel Byman, and Scott Anderson joined an on-the-record call with reporters to discuss the ramifications.
Suzanne Maloney (@MaloneySuzanne), Interim Vice President and Director of the Brookings Foreign Policy program: “…It’s important to know that the Iranians have demonstrated a pretty well practiced art of calibrating their retaliation around their real interests, which ultimately concerns regime survival. They will try to target their reprisals with some degree of deliberation and precision. You can look back historically, [and see that] Iran has actually absorbed some major blows and setbacks [without] immediately yielding the temptation to strike back in some kind of reckless fashion. They are very good at nurturing resentments, biding their time…”
Daniel Byman (@dbyman), Senior Fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy: “…I’m very concerned that there may have been a lack of fore-thinking [or] advanced planning with regard to this operation. This is a game-changing operation. It may be the right move…if U.S. forces were in immediate danger. But it’s something that dramatically re-calibrates a lot of our thinking about the response of the regions. And if so, it’s going to require the United States to be thinking about the long term, to be thinking about what it wants to achieve in the region. And so far this administration has had very grandiose, very big rhetoric, but has actually tried to reduce the U.S. role in the region. And, what they’ve done right now is made a very big play and I’m worried they’re making it with a very weak hand…”
Scott Anderson (@S_R_Anders), David M. Rubenstein Fellow in the Governance Studies program: “…It definitely seems like this is an action that pushes the envelope in a number of regards, both on a domestic and international law. I’m not sure that describing it as illegal or unlawful is necessarily correct, because the legal questions tend to be defused through a highly deferential lens to the executives. And [they] involve legal authorities that are subject to a great deal of executive branch interpretation, but it certainly goes a bit further than this administration has indicated it intended to go in a variety of dimensions…”
President López Obrador's extension of the term of Supreme Court chief Arturo Zaldívar is part of his strong effort to recentralize power in the Mexican presidency and hollow out the independence and power of other Mexican institutions. His other moves to bend the justice system to his will include a reform that lowered the salary of judges but did not improve the quality of prosecutors and his unwillingness to allow an independent selection of the attorney general, with López Obrador himself retaining the power of appointment. His latest move with the two-year extension of Zaldívar’s term is especially worrisome. Zaldívar is also the president of the powerful Federal Judiciary Council. The council appoints and dismisses judges, sets career advancement rules and disciplines judges. Zaldívar will be setting the council’s and, thus, the whole judiciary’s, agenda and priorities for two years. This allows López Obrador to influence how courts will rule in cases regarding the executive branch, what cases they take up and the legality of new policies. These moves are taking place when the effectiveness of the judiciary in Mexico remains limited and deeply concerning. The attorney general’s office has proven weak, unwilling to take up key cases such as against the suspects in the brazen attack on Mexico City’s security minister, Omar García Harfuch—an event that symbolized the impunity with which Mexican criminal groups operate. Mexico’s justice system showed itself equally meek and disappointing in inadequately investigating the alleged complicity of former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos and dismissing the case, potentially the most significant case of corruption and criminal collusion charges against a high-ranking Mexican official in two decades. A decade and a half after Mexico initiated its justice system reforms, 95 percent of federal cases still go unpunished. President López Obrador has scored some points, but the already precariously weak rule of law in Mexico, and thus the Mexican people, will suffer.