Is Trump’s Decision To “Take Out” Top Iranian General Really That Much Of A Surprise?
It’s completely consistent with his gang boss-like approach to the Presidency
And Iran’s top military commander Qasem Soleimani was in Iraq — not supposed to be his turf — with the purpose of wreaking havoc. But that’s not that big a surprise either, considering he’s had huge influence in Iraq for decades now, and was responsible for many of those roadside bombs that killed and maimed so many American soldiers.
And Soleimani first made a name for himself in an incredibly bloody war with Iraq in the 80s that ended in a stalemate. So why not use Iraq’s weakened state especially with waning interest and engagement by the U.S., and a U.S. President who boasts he never wanted to be there in the first place, to finish the job? Especially if you also want to drive Trump crazy.
Is this a bold and incisive move on Trump’s part? And one that was, in fact, long overdue? Or an act of utter recklessness? And maybe desperation? We heard several people we know who don’t even follow politics or world events hardly at all using the word “crazy” today to describe it. But really, it’s too early to tell.
What is indisputable is it’s the most aggressive unilateral action the U.S. has taken in decades. But again, that’s Trump’s thing. “Unilateral” was part of the reason he was elected. (We can already see the replies from people arguing pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement was equally aggressive, or worse. So perhaps we should say “aggressively violent”).
And while the White House is busily trying to spin it as just another notch in Trump’s gun after taking out the founder of ISIS, and Trump’s busily Retweeting similarly-themed made-in-Saudi-Arabia memes, it’s really very, very different.
Soleimani was very close to being the actual leader of an actual country. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, or for that matter, Osama bin Laden — weren’t. Senior Brookings fellow Suzanne Maloney aptly describes Soleimani as:
“The architect of Iran’s expanded influence across the Middle East.”
Former Special Operations General Stanley McChrystal did a pretty good write-up on Soleimani in a recent issue of Foreign Policy, in which he depicts him as a despicable operator, but also treats him with a measure of respect as a strategist and leader. If you’ve got more time, read this fantastic piece by Dexter Filkins painting a vivid and detailed picture of Soleimani’s unchallenged clout in many corners of the Mideast for years and years and years, working at times with and against seemingly everybody depending on the situation, including with the U.S. at times, though more often against it. (BTW, Filkins wrote that piece almost 7 years ago.)
Yes, Trump’s folks had recently classified Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, with special mention of Soleimani and his Quds Force as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” (perhaps to give the President cover with Congress were he to make the move he just did)?
Yet Trump’s action is being roundly perceived globally (and by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) as not simply bringing a terrorist to justice, but as an act of war.
Why should the U.S. care about that? Because it means no matter what happens next, there’s already only one clear winner: Russia. (And we’re also really not clear on what Trump wants to happen next).
- Russia and Iran are close. Meaning any resolution or escalation will be guided by Russia’s hand, further solidifying its influence over the Mideast. And further elevating Russia’s President Putin as a world leader. At least as long as Trump confoundingly continues to insist he’s sick of U.S. warmongering and wants to abdicate influence in the area, yet also seems to want to reserve the right to order “hits” there when he feels like it.
- More importantly perhaps, it takes Putin one step closer to his key goal of destroying the strong and long-standing Western military treaty alliance, NATO. Because if Iran now aggressively retaliates, don’t expect America’s allies to step in on Trump’s side, especially after he screwed them over by ripping up the Iran-nuclear deal and at the same time turning the screws on Iran’s regime with aggressive sanctions. And also making it nearly impossible for those same NATO allies to continue on with the nuclear deal minus America. Remember when President Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein? Even though he too was accused of being reckless, he was very careful to put together a ragtag bunch of allies (most notably the U.K.), before he went in. And it wasn’t the U.S. military that carried out Saddam’s execution. Trump’s got Saudi Arabia and Israel. Besides that, who knows? Russia’s been trying to pick off NATO members for a while, with some success, especially in the case of Turkey, which just bought a Russian-made missile defense system. Which makes no sense from NATO’s perspective, because part of what Turkey is supposed to do is defend against Russian missiles. So the wedge Trump is now driving between the U.S. and NATO allies by himself, only furthers Russia’s cause. Other “friendly” countries like Japan aren’t likely to stand by Trump in this either, despite his urging Japan’s defense forces to take a more active global role (mainly so he can sell them more U.S. made arms). Japan has a solid, long-standing relationship with Iran.
In the distant past, when the U.S. has gone and assassinated a world leader, it usually didn’t turn out well. And when there’s a major hit on a major crime boss, it usually turns in to a gang war. We can only hope that while history usually repeats itself, it doesn’t always.