By all accounts the reason that that President Trump ordered the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard terrorist leader Qasem Soleimani was the recent prevarications of the Iranian regime towards America. Most recently, these included the killing of an American contractor and the organization of an attack on the US embassy in Baghdad. But there is another important aspect of the timing of this strike that should not go unnoticed: the deepening protests inside Iran against its government.
According to the New York Times on December 1 of last year, “Iran is experiencing its deadliest political unrest since the Islamic Revolution 40 years ago, with at least 180 people killed — and possibly hundreds more — as angry protests have been smothered in a government crackdown of unbridled force.”
The root of the protests late last year was a spike in gasoline prices, no doubt influenced by the United States’ maximum pressure campaign of sanctions and other economic sticks. But the protests grew to be about more than just filling the gas tank, they became about the future of Iran itself, and a terrified Iranian regime did it was does best, its killed its own citizens for daring to speak up.
In one incident, Soleimani’s own Revolutionary Guard massacred over 100 unarmed protesters, simply opening fire on them in a marsh where they sought refuge. Such extreme measures on the part of the brutal theocracy are a sure tell that Tehran not only takes these uprisings seriously, they view them as an existential threat, as well they should.
Authoritarian regimes draw their power from a sense of inevitability. In order to thrive they must create an illusion that they are unstoppable and untouchable, that no amount of protest or pressure could ever wrest the levers of power from them. If there is any figure in Iran who seemed untouchable it was Soleimani. While some American outlets decided to refer to him as a “revered leader,” he was also reviled by many in his own nation. His death sends a powerful message that Iran’s regime is neither inevitable, nor untouchable.
Under the Obama administration the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran Deal was meant to curb the rogue nation’s nuclear ambitions. But in so doing it not only provided Iran’s regime with the economic relief it needed to stay in power, but also with an air of legitimacy gained by successful negation with the world’s greatest super power.
In the wake of the Iran deal, what must those in Iran who detest the murderous regime and wish to fight it have thought? Essentially Barack Obama gave the Ayatollah Khomeini a lifeline and the keys to maintain power indefinitely. If the United States would not be on the side of Iranian dissidents, who would? Thankfully president Trump got us out of the Iran deal, in a move decried by all Democrats and most of our allies.
It was in the wake of this more aggressive stance that Iranian protests grew. It gave courage to those who would stand up for their rights. The killing of Soleimani does exactly the same thing, arguably in a more powerful and direct way. Those who terrorize their own people, their own region, and America, will not find comfort in pallets full of unmarked dollar bills, but force raining down them from the storm of American military might.
Those who oppose president Trump’s bold decision fear Iranian retaliation, they claim Trump is escalating the situation and making war with Iran a real possibility. But it is Iran who has been escalating tensions through their actions since the JPCOA was abandoned. Last year, after they took down an American drone, Trump considered military action but demurred, reportedly because no lives had been lost.
That changed when the American contractor was killed, and when American diplomats in our embassy had their lives threatened. Where once Trump had shown restraint, he now chose force. But it is important to remember that Iran’s escalation of tensions with America is not a sign of strength, but of weakness. Increasingly that weakness appears to exist within its own borders.
Things will not change over night for brave Iranians willing to risk their lives fighting for freedom in their own country. But last night they saw that even the highest officials of that brutal state are not safe, they are not bulletproof, and maybe, just maybe, they can be overthrown.