President Donald Trump may have been motivated by a lot of things to authorize the military strike that killed a high-ranking Iranian general on Thursday, but it might appear that his biggest inspiration may have been former President Barack Obama. That’s what social justice advocate and journalist Shaun King tweeted early Friday morning as new details were being reported about the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force, who was killed with a number of his associates at an airport in Baghdad.
King posted the tweet after he “learned that the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani was carried out by a drone” and went on to link that strike to Trump’s predecessor: “The Obama administration bears responsibility for the massive development of a drone assassination program that it widely & regularly used without express Congressional approval.”
Many responses wondered why he felt the need to raise that point when Obama was not involved in Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani, but it was tough to debate the content of King’s tweet.
The fact of the matter is that semantically King’s statement is true. After all, Obama inherited the drone program from President George W. Bush and he used it often, many times leaving civilian casualties of war. Citing statistics provided by the Obama administration, Vox reported that the U.S. used drones that “killed 2,436 people in 473 counterterrorism strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya between January 2009 and the end of 2015. Of those, between 64 and 116 were ‘non-combatants’ (that is, civilians).”
When reached for comment via DM, King expanded on his tweet.
“Trump is quite literally just using and expanding the apparatus built out during 8 years of Obama admin,” King responded in part while sending multiple links to news stories that back up his claim.
However, one key difference between Trump’s latest drone strike and Obama’s is that there was never a real concern of America starting World War III under the 44th president. The assassination on Thursday came days after pro-Iranian militias stormed the U.S.embassy in Baghdad, prompting Trump to tweet that “Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat.”
Two days later, Soleimani was assassinated. Now, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has vowed “revenge” for “those criminals who have tainted their filthy hands with his blood and the blood of the other martyrs of last night’s incident.”
To say that Trump’s drone strike was seen as a major escalation of tensions between the U.S. and Iran was a vast understatement.
King has been tweeting prolifically about the drone strike since the news broke Thursday night, accusing Trump and his administration of committing “an act of war” and “a war crime.” But part of the motivation behind his tweets could also be his political allegiances, as King is an active surrogate for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a top contender to be the Democratic nominee for president.
Polling shows Sanders is in second place behind Joe Biden, who was, of course, Obama’s loyal vice president and presumably at least partly involved in the discussions behind that administration’s drone program. King’s tweet demonstrated that apparent difference between his preferred candidate and Biden.