America shook the world last week with its drone strike on Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. The mainstream media and Democrats criticized it. Most conservatives loved it.
Soleimani arguably was the second most important person in Iran. The Quds Force (Iran’s equivalent of the Green Berets and CIA) he commanded was instrumental to his country’s regional power. He is blamed for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers and for his support of terrorist groups. He also likely had a hand in the recent attacks on American bases in Iraq. It’s understandable why Trump supporters cheer Soleimani’s death.
But was the death worth it? Did it advance American interests and protect American lives?
The unfortunate answer is no.
After Iran’s muted “retaliation” Tuesday night, war seems out of the question over Soleimani’s killing.
But the death distracts from our mission of fighting Islamic terrorism, unintentionally helps ISIS, pushes Iraq more into the hands of the Iranians, strengthens anti-American hardliners in Tehran, and drags America further into the Mideast quagmire. We may have taken out a bad guy, but that doesn’t mean we made America safer.
Soleimani should not be mourned by Americans. He supported anti-American terrorists throughout the region. He helped Iraqi militias kill Americans during the Iraq War. No man is more responsible for furthering Iran’s bellicose agenda than Soleimani.
But his death isn’t going to persuade Iran to be more pro-America or desist from supporting Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. Judging by the mass demonstrations and parliamentary proclamations, his death just makes Iran more anti-American and more dedicated to its proxy fighters.
Many conservatives insist that Iranians hated Soleimani and that the demonstrators were forced to mourn at gunpoint. The accounts that make this claim typically offer zero evidence besides videos and anecdotes of dubious origin. Public polling—conducted by an American university, not Iran—found that 82 percent of Iranians viewed Soleimani favorably. There is no poll or evidence suggesting that survey is inaccurate.
Like it or not, Soleimani was a popular figure among his countrymen. His death will encourage Iranians to become entrenched in their America hatred and may eliminate what little chance there was to negotiate a better nuclear deal. Iran announced it would terminate the old nuclear deal and begin firing up its facilities in response to the death.
Supporters of the strike may not care about these considerations. They may say Iran is an enemy and we shouldn’t care what they think. But what’s the end game here?
We don’t want a war, so we should try to avoid situations that can cause one to erupt. There’s a difference between thinking we need to impose democracy on every country, and considering how a nation’s reaction to our actions affects our national security. If all we did was antagonize an enemy, we create the conditions where war becomes more possible.
ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates were the unintentional beneficiaries of the Soleimani strike.
First, the strike distracts us from our fight against ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other Sunni terrorists. America withdrew its forces from the front against ISIS to safeguard our bases in the wake of the Soleimani strike. This development could allow Sunni extremists to gain strength and threaten our interests.
Meanwhile, American troops will now focus on fighting militias we armed and supported against ISIS. Those militias want to avenge their benefactor with American blood.
The strike also killed one of the most effective anti-ISIS fighters in the world.
In his Wednesday address, President Trump said he would like America to work together with Iran to defeat ISIS. However, that mission is made more difficult with Soleimani gone. Without Soleimani, ISIS will be a much stronger force. Iran’s Quds Force and the support they provided for the Assad regime in Syria and Shiite militias in Iraq stemmed ISIS’s advance. While the Iraqi Army—trained and supplied by America—fled before the jihadis, Iranian-backed militias stood and fought.
If the real threat is ISIS, then it makes little sense to kill someone who dedicated himself to wiping the terror group off the map. ISIS terrorists probably celebrated when they learned of Soleimani’s death.
The situation in Iraq could return us to the dark days of 2014 or the mid-2000s. Anti-American Sunni militias will rule in the Sunni areas and anti-American Shiite militias will do the same in Shiite parts. Both sides will target our troops and allies when they’re not killing each other.
The Iraqi government voted to kick America out of its country over Soleimani’s death, further putting Iraq into the hands of Iran.
We probably won’t get sucked into a war with Iran, but we’ll inflame one in Iraq—a country we keep having to pacify.
Many conservatives say Soleimani posed more of a threat to Americans alive than dead. They point to the intelligence that he was planning imminent attacks against American targets.
We shouldn’t trust this claim. Credible Middle Eastern journalists said their sources claim the evidence of imminent attacks was “razor thin.” After Iraq and the Russian collusion hoax, we should be much more skeptical of what the intelligence community asserts, as Tucker Carlson and Julie Kelly astutely argue.
If you don’t trust the intelligence community’s assertion that Trump was a Russian asset, then you shouldn’t dutifully accept the community’s theories about Soleimani.
In all likelihood, his death will spur terror attacks against Americans, not deter them.
Conservatives will counter that Soleimani deserved to die for the Americans killed by Shiite militias in Iraq. This is a standard we probably don’t want to adopt. Those soldiers died in the Iraq War, a conflict we supposedly ended years ago. America usually doesn’t target military commanders of sovereign nations to retaliate for Americans killed in past wars—especially when we were not fighting that country.
Saying it was right to kill Soleimani is like we saying should’ve killed the head of GRU—the Soviet Union’s foreign military intelligence—in the 1980s to avenge the Americans killed in Vietnam. The GRU helped the Vietcong kill Americans and was still involved in anti-American activities in the ’80s.
That idea would have been crazy to Americans, however. They knew it wouldn’t stop GRU’s activities and would just inflame tensions around the world—just like Soleimani’s death won’t halt the Quds Force and inflames tensions in the Middle East.
Additionally, we worked with these Soleimani-backed militias against ISIS. When stabilizing Iraq in the late 2000s, we paid off many militias who killed Americans in order to pacify the country. Right now, Trump is negotiating with the Taliban—which has killed thousands of Americans—to obtain a peace deal in Afghanistan.
Sometimes you have to let sleeping dogs lie.
Donald Trump promised to make ISIS and Islamic terrorists our top priority in the Middle East, not nation building. He once admitted that other actors in the region may be bad, but the real threat was the Islamists. “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS and Iran is killing ISIS,” Trump said in 2016.
That view was right. ISIS and al-Qaeda are responsible for present-day terror attacks in the West, not Soleimani. The mosques and madrassas that preach jihad in Europe are Sunni, not Shiite.
Sunni extremists pose the bigger threat to the West. We shouldn’t redirect our resources to killing those who fight the real enemy.
Trump should play tough on the world stage. But that doesn’t require him to make nonsensical decisions that jeopardize American priorities and lives.