If there is a single consensus that has emerged in the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision to authorize the attack that killed Iran’s top general, it is that the United States and its Middle Eastern nemesis had been heading toward a confrontation of this sort for some time.
Where the experts, politicians and armchair quarterbacks disagree, however, is on what made the drone strike in Iraq that eliminated General Qassem Soleimani inevitable, if not desirable.
Even setting aside the threat of an imminent attack on U.S. targets being planned by Gen. Soleimani evoked by the Trump administration to justify the timing of last week’s strike, there is no doubt that Iran’s top military strategist had plenty of American blood on his hands.
At some point, he had to be stopped. The real question is why it hadn’t happened sooner.
Mr. Trump deserves to be second-guessed for his decision. Since becoming President, he has done everything to lose the trust of U.S. allies and the American public on foreign-policy matters. He has endlessly dissed his own intelligence officials and chosen to ignore their advice on countless occasions. He has been erratic and incoherent in the exercise of U.S. authority.
None of that, however, means that he is wrong on Iran. Indeed, when it comes to defining the core problem that Iran represents, there is plenty to suggest that he is right.
No, Mr. Trump did not order the attack on Gen. Soleimani to create a distraction as the U.S. Senate prepares for the President’s impeachment trial. You would have to be desperate to believe that the Pentagon would have invented the pretext of an imminent attack on U.S. targets to carry out Mr. Trump’s wishes. No president is that powerful, much less unaccountable.
Mr. Trump’s critics have allowed their disdain for the President – or their desire to cover for their own failures – to condition their reactions to the killing of Gen. Soleimani. Writing in The New York Times, Susan Rice, Barack Obama’s former national security adviser, blamed Mr. Trump’s move to slap economic sanctions on Iran, after he pulled out of the nuclear deal that her former boss signed, for leading Tehran to “lash out with a series of increasingly bold military provocations.”
The chronology is important here, and Ms. Rice has it backward. While it was laudable for Mr. Obama to seek a deal with Iran to halt its development of a nuclear weapon, the agreement signed by his administration in 2015 was a roll of the dice. Mr. Obama had rather naively hoped that by removing sanctions, Iran would start to behave. But instead of encouraging Iran to abandon its terrorist activities across the Middle East, the sectarian regime in Tehran used the windfall it pocketed from the removal of sanctions to sow even greater chaos.
“Iran’s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed,” Mr. Trump insisted on Wednesday, in his first remarks after Iran’s surgical attack on two U.S. bases in retaliation for Gen. Soleimani’s killing. “The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration.”
Gen. Soleimani lashed out, all right, but long before Mr. Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal in 2018. He stoked a civil war in Yemen, propped up Bashar al-Assad’s butchering regime in Syria, funded and armed a Shia militia in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and inched closer to directly attacking Israel. Some of Gen. Soleimani’s military manoeuvres were conducted under the guise of the war on the Islamic State. But the latter would never have existed in the first place if Iran hadn’t thrown its weight behind Iraqi Shia leaders in their attempts to squeeze out that country’s Sunni minority after Mr. Obama pulled U.S. troops out of Iraq in 2011.
To suggest otherwise, as Ms. Rice seems to, is to attempt to rewrite history. That can’t be allowed to happen if the world is to avoid a repeat of the strategy that Mr. Obama pursued with Iran. By temporarily neutralizing one future threat – Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon – Mr. Obama’s nuclear deal enabled the materialization of a host of immediate ones.
And for what? Iran did not abandon its nuclear ambitions, nor did it destroy its centrifuges. It merely put them on ice, all while intensifying a campaign of terror throughout the Middle East that has left thousands of innocent Syrians, Yemenis, Iraqis and others dead.
Eventually, someone in Washington had to stop Gen. Soleimani and put the theocrats in charge in Tehran on notice. It should have been done years ago.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.