Late in 2019, as the tension and political chasm between America and Iran were growing and American sanctions were strangling the country, Iran was witnessing its largest and most vocal uprising since the Islamic revolution in 1979. Unfortunately, the American led assassination of the Iranian’s beloved General Qasem Soleimani — leader of Iran’s Quds Force, the covert section of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard — took attention away from Iranians day-to-day misery the sanctions were causing.
By default or by design, it’s interesting that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard is headquartered in the former American embassy in Tehran. The same embassy that was overtaken during the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and led to fifty-two American diplomats and citizens being held hostage for 444 days.
Where the sanctions were divisive Soleimani’s death unified the country and shifted the Iranian rabble’s attention from misery to patriotism. What followed in quick succession was Iranian citizens and their government ratcheting up the anti-American rhetoric.
While most Americans, including the Commander in Chief, have called for an end to “endless wars” the U.S. remains knee-deep in military actions around the globe. Legal wrangling and wordplay aside, Soleimani’s assassination has moved America closer to a full-blown war, another one.
Soleimani’s killing is just about as far away as ending “endless wars” as possible.
Both in American and around the world, governments and citizens have been left wondering exactly what another military campaign would accomplish for America or its allies.
The American exhaustion that surrounds our military actions over the past 20 years makes this march towards war odd. Even more peculiar is the president’s tone deafness around that exhaustion and the Republican party’s blinders around the topic of war(s) and their capitulation towards this particular attack.
However, with that being said, it would be dangerous to ignore two monolithic hurdles the president is currently facing.
- President Trump faces re-election this year.
- Trump is facing a post-impeachment Senate trial to remove him from office (of which he is expected to be acquitted by his republican brethren).
As Trump continues his Nuremberg style rallies and amping up his constituency, there is historical motivation to continue military actions. The precedence is that no president in American historty has ever lost re-election during a war:
- James Madison — the War of 1812, reelected in 1812
- Abraham Lincoln — the Civil War, reelected in 1864
- Woodrow Wilson — World War I, not at war but nearing it, reelected in 1916
- Franklin D. Roosevelt — World War II, entered the war and re-elected for a fourth time in 1944.
- Lyndon B. Johnson — the Vietnam War issue through the Gulf of Tonkin, elected in 1964
- Richard Nixon — the Vietnam War, reelected in 1972
- George W. Bush — the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, reelected in 2004
Just nine days after being impeached on December 18, President Trump was forced to react to the attacks on the military base in Kirkuk, Iraq. The strikes that killed one American contractor and wounded both Americans and Iraqi’s. When presented with the killing of Soleimani at this point, he rejected it. Instead, he ordered airstrikes to those sections of Iraq and Syria where members of the militia group thought to be responsible for the attack were reportedly located.
Watching television on December 31, as news reports were coming in on the attack of the American embassy in Baghdad, the news captured President Trump’s attention… and ire.
The presidents notoriously short fuse had been lit…and he went ballistic.
NOT ON HIS WATCH
President Trump has vociferously vilified Hillary Clinton for her role in the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi — the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith. As he watched another American embassy being attacked, the president became even more adamant that nothing like Benghazi would take place on his watch.
Re-considering his options for retaliation of the attack on the embassy, Trump then gave the order to move on General Soleimani. By January 2 there were reports of an airstrike near the Baghdad airport and it was those early reports that claimed Soleimani had been killed.
It’s worth noting that the protests at the embassy had ended by the time America launched the attack that killed Soleimani.
Eschewing the attacks on the embassy as motivation for the targeted bombing, the Pentagon went political. To protect their boss, the Pentagon first claimed that Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”
Since then, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mike Esper have batted around reasons like the drone attack was a “deterrent to future attacks” and “a response to the attack in Kirkuk.” In fact, on FOX’s Laura Ingraham show, President Trump said: “I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies” Soleimani was plotting against.
That was news to Secretary of Defense Esper: “I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies.”
Neither the U.S. military nor President Trump’s administration has provided evidence to substantiate plots for future attacks by Iran or Soleimani. They have also not presented any verifiable imminent threat and in fact have found difficulty rationalizing the drone attack.
The administration has provided a bouillabaisse of reasons for the drone attack that led to Soleimani’s death.
Whatever his political motivation may or may not be, it’s impossible to ignore how important and relevant the attack is geopolitically. To ignore President Trump’s admiration of Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman is to discount the connection that exists between America, Saudi Arabia and the ongoing war in Yemen.
In 2014, Saudi Arabia launched a U.S.-backed attempted overthrow of the Yemen Houthis to restore former president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Since then, a cadre of Iranians has provided weapons and training to the Houthis. That war has devolved into one of the world’s most dire humanitarian crises.
The Intercept recently reported that on the night Soleimani was killed “the U.S. launched a similar operation aimed at killing Abdul Reza Shahlai, a top Iranian commander in Yemen and the commander of the Yemen division of the Quds Force.”
America’s strongest ally in the region, Israel, both complemented and distanced itself from America’s strike on Soleimani. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Trump was “worthy of appreciation” for the attack, at the same time backing away calling it “an American event.”
In response to the attack on Soleimani, Iran bombed two U.S. air bases in Iraq. After that, both countries appear to have taken a step back.
President Trump issued a statement on January 8, claiming that Iran is “standing down.”
Unfortunately, this comes as no relief to members of NATO. In the same statement, Trump called for Germany, France and the UK to follow his lead and leave the Iran nuclear deal. He also called for all of Europe to take a larger role in the Middle East.
On the world stage, the Middle East and most of Europe may be chagrined by President Trump’s actions and words; however, there is a group of individuals and organizations that are excited by the prospect of more military dust-ups — the defense industry.
THE MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX
Many of the President’s most steadfast private sector supporters have been on American television supporting President Trump’s military moves. While their motivation may seem supportive, perhaps even patriotic, it can’t be ignored that these supporters and pundits have direct ties to the defense industry. Some of the most visible faces on television include:
- Chairman for the Institute for the Study of War Jack Keane, who is a partner at SCP Partners, a venture capital firm that invests in defense contractors.
- Former Iraqi Ambassador and FOX News regular John Negroponte who works for McLarty Associates, a defense lobbying firm.
- Retired General David Petraeus who works for Kholberh, Kravis Roberts & Co, a defense industry investment firm.
- Jeh Johnson is on the Board of Directors for Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s largest defense contractors.
- Former U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley is a director at Raytheon, the defense company that builds the drone that killed Soleimani.
Since Soleimani’s assassination, the stock prices for all major defense contractors have risen considerably.
ALL THE NEWS
With all that said, the one thing that is without question is that for a few days, the American news cycle, and the world’s, moved away from Trump’s impeachment. Despite being dialed down, the potential for war with Iran remains real. Having a potential war as the top news story versus impeachment and a pending Senate trial is more than likely to yield political dividends for the upcoming election cycle.
President Trump’s foreign policy agenda could best be described as schizophrenically opaque.
He has shown deference towards some of America’s biggest foes like North Korea, China and Russia while engaging in trade wars and increasing sanctions with them. At the same time, he’s played the hardliner with strong American allies like Canada and Mexico.
Whether this altercation with Iran is motivated by Trump’s desire for re-election or an avoidance tactic for his current predicament, or perhaps even a genuine interest in reforming the Middle East, he has left many in America and around the world confused.
Whatever his motivations and ambitions may be, President Donald Trump continues to prove himself a political enigma both in America and around the world.