On New Year’s Eve, Iran-backed militias attempted to storm the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, engaging in an unsuccessful act of war as American forces secured the compound. In the aftermath, President Trump warned Iran that it would “be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities,” and “pay a very BIG PRICE. This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei shot back, “You can’t do anything.” A day later, President Trump did something.
His decision to strike Qassem Soleimani was a game-changing act with immense substantive and symbolic implications. It finally brought a modicum of justice for the hundreds of Americans murdered and thousands injured at the hands of the head of the terrorist Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, his henchmen, and their proxies.
It took off the battlefield a genocidal military mastermind responsible for spreading Iran’s Islamic Revolution globally, constructing its Shiite Crescent in the Middle East, and threatening America and our allies at home and abroad.
It represented a decisive response to Iran’s act of war in Baghdad, as well as its repeated assaults on Iraqi coalition bases including last month’s rocket attack that killed one American and injured several others, and additional imminent strikes for which Soleimani would have been responsible. It was about putting America first.
This Isn’t Another Afghanistan (Yet)
Critics of the Trump administration are claiming that this operation—which also resulted in the death of Hezbollah Brigades leader and Iraq Popular Mobilization Forces deputy leader Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, and may have coincided with the rumored rolling up of other Iran-backed militia leaders—recklessly risked all-out war with Iran.
The assumption among both leftist Trump haters and anti-interventionist Trump supporters like Tucker Carlson is that the United States could well be drawn into a broader conflict that will lead to another Iraq or Afghanistan, replete with a full-scale invasion and occupation. Yet this would conflict with President Trump’s word, deed, and demonstrated instinct, and almost assuredly the desires of his supporters.
These critics are missing a number of other crucial points. First, Iran has been at war with the United States since 1979, when it stormed our embassy in Tehran and took Americans hostage. The presumed alternative to the Trump administration’s Iran policy, namely the Iran nuclear deal, was not an alternative to war, but the continuation of war by other means—a ruse built on collusion with a willing Obama administration seeking to make Iran the strong horse in the Middle East, and greedy and fearful European partners that enabled the mullocracy to expand under the veneer of a Swiss cheese “verification regime.”
Aside from facing on-again off-again economic sanctions, the world’s leading state sponsor of jihad has paid very little price for the blood it has shed. It has tapped along the West while spreading its influence globally, developing its military capabilities including its nuclear program, and acting against America and our allies.
The storming of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, in which attackers spray-painted references to Soleimani on walls and windows, along with Soleimani’s openly traversing the Middle East and beyond, reflected a level of hubris that may well have proved to be his downfall. Now Iran knows that America is fully engaged, unconstrained by politically correct rules of engagement, and no longer acting out of fear or willfully blind delusions about bribing a jihadist regime into peace. It knows it will pay a severe price should it endanger Americans, a price that yesterday it would not have anticipated. The strength of this deterrent both psychologically and materially cannot be easily dismissed.
This Is Retaliation, Not Provocation
Second, the expressly stated purpose of the attack on Soleimani was deterrence, not a prelude to invasion. Attacking a U.S. embassy is again an act of war, and the U.S. responded in kind if not disproportionately given Soleimani’s existential importance to the mullocratic regime.
Such an act should be seen not as an attempt to enter a war that President Trump has never desired, but to prevent Iran from even thinking about dramatically escalating towards one given the overwhelming, catastrophic response it now knows it could face. This is even before considering how Israel or anti-Iranian Sunni Arab nations would respond in such a scenario. The killing of Soleimani should have changed the strategic calculation of Iran’s leaders.
Third, for those fearing a greater war, the Trump administration has acted with substantial restraint with respect to the Iranian regime, slowly and methodically ramping up economic pressure while speaking of a desire for diplomacy. It has avoided direct military action to the point when American assets and then lives were repeatedly threatened, and now shown that any such attacks will be met with overwhelming force—force directed at the head of the snake, not merely at proxies that could needlessly bog America down. These are prudent acts, not the acts of a president who wants to dive headlong into the kind of engagement he ran against.
