On Thursday, in the most audacious and brave move of his presidency, President Trump ordered the killing of Iran’s top terrorist, Qassem Soleimani — a man who was also the top general of the country. Commentators have compared Iran’s loss of Soleimani to the loss of the Defense Secretary, head of the CIA, and the head of the FBI simultaneously. Soleimani was the man closest to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and some speculated that he would succeed Khamenei at some point. Now, he’s been reduced to pulp.
His death makes the world a significantly better and safer place. Soleimani was responsible for the killing of hundreds of American troops in Iraq (by State Department estimates, 17 percent of all Americans killed in Iraq were Soleimani’s handiwork), the arming of Hezbollah in Lebanon with tens of thousands of rockets, the Houthi terrorism in Yemen, the building of Islamic Jihad, and a bevy of terror plots all around the world, including the latest assault on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Speculation that this represents an “act of war” is utterly baseless — Soleimani is a terrorist who was killed while abroad, in Iraq, planning further acts of terrorism.
Suggestions that the Trump administration is responsible for “escalation” with Iran — after months of Iranian aggression in international waters and in foreign countries, after downing an American drone and attacking an American embassy — are absurd and morally disgusting. When Nancy Pelosi tweets that it is “disproportionate” to kill a terror leader planning action against Americans and our assets and allies, she’s not just reflecting moral confusion — she’s evidencing moral foolishness of the highest order.
There is a lot to be nervous about here. Is the Soleimani killing part of a broader American strategy with regard to Iran, or a supposed one-off? Has the U.S. hardened its assets on the ground in the Middle East in preparation for Iranian retaliation? Are America’s allies ready for the surge in terrorism that will surely follow, given the Iranian government’s need to show strength in the face of this devastating loss?
With all of that said, it’s obvious that President Trump was attempting to restore a deterrence against Iran that had been completely disintegrated by the Obama administration. History didn’t begin with Trump, and Iranian aggression didn’t start with the end of the Iran nuclear deal. Far from it. Iran has become more powerful and aggressive thanks to the overt planning of the Obama administration.
President Obama’s preferred strategy with Iran was wishful thinking and bribery. The Obama administration openly lied to the American people, claiming that there was a “moderate” faction inside the Iranian government that would be elevated through signing them checks and ushering them into the world economy. That was utter nonsense, as national security aide Ben Rhodes later admitted. The Obama administration engaged in the worst sort of appeasement, guaranteeing billions of dollars in economic growth to a regime dedicated to the destruction of American interests around the world and hell-bent on regional domination.
When Trump entered office, after years of increased Iranian aggression in the region, he pulled out of the bribery arrangement. Iran increased its aggression, including targeting American interests and allies directly. Trump ignored that or responded minimally for years. Then the Iranians attacked an American embassy. That was the final straw, and Soleimani was on the chopping block.
The fact that the Trump administration was unwilling to pay off the world’s worst terror regime, that the terror regime never stopped pursuing terrorism, and that the Trump administration responded — all of that Trump administration action is not only perfectly reasonable, but perfectly moral.
Now the question is what comes next.
Action always comes with risks. The easy move in foreign policy is always to bank on the status quo. After all, you never have to face the downside risk of responsibility by doing nothing. But long-term concerns must be weighed, too. Leaving Osama bin Laden alone for a decade didn’t hurt the Clinton administration much. But it certainly hurt America.
When it comes to international conflict, failing to establish deterrence comes with long-range risks, including the growing power of an aggressive Iranian regime moving steadily toward nuclear weapons and destabilizing or threatening every American ally in the region, as well as Americans abroad. It is true that America can be drawn into wars we don’t want by gradual escalation of conflict (Vietnam, e.g.) — but it’s also true that America can be drawn into far more dangerous conflicts by allowing dangerous enemies to grow, metastasize, and strengthen (Germany, Japan, Soviet Union).
Foreign policy is always a risk-reward and short-term vs. long-term gain calculation. But the world is a better place without Soleimani in it — and it’s simply mythmaking to suggest that Iran was benign until Soleimani’s head was removed from his shoulders.