WAR has a way of distorting the truth, of upending reality – it takes morality and turns it inside out. War can make black white and left right. The effects of war are so insidious that they change and corrupt language.

Instead of ‘dead civilians’ governments speak of ‘collateral damage’, rather than ‘kidnapping’ we get ‘extraordinary rendition’, in place of ‘torture’ there’s ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’.

The assassination of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani on the orders of American President Donald Trump, in the sovereign territory of Iraq, gives us a new assault on language and truth. The killing demands we ask the question: who’s the real terrorist?

As Iran’s spymaster, as the patron of Hezbollah, as the friend of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Soleimani was a man with plenty of innocent blood on his hands. In the West, we see men like him as monsters – and we’re right, men like him are monsters. But the West has plenty of monsters of our own.

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From an Iranian perspective, how might the heads of British or American intelligence be seen? Or our military chiefs? Our politicians? Might they not be seen as blood-soaked too? As monsters? In Iranian eyes our leaders are to blame for bringing death and misery to the Middle East.

If Iran used a drone to kill Mike Pompeo, current US secretary of state and former director of the CIA, on a visit to Paris, how might we in the West react? How would we respond if Iran murdered the head of MI6 on a trip to Berlin? Such barbaric extra-territorial crimes would be seen unequivocally as an act of war and retaliation would be swift and brutal. The West would remember the crime for generations, commemorate it, use it as a collective story symbolising democracy’s struggle against terror.

Let’s be clear: the United States murdered a senior member of the Iranian government on the soil of another nation, Iraq. Iran’s status as a pariah nation – the country is a theocracy where human rights are meaningless – is no justification for such crimes. There are plenty of ghastly regimes in the world – just look to China and its gulags. We do not assassinate Chinese military chiefs in third party states. In fact, some leaders – like Trump – glad-hand with the most despicable tyrants on Earth like Kim Jong-Un of North Korea, a man who leads a country that takes George Orwell’s 1984 as a guidebook not a warning.

Trump claims Soleimani was planning to attack US targets and so had to be killed. This may be true – but America needs to understand that millions of decent people in the West don’t believe what the president says. That’s not simply because Trump is a congenital liar with no regard for international law. America has shown itself to be a rogue state which can’t be trusted.

America – and Britain – will have to bear the scarlet letter of the Iraq War for generations to come. A war which cost mountains of dead was set in motion by the lies of George Bush and Tony Blair. We – Britain and America – destroyed a nation using fake intelligence which claimed Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction.

Who can trust the British and American governments when it comes to claims about the Middle East? Only a fool. It’s a case of the boy who cried wolf. Britain and America were warned back at the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that a day would come when London and Washington were in real danger and would have to ask the world to listen to their fears – but after the lies which lead to Iraq no-one would believe them on that future date.

So to many, America – a country with blood on its hands and lies in its mouth – has murdered a senior member of a foreign government on the basis of claims no-one really believes. So who’s the terrorist? Trump? Soleimani? Both? America? Iran? Both?

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Even if all doubts and fears are misplaced, and Soleimani was about to mastermind an atrocity against America, was assassinating him in the middle of Iraq the best way to bring safety and security? Would revealing the intelligence on the world’s stage and shaming Iran not have been more productive?

Now the US faces attack across the Middle East by Iran and its proxies. Washington has destroyed any role it had in the region. The Iraqi parliament has voted to expel US forces. Trump replies to all this with threats to act ‘disproportionately’, and to attack Iranian cultural sites – such an act would be a war crime. Islamic State took perverse delight in destroying cultural artefacts. Is this the same space Trump wishes the west to occupy in the global imagination? A barbarian force smashing history and art?

Britain watches this unfold at probably its weakest ebb since the Suez crisis. We’re leaving the European Union, and the Conservative Party seems set on hitching our wagon economically to the United States. With Trump in the White House we know there will be a price to pay for any friendly trade. Until now we thought the price might be the NHS, instead though it might be the lives of our sons and daughters sent to die in another American war. If American finds itself sucked into conflict because of the killing of Qasem Soleimani then Britain will be expected to stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States. British blood would be required in a war started by an American president who now seems to view terror as his best policy when it comes to the Middle East.

Boris Johnson can only look on – meekly mouthing platitudes to please America, saying he “will not lament” the death of Qasem Soleimani. No-one is asking for a lament for Soleimani. What most of us want is a defence of democracy and what it stands for – namely not using terror as military policy.

But it’s too late to defend the idea of western democracy any longer in the Middle East. We’ve shed too much blood there, told too many lies. The killing of Qasem Soleimani simply confirms for so many in the region that we are no better than the terrorists we’ve been condemning and hunting for decades.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year