President Donald Trump’s decision to kill the leader of the Iranian Quds Force, Major General Qassem Suleimani head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Forces in an airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport is massive. Just as with the taking our of Osama bin Landen and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the world is a much better place without him and it is about time.
Unlike al-Baghdadi or even Osama bin Landen, Suleimani, as explained by Rebbecah Heinrichs of the Hudson Institute, was still on the upswing of his terrorism career, and is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American service members and coalition forces, the maiming of thousands of Americans and coalition forces, and the slaughter of millions of others, including civilians across the region. On 11 October 2011, the Obama Administration had revealed U.S. government’s allegations that the Quds Force was involved with the plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Adel al-Jubeir, which also entailed plans to bomb the Israeli and Saudi embassies located in Washington, D.C.
According to the Pentagon, “General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.” He was not a non-state actor with a terrorist following. He was a state-funded and supported official with the resources, political clout, and international legitimacy proffered by states unwilling to join the U.S. in isolating the regime.
As reported by Mike Doran in today’s New York Times, Suleimani built Lebanese Hezbollah and ensured it was armed to the teeth. He extended the imperialistic reach of the Iran regime through organizing, training, and arming militias all over the Middle East. Most proximate to the events yesterday, the U.S. Department of Defense blamed Suleimani for ordering the militia mob’s aggression against the U.S. embassy in Baghdad the day before—the Democrat lawmakers accused Trump for weakness saying that this was his Benghazi referencing the assault on the American consulate in Libya under the previous administration.
However, W. James Antle III of The American Conservative stated the Iraqi situation is much more complex and complicated than Benghazi.
The United States, first and foremost, has a right to defend its embassies and military bases overseas as well as the duty to protect Americans and other personnel. Yet the partisan finger-pointers are overlooking the real significance of Benghazi: it was the symbol of a failed military intervention for which Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton bore greater culpability than the grisly murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues. The regime change war Washington launched left Libya teeming with terrorists, full of territory that was chaotic, violent and unsafe.
So too the war in Iraq, which initially created a power vacuum that empowered radicals who resemble the Islamists that attacked America on 9/11. In recent years, the U.S. focus has been on fighting ISIS rather than nation-building. But the longer-term result of the Iraq misadventure was to overthrow the Sunni state that controlled Baghdad and replace it with a Shiite government that would inevitably mean greater Iranian influence. The toppled Iraqi government was Iran’s main counterweight in the region.
Trump declared in his State of the Union address just last year: “Great nations do not fight endless wars. Our brave troops have now been fighting in the Middle East for almost 19 years. In Afghanistan and Iraq, nearly 7,000 American heroes have given their lives. More than 52,000 Americans have been badly wounded. We have spent more than $7 trillion in the Middle East.”
Trump, since taking office, has made a priority of winding up the fight against Islamic State militants and reducing the American military footprint in the Middle East. The Trump administration was determined to roll back Iranian power and stop its nuclear program by tightening economic sanctions—not through military power.
If the U.S. is successful in compelling Iran to back off and deescalating the situation, there is an enormous potential here, especially with the elimination of Suleimani, to begin a new era of stability in the region and to carry out the strategies to regain the advance against China. But if the Iran regime decides it wants war with America over the death of Suleimani, a man who had dedicated his life to killing Americans and other innocents, it appears Donald Trump, the man who ran against wars in the Middle East and by all accounts genuinely hates them, will give them one. Yet as former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State P. J. Crowley said:
“The president has never resolved the inherent contradiction within his Iran policy. He wants to exert maximum pressure while attempting to extract the United States from the [Middle East] region. While the president has consistently criticized Middle East wars with nothing to show for them, he has taken an action that at least in the short-term increases the risk that the existing political and economic conflict between Iran and the United States will escalate into a shooting war.”
Iran continues to be the unprincipled exception to Trump’s skepticism of regime change. In his zeal to reverse Obama’s legacy, he risks repeating Obama’s folly. For the 44th president also owed his election to the fact that he recognized Iraq was a “dumb war.” That being said, Obama left office with the U.S. mired in more wars of choice than before, including interventions in Libya, Yemen, and Syria that have to varying degrees kept smoldering under Trump.
Trump’s foreign policy team is replete with advisers ready to turn proxy wars with Iran inside Iraq into a wider conflict, people whose vision of “America First” is indistinguishable from the vision that gave us endless wars in the first place. So far, the president has held them off. But his present course creates a high risk of war with Iran, and a resumption of hostilities in Iraq not limited to the fight against ISIS, whether he knows it or not. Now that he is sending nearly 3,000 more troops to the Mideast as reinforcements—Trump has no choice since Iran will eventually retaliate—that region is not going to become any less volatile.
RISING TENSIONS WITH IRAN PRIOR TO THE KILLING OF GENERAL SOLEIMANI
- May 18, 2018: U.S. pulls out of an international nuclear deal and reimposes sanctions on Iran.
- April 8, 2019: The Trump administration lists the Islamic Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.
- April 22, 2019: U.S. cancels waivers for Iran’s remaining oil customers, further curbing the country’s oil revenues.
- June 13, 2019: U.S. blames Iran for an attack on oil tankers off the Iranian southern coast. Tehran denies responsibility.
- June 20, 2019: Iran shoots down a U.S. drone which it says was on a spy mission over its territory. The U.S. says the drone was in international air space.
- July 28, 2019: The U.S. shoots down an Iranian drone it says was flying too close to a U.S. warship in the Strait of Hormuz.
- Sept. 14, 2019: Missile and drone strikes on Saudi oil facilities briefly knock out about 50% of the country’s oil production. The U.S. blames Iran.
- Dec. 9, 2019: A rocket attack in Baghdad wounds members of Iraq’s Counterterrorism Service, trained by the U.S. The U.S. blames Iran.
- Dec. 13, 2019: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warns that any rocket attacks carried out by Iran or its proxies in Iraq that harm Americans “will be answered by a decisive U.S. response.”
- Dec. 27, 2019: Over 30 rockets are fired at an Iraqi base that hosts U.S. forces, killing an American contractor. The U.S. blames Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah.
- Dec. 29, 2019: The U.S. carries out airstrikes against five Kataib Hezbollah sites in Iraq and Syria, killing 27 people.
- Dec. 31, 2019: Supporters and members of Kataib Hezbollah, as well as others, attempt to storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.