Initial Reflections on Donald Trump’s Assassination of Qassem Soleimani
General Qassem Soleimani was the chief of Iran’s Quds Force, the division of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) responsible for asymmetric warfare and military intelligence. He was assassinated on January 3, 2020, by a U.S. drone strike while disembarking a diplomatic flight at the Baghdad airport in Iraq.
My initial thought was that Quds is a hydra, so there will be another commander in time. This assassination will do little to stop the machinations of Iran’s military or intelligence services. Any work, including the planning of attacks or operations that Soleimani was undertaking, should still very much be considered as an active and ongoing threat to U.S. and allied interests in the region and around the world. Soleimani’s relationships across the region were strong and he was very well connected, so internal power dynamics will shift, but ultimately Quds will remain a force to be reckoned with.
Ultimately this assassination, conducted without Congressional approval or even notice, much less a use-of-force authorization of which there is none for Iran, is a dramatic escalation against a state the U.S. shouldn’t antagonize in the first place because Iran’s government is already domestically unpopular. U.S. action against the Iranian government will trigger nationalistic sympathies among an otherwise fairly pro-western public. While Trump stated that the goal is not regime change, that remains a long-term objective among many hawks in Washington, but this is the most ham-fisted and short-sighted way of achieving that strategy, such that any “strategy” even exists in the Trump administration, which is very doubtful.
In other words, the drip drip drip of slowly building friendly relations with the Iranian people was the wiser way of pressuring Tehran over the long term, but because the U.S. has a president who only thinks very short term, he takes dramatic escalatory actions that will backfire by turning western-sympathetic Iranians back to being fiercely supportive of the Iranian regime. Trump’s compulsive, dangerous, and short-sighted use of lethal military force against an Iranian military leader means that decades of careful, steady soft power pressure work has instantly evaporated. And the U.S. is probably about to get into another war they are certain to lose.
When I shared these opinions with an associate who has a Ph.D. in Iranian Security and Politics and who is a former State Department Foreign Affairs Officer, he agreed that this was a good analysis. I commented to him that I was anxious about Iran’s retaliation. Initial thoughts were that Iran could go “you know what? F*ck the northeastern U.S.” as they issue the order to activate the shut-down malware they’ve planted into American power grids. My associate concurred that this was a possibility and advised printing off hard copies of bank statements and financial records while electric power still exists.
On a cultural note, this sudden dramatic escalation of security matters is rocking the world. In the U.S., law enforcement agencies are taking visible and behind-the-scenes actions to prepare for possible Iranian retaliatory activity. Civilians who came of age during the Iraq war of 2003 are coaching Gen Z about how to interpret media signals and messages to avoid being sold a message of war, honor, and patriotism that is unmerited by a foolish and short-sighted action by an unhinged U.S. commander-in-chief. And there is a general sense that what has been a long period of blissful detachment from the realities of geopolitics during a period of arguably extended peace and prosperity is coming to an end as Americans are being forcefully awoken by the imminent threat of a potentially global kinetic conflagration.
A good friend of mine who recently won his discharge from the U.S. Coast Guard stated that should conflict break out, he would rejoin to accompany his brothers. He said that civilians cannot understand the bonds of the military and that he would be anguished to stay home while his brothers went overseas. I empathized with his position but suggested he would honestly be more useful and make a bigger overall difference by helping to organize civil defense at home. I advised that he should contact local & state law enforcement, local city leaders, and look into working with the local Selective Service board (the U.S. government agency tasked with operating the draft, should America decide to institute one. Board members are volunteers who decide which draftees in their local area are accepted or not based on certain criteria).
I pointed out to my friend that wars only destroy, which he countered that if the bad guys get destroyed, isn’t that a good thing? This perspective is dangerous folly because “good” and “bad” represent a dualism that is uniquely American and very distracting from the objective analysis required for building sustainable peace. I told my friend that like most things in life, war and politics are far more complicated than mere good versus bad. “Bad guys” don’t get destroyed. Brothers and sons and fathers and families and homes and social fabrics and freedoms on all sides of conflict get destroyed.
The first thing you learn about in diplomacy school is the primacy of maintaining the status quo. The second thing you learn in diplomacy school is that when a status quo becomes unbearable for a party, the objective becomes working collaboratively to resolve the problem peacefully. Clearly Trump, the “master negotiator,” did not go to diplomacy school. Otherwise, he would have learned how to consider the second- third- and fourth-round effects of a decision as consequential as assassinating the top military leader of a hostile foreign power with very little legal, ethical, or military justification.
Things do not look good for the United States here, at the beginning of the 2020s. Roaring they will almost certainly be, but less the party of Gatsby and more the anguish of a billion souls crying out in terror from an end inflicted on them by the short temper of a game show host from Queens.
Good night, America, and good luck.
James Carli is a fundraiser and writer in the New York area. This article was written in his personal capacity and does not reflect