Defending the National Interest
President Trump has demonstrated not an interest in war, but in ensuring peace through strength and the resolute defense of America’s national interest against those who threaten it. As for fear over escalation, it bears noting that the administration presumably has been prepared for this day for some time.
More than two years ago, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo revealed he had delivered a letter to Soleimani and Iranian leaders indicating “we will hold he and Iran accountable for any attacks on American interests in Iraq by forces that are under their control.” Presumably, the Trump administration has had contingency plans ready to go for some time in the event Soleimani met his demise.
Again, the question analysts should be asking themselves today is not whether the United States is ready for a counter-attack, but rather what kind of counter-attack Iran is really prepared to launch knowing what has just transpired.
Fourth, continued appeasement of Iran would have invited more aggression and left America worse off in the future. Iran certainly poses a danger. Its malevolent agents have been operating in our backyard and on our own soil. Terror cells could ostensibly carry out attacks against the homeland. America could be subjected to devastating cyber-attacks.
There are obviously numerous ways Iran could retaliate against American forces and assets in the Middle East. But the very reason Iran has the capability to inflict such damage is precisely because of the policies of appeasement America has undertaken for decades. In other words, just as there are potentially major costs to action, there have too been major costs to inaction.
Should the answer be to throw up our hands and allow Iran to continue its march unimpeded, or to show that there will be grave consequences? The irony is that those now hysterical in adamantly arguing that President Trump’s strike is going to lead to a massive conflagration in the Middle East were directly responsible for aiding, abetting, and enabling Iran to such an extent that it could pose such a threat.
President Obama and apparently his potential Democratic successors who wish to return to the Iran Deal believe in bribing enemies to buy (false) peace. The Trump administration believes the way to peace is by taking enemies off the battlefield.
Iran Is In No Condition to Strike Back Hard
Fifth, the U.S. strike on Soleimani has further destabilized a mullocratic regime that is today more vulnerable than in the last decade—and now without its chief military strategist. It is facing resistance to its influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and on its own streets. It is mired in proxy wars. It has been losing assets to Israeli strikes. Its economy is languishing under the pressure of crippling U.S. sanctions.
That the regime has resorted to slaughtering dissidents at home and abroad indicates it is lashing out from desperation rather than strength—doing everything in its power to hold onto and consolidate the gains it made under the Bush and Obama administrations. The Iranian regime now finds itself facing battles on any number of fronts.
While this makes Iran’s response to the killing of Soleimani more unpredictable and perhaps dangerous, Iran’s leaders need to be asking themselves whether they really want to get into a full-scale war with the United States knowing how shaky their present position is. Destabilization of the regime, in other words, should be considered on balance a good thing.
An Assassination Heard Around the World
Trump’s critics also ignore the broader symbolic significance of the strike on Soleimani. Not just Iran but every adversary that threatens American servicemen or civilians will have to think more than twice after a player as crucial as Soleimani was taken off the board.
The message the United States sent is unequivocal: If threatened, we can and will take out anyone who poses a threat to our national interest at a time, place, and in a manner of our choosing. You can bet Kim Jong-Un has taken notice. You can also bet that he and other anti-American leaders are now internalizing that the Trump administration does not have infinite patience or tolerance for provocations.
More fundamentally, America is showing that once again it is acting out of strength, not fear. It is operating prudently and squarely in the U.S. national interest, not seeking to create Jeffersonian democracies in places hostile to them, or shrinking in fear when faced with aggression.
So, conservative populists such as Tucker Carlson are right to instinctively be skeptical of anything approximating foreign adventurism; to be weary of mission creep and the ways bureaucrats and businessmen may at times lead America to over-extension in ways manifestly antithetical to American national interest; to acknowledge that China poses the greatest threat to America of any other nation.
But Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of jihad, and it too poses a threat to vital U.S. national interests, and those of our allies. When and where it threatens us, it must be countered. The strike on Soleimani is not about sparking World War III over the Iranian threat. It ought to be seen as an attempt to defuse it.