Analysis: Soleimani’s killing was tactically flawless, but was it strategically wise?

Qasem SoleimaniBy assassinating Qasem Soleimani, a Shia celebrity and the Middle East’s most influential military leader, US President Donald Trump has made the most fateful decision of his presidency to date. Tehran has no option but to respond. When it does, the way that Mr. Trump and his administration handle the situation will largely determine the future of the Middle East and the fate of his presidency. In the meantime,Quote it is becoming increasingly clear that victory, if and when it comes, will not be unblemished for whomever claims it.

Mr. Trump’s decision to assassinate General Soleimani was shocking because it was unexpected. It must be remembered that, not only has this president based his entire political program on his desire to end America’s decades-long military engagement in the Middle East, but he had also in recent months signaled his desire to negotiate with Tehran. In the summer he said he wanted to “make Iran rich again, let them be rich, let them do well, if they want”, adding that no regime change was necessary. In December, following a surprise prisoner exchange between the US and Iran, Mr. Trump tweeted: “Thank you to Iran on a very fair negotiation. See, we can make a deal together!”. The news prompted one notable expert to speak of “a very positive step, because it’s the first time under the Trump Administration that Iran and the US have agreed on anything”. That was on December 8, just 25 days before Soleimani’s Quoteassassination. And yet, while publicly thanking Iran, Trump was likely formulating plans to kill its leading general.

Why did the president do it? To some extent, one should not dismiss his argument that he wanted to put an end to the slow tit-for-tat escalation of tensions in the Middle East, before it boiled over. He wanted to make Iran listen. Writing in The Washington Times just hours after Soleimani’s assassination, former CIA official Charles Faddis noted that Mr. Trump’s decision honored US President Theodore Roosevelt’s famous dictum, “speak softly and carry a big stick”. Your adversary is more willing to listen to you if he is able to “see the big stick, and he needs to understand you will wield it”, wrote Faddis. A few hours later, David Petraeus, former director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, described Mr. Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani as “a very significant effort to reestablish deterrence, which obviously had not been shored up by the relatively insignificant responses up until now”.

But in this case deterrence comes at a cost. It has been amply established that Iran has been the prime beneficiary of America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. Not only did Washington remove from power Saddam Hussein, one of Tehran’s staunchest regional foes, but it also effectively enabled Iran to dominate Iraqi political life and take over the country’s civilian and military institutions. Today, as the Iraqi parliament has officially called for the expulsion of all US forces from the country, it is unthinkable to consider that America will continue to have a presence there for much longer. Washington is already evacuating its diplomatic facilities in Baghdad, and US troops will soon follow. Within weeks —perhaps sooner— Iraq will become a no-go area for the QuoteUS, and will be dominated by the Popular Mobilization Forces, which is quickly turning into the Iraqi equivalent of Hezbollah.

Witnessing America abandon Iraq in haste to the hands of Iran is a truly remarkable turn of events. It enables Tehran to project an image of strength that is unparalleled in its modern history. Tehran is now largely in control of much of Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, and is increasingly influential in Afghanistan. Moreover, Iran will now press full steam ahead with its nuclear weapons program, a development that will pose direct challenges to Washington’s allies in the region, notably Saudi Arabia and Israel. These two countries will pressure the US to lead direct military operations to stop Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons. Will Washington stand by its allies? Or will it abandon them as it did with the Kurds? If it does, how will this sit with American voters, who are highly skeptical of further military entanglement in the Middle East? As this column has noted before, Americans do not like long wars. Recent experience shows that American political unity around wars tends to be ephemeral and evaporate over long periods. The US has admittedly had a bitterly mixed record when it comes to long wars in recent years, and nobody is suggesting that an all-out war against Iran would be either short or easy.

Meanwhile, the US military retreat from the region will have a major impact on the primary reason that the country sent troops there in the first place —namely to stomp out Sunni extremism in the form of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). On Sunday, officials at the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq announced that they had “stopped operations against ISIS Quoteto protect US troops from Iranian retaliation”. This development comes as military and intelligence officials in the Middle East have been warning of “an impending catastrophe”, as ISIS is “rebuilding its networks of fighters and supporters” and its forces are now effectively patrolling most of northern Iraq.

On Sunday, the casket carrying what was left of General Soleimani’s corpse was paraded around Iraq and Iran on top of a hearse, as a convoy of cars made its way to his hometown of Kerman for the burial. Regional media reported that the funeral processions were the largest since the death of Iran’s modern founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, in 1989. At the same time, few —if any— in the West will mourn the loss of the general, while many will celebrate. The question remains, however: has Soleimani’s assassination left the strategic landscape of the Middle East, and America’s place in it, in a less risky or more precarious state? The answer is clearly the latter, even if one accepts that Iran is weaker as a result of Soleimani’s demise. After all, a weak, desperate and impulsive Iran may lash out at its foes in ways that will be as shocking and unexpected as Soleimani’s assassination was to all of us a few days ago.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 January 2020 | Permalink

4 Responses to Analysis: Soleimani’s killing was tactically flawless, but was it strategically wise?

  1. What of the articles proclaiming Soleimani was negotiating the linking of Iranian and Iraqi assets to challenge American interests in the region. Is it not preferable to scatter the hornets nest before the regional hegeonomy becomes powerful enough to threaten our regional allies.

  2. Chukchi says:

    Bravo El Presidente!!!

  3. solinden says:

    Thanks for this article.

  4. William Downey says:

    For the past 40 years, the United States and its allies have, with the exception of the Tanker War, allowed Iran to develop its network of proxies, without a great deal of hindrance. The much-ballyhooed JCOPA not only permitted Iran to continue its nuclear and ballistic missile programs but provided billions of dollars to Iran so that it could grow its malign activities in the region.

    Gen. Soleimani and the IRGC were at the heart of funding, supplying and planning those activities and as such was designated, terrorists. The act of killing Soleimani is meant to send a message to Iran. Diplomatically phrased the message is that enough is enough. Cease your malign behavior or we will continue to respond in kind.

    Does that mean we may not be endangering our diplomats or forces in a precarious position? No, and I don’t think many people believe that it will. However, either direct Iranian response or through its proxies will now be met with a military response. Since 1979, the United States has given weakly responded to provocation. In today’s highly complex world, that message is also meant to warn other malign actors that the kid gloves are coming off.

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