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Northwestern professors available to speak about killing of Qasem Soleimani

Expert says killing ’is a tragic mirroring, and ordinary people on both sides will pay the price"

Less than 24 hours after President Trump ordered a drone strike in Iraq that killed Qasem Soleimani, one of Iran’s top military leaders, debate rages about what will happen next in U.S.-Iranian relations. Northwestern University political scientist Ian Hurd says, “extremists in the two governments are engaged in an intimate dance: Each uses the other’s moves to lead to the next step.”

Fellow Northwestern political scientist Elizabeth Shakman Hurd adds: “It may be a proxy war but there will be repercussions.”

Ian Hurd is available to speak to the media about the escalating conflict. He is a professor of political science in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. The author of “How to Do Things With International Law” (Princeton University Press), Hurd’s work focuses on public international law, the theory and practice of international organizations and international relations theory. He has published on organization theory and international institutions, the politics of legitimacy at the United Nations, UN reform, labor standards and the International Criminal Court. He can be reached at or (mobile) 847-769-7114.

Quote from Professor Hurd:

“Imagine that (U.S. Secretary of State) Mike Pompeo was traveling through the Baghdad airport and the Iranian government blew him up. As a senior government official, closely associated with the President, and former head of the domestic security services, killing Pompeo might be celebrated by hardliners in the Iranian government as a step toward the destabilizing the U.S. regime and a symbolic statement of its military and intelligence capacity. Others might worry about its provocative implications, since it invites retaliation but doesn’t contribute to a clearly thought-out endgame. Observers and pundits might offer quick analyses of who might replace him and how, if at all, it might change U.S. policies. The stock market would likely dip down and oil prices perk up. International lawyers would likely remind people that government-sponsored killing outside of war is forbidden by international treaty, though a few might point out that ’self-defense’ is a conveniently expansive legal category that is frequently used to legalize targeted killings.”

“In killing Soleimani, the U.S. has sparked this chain of events. It may please hardliners, but it does nothing to advance the interests of the people of the U.S. or of Iran. It reflects the hardliners’ mentality, evident in both the U.S. and Iranian governments, by which anything that imposes costs on the other side is seen as a victory. Extremists in the two governments are engaged in an intimate dance: Each uses the other's moves to lead to the next step. They are co-dependent. The people of both countries are better served by less militarism, fewer insults and attacks, and the normalized relations that were perhaps visible in the distance during the Obama Administration. No one benefits from this entanglement of hardliners except the extremists themselves. A better path is available, but to take it, we will need to wait for new leaders in Washington.”

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd is a professor of political science in Weinberg and the Crown Chair in Middle East Studies. She teaches and writes on religion and politics, the politics of human rights and the right to religious freedom, the legal governance of religious diversity, U.S. foreign relations and the international politics of the Middle East.She can be reached via email at

 Quote from Professor Shakman Hurd:

“First, this assassination is about domestic politics and it is about Israel. The two are not unrelated. In many ways U.S. policy vis-a-via Israel is a dimension of U.S. domestic politics. In addition, Trump has long supported the Israeli far right which is vehemently anti-Iranian. This is a chapter in that story and must be contextualized as the next step in the unraveling of the JCPOA (the Iran deal).

“Second, this is about the 2020 election. Trump is rallying a bellicose anti-Iranian and often anti-Muslim base and distracting from his recent impeachment. The Iranians know this, and hardliners on their side will be eager to go to war, just as the hardliners here are. It may be a proxy war but there will be repercussions. It is a tragic mirroring, and ordinary people on both sides will pay the price. This is particularly the case for the Iranian people but also for the Americans who may be sent to fight in yet another endless war.”