The late Adlai Stevenson, US Ambassador to the UN, explained the absence of history in the self-reflection of Americans this way: "Americans simply haven't bothered to read the minutes of the last meeting."
That trait underlies the ability of Americans to continue the fiction that they're always the good guys, and, under this current president, that, in its foreign engagements, America is the innocent victim of the malign intentions of others.
That a-historic habit of mind permits the Trump administration and its admirers to claim that the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Suleimani is justified if nothing else, because he was a "bad guy".
Even those who question the killing on strategic grounds are obliged to qualify any criticism with an acknowledgement of Suleimani's "badness" or declare that "he deserved what he got".
To the latter, with its underlying assumption of something like karmic justice in human affairs, Oscar Wilde's bon mot may well apply: "If everyone got what they deserved, there might not be too many of us left."
The Trump administration claims that killing of Suleimani was justified - asserting with no satisfactory proof that he represented an imminent danger in planning attacks on Americans or their allies.
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Contradictions come from within the administration itself. Mike Espy, the US Secretary of Defense, acknowledged the lack of hard evidence of imminent threat.
As to planning attacks, that was essentially Suliemani's job as the head of the Iranian version of Special Forces, just as much as it's Espy's job to make such contingent attack plans as US Defense Chief.
Was this killing legally justifiable? And was it strategically wise?
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The government of Iraq, which had invited US troops back after their 2011 agreed-upon departure, considered the drone strike a territorial violation and its parliament passed a resolution to ask the US to leave.
The US used an old rationale to justify itself. The general, they claim, was a terrorist, with US and coalition partners' blood on his hands. The US had declared that the force he led, the Al Quds force, was a terrorist force.
There are precedents for this sort of rationalisation of violation of norms of war. The George W. Bush administration declared that captives it took in the Iraq War or in Afghanistan were non-military combatants and therefore not deserving of protections under Geneva Convention Article IV. Hence, Guantanamo.
More directly to the point, the practice of executing "bad guys" without trial or due process (Natural Justice) begun under Bush, really got ramped up under President Obama who used drones to kill an American citizen, Anwar-Al Alaki, (September 30, 2011) and later, October 14, 2011, his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahmen, on similar ground to that enunciated by Trump, "imminent threat". When Abdulrahman Al-Awliki was shown to have no connection to terrorism, his death was relabelled collateral damage.
Too few voices were raised in objection at the time.
Three Democratic senators, Wyden, Udall, and Heinrich, members of the US Senate Select Intelligence Committee, wrote approvingly of Obama's executive authority in killing American citizens abroad.
My response (Chronicle op-ed: October 17, 2011), was as follows: "The danger of this precedent in which one elected official can, on some secret authority, with consent of a secret committee, take the life of a human being, a fellow citizen, without trial, without tested evidence, without the possibility of appeal or oversight means that the office of the president has become that of an absolute monarch. I cry for my beloved country."
The thin thread of rationale before now was that these people were "non-state actors", ie, not part of a regular military. With the killing of Suliemani, Trump has raised the stakes, for the general was indeed, a state actor, effectively the head of the Iranian military.
While Iran, with its long memory, has seemingly stood down, avoiding direct confrontation and disastrous war, Trump's precedent shattering killing of a high government official potentially paints a target on anyone directly or remotely involved in the American government.
• Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.