The United States carried out an airstrike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds force and one of the world’s most capable and prolific terrorists, along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iranian funded army in Iraq. The two commanders were leaving the Baghdad airport when their convoy was struck and destroyed.
Soleimani was a unique figure on the world stage acting as an orchestrator of hundreds of terrorist attacks and as an official of the Iranian government. He controlled funding for dozens of terrorist organizations and managed Iran’s many covert and proxy operations. He was involved in supporting Assad’s oppressive regime in Syria, funding Hezbollah across the Middle East, attacks on Israel, and empowering insurgent forces fighting against the United States in Iraq.
These airstrikes follow years of conflict between the Trump administration and the Iranian government, beginning with the President pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2016 and culminating last week in an attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Iran has been the most dangerous proliferator of terror in the world for decades. The President’s “maximum pressure” campaign against the regime, which has included cutting off oil exports, freezing the assets of government leaders, and limiting Iran’s ability to accomplish their goals in the world, had been criticized before the escalations of the last three weeks, but it is undeniable that the country is in a far weaker position than they were two years ago.
In response, Iran vowed revenge on the U.S. and announced they would no longer abide by the terms of the Iran Nuclear Deal, the pact negotiated under the Obama administration which Iran has serially violated since it was signed in 2015. The parliament in Iraq voted to expel American forces from the country, but things are still developing in Iraq. The U.S. embassy in Iraq urged all Americans to leave the country immediately.
Mike Pompeo took to the news channels Saturday morning to explain and defend the United States’ actions, arguing that the time of the strike was crucial because of the attacks Soleimani was planning and facilitating. Support for the President’s actions was strong and swift from those who saw the killing of Soleimani as necessary, deterrent, legal, and justified. The consensus is that Soleimani’s death made the world a safer place, and not just for Americans, for everyone.
Trump’s opponents took various positions ranging from unequivocal condemnation to sympathetic caution. Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ilhan Omar called the attack an assassination and others denounced the U.S. for provoking Iran, threatening war crimes, and inciting an unnecessary war. Some accused the President of starting a war to aid his reelection chances. Joe Lieberman called for bipartisan support in a prescient essay in The Wall Street Journal. Trying to explain some Democrats’ resistance, he wrote, “It may be that today’s Democratic Party simply doesn’t believe in the use of force against America’s enemies in the world. I don’t believe that is true, but episodes like this one may lead many Americans to wonder whether it is.” Some of the responses were truly stunning. Colin Kapernick’s tweets may have set the edge for the absurd; “There is nothing new about American terrorist attacks against Black and Brown people for the expansion of American imperialism.” That sentence had over one hundred thousand likes.
Even for those who support the strikes, Iran’s potential retaliation is unsettling. Is this administration prepared for all the possible outcomes? Will we be going to war in 2020? Is there any possibility that this leads to deescalation? The President’s conduct often makes it difficult to trust his long term planning. He’s a self-avowed riffer and counter-puncher. He trusts his gut more than his generals. It’s easy to feel some level of concern over how the U.S. will react when Iran responds. The President did little to assuage fears stemming from his reputation for erratic and impulsive decision making on his Twitter feed over the weekend, threatening to bomb 52 different cultural sites if the Iranian government attacked American citizens. An argument can be made that his unpredictability has been good for foreign policy and for deterrence, but many Americans miss the feeling of having a wise and steady presence in the White House.
The fact is no one knows how Iran will respond, and those who might are wise to keep their thoughts inside the proper government channels. The threat of Iran’s capability to strike back has probably been magnified in the press, but they do have the ability to take the lives of Americans in the Middle East and maybe to inflict pain on Americans through various kinds of cyber attacks. Likely outcomes include terrorist attacks on Americans and their allies across the world, destruction of allies’ military equipment, attacks on Israel, and cyber attacks across the world. We trust that the President, the commanders of armed forces, the cabinet, the intelligence agencies, soldiers, contractors, and American civilians across the world are working hard to anticipate the attacks and thwart them to keep people from every side and every country safe.
Americans don’t want to go to war. Iran certainly doesn’t want to go to war, and they cannot be allowed to continue to carry out terrorist attacks and proxy wars across the globe. The U.S. brought the conflict into the open and forced Iran to confront the U.S. directly. Their next moves will expose their motivations and chart their course as a nation. The U.S. is a force for good against brutal, murderous, and oppressive regimes. Iran is one of the worst in the world. I hope this leads to deterrence and de-escalation. We’ll know with time.
Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.