There is an old saying that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Never has that been more true than in describing Iran’s General Qasem Soleimani. Though Soleimani was reviled by Israel and the US for orchestrating terrorist attacks, he was celebrated in Iran for protecting his nation.
Indeed, Soleimani had a complex history. He first came to prominence during Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi invasion of Iran – a war that resulted in the deaths of a million Iranians – a war supported by the US under the theory that the enemy of our enemy is our friend. Soleimani is credited with creating and implementing the IED roadside bombs used against US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was also credited with creating and supporting regional militias feared by Israel and others. Yet Soleimani led his militias to help bring an end to the War in Iraq. In addition, he fought against Iran’s and America’s common enemy: ISIS.
So, though Soleimani’s actions wounded and killed many US troops, one could reasonably argue that he also saved many. Moreover, he was a hero to many in Iran and arguably the second-ranking leader of the nation.
Was his assassination justified? Maybe. But it was most certainly foolhardy.
To put this into perspective, it should be noted that, not long ago, the US had begun the long process of normalizing relations with Iran. We had returned Iranian assets that were frozen in 1979 in exchange for an agreement that Iran would limit its nuclear program to peaceful uses. And, by all accounts, Iran was upholding its part of the bargain. That was hugely significant given the ugly history between our two nations.
In case you’re unaware, the ugliness began when, in 1953, the US helped Great Britain orchestrate a coup of the democratically-elected Prime Minister of Iran for daring to nationalize his nation’s oil industry. His overthrow led to a brutal dictatorship under the Shah who was considered a US ally. When the Shah escaped the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and was given safe haven by the US for medical treatment, the new Islamic Iranian government retaliated by invading our embassy and holding Americans captive.
Despite our history with Iran, there was an opportunity to negotiate a lasting peace. The government of Iran had moderated. Many of the people of Iran had demonstrated for more freedom. Many Iranians even looked to the US as friends.
Then Trump was installed as US president. Wanting to destroy his predecessor’s legacy, he quickly removed the US from the nuclear agreement. He increased economic sanctions on Iran. And though he relied on Iran and Soleimani to help defeat ISIS, when Soleimani no longer served a purpose to the US, and Trump was facing an impeachment trial in the Senate, Trump ordered Soleimani’s assassination.
The consequences may well be devastating. Soleimani was not a rogue actor like bin Laden or al-Baghdadi. Rather, he was a sovereign nation’s highest-ranking general and second in command. Killing him by drone was nothing less than an act of war.
Further, Trump has shown that he cannot be trusted. Soleimani’s assassination comes on the heels of Trump throwing our Kurdish allies to the curb to be killed or displaced by the Turks. By not consulting our allies and others in the region before the assassination, Trump has shown a lack of respect because they, too, may be targeted by an angry Iran. And we have started a conflict that is almost certain to last generations.
Moreover, instead of weakening Iran, Trump’s rash action has strengthened it. If the US accedes to Iraq’s demand that the US remove our troops from Iraq, we will have less influence in the region. We will be leaving a weak Iraqi government and army to fend off what is certain to be renewed efforts by ISIS. That may well lead the Shiite majority Iraq to request the help of the Shiite majority Iran. If successful, the two nations will comprise part of a Shiite crescent surrounding Sunni nations – many of them our Middle Eastern allies. A strengthened Iran may well pose a greater threat to Israel.
And though, unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran has never struck the US on US soil, it may well be motivated to do so. It knows it can’t win a war of confrontation with the US. So Iran’s only recourse is to fight an asymmetrical war through acts of terrorism and cyber attacks.
Worst of all, it appears that the Trump administration has no plan to deal with the consequences other than to threaten, bully and bluster, which is likely to escalate matters. So buckle up America. We’re in for a long, unnecessary fight.