Yesterday, the United States assassinated Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Republican Guard Corps and its elite Quds Force.
While this may feel tactically advantageous, it makes no sense strategically. Even as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters today that the assassination made the world a safer place for Americans, his own department ordered Americans to leave Iraq immediately, and our forces overseas went on high alert.
President Trump appears to have taken this action on his own, without consulting the Gang of Eight as required by law. Or, apparently, without consulting anyone knowledgeable about Middle East policy. Jennifer Rubin:
if there is an overall strategy here, it is hidden under a pile of contradictory impulses. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper claimed that we acted to deter further attacks on Americans. Nevertheless, it is widely anticipated that Iran will make good on its threat to avenge Soleimani’s death. One immediate consequence: Instead of mass protests against the regime, thousands of Iranians took to the streets to denounce the United States.
In other words, Trump has raised strategic incoherence to new levels. Acting without so much as briefing Congress and despite his own party’s qualms about a new war in the Middle East, Trump risks not only war but also political blowback should Iran retaliate. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted the question on most lawmakers’ minds: “Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question. The question is this — as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?”
There is plenty of reason for anxiety. We stand on the precipice of an international conflagration, with a president whose word cannot be trusted and whose impulsivity and ignorance are unmatched by any modern U.S. president. He is surrounded by yes men who command little if any respect outside the Trump cult.
Colin Powell famously said you need to answer eight questions before going to war: is a vital national security interest threatened? Do we have a clear, obtainable objective? Do we have genuine, broad, international support?
I don't have any idea how we can answer "yes" to any of these questions right now. But I do know that we have lots of strategic interests in the Middle East that Iran threatens. So why kick the hornets' nest like this? Is it, as Donald Trump once said of President Obama, to win an election?
I have a very bad feeling about this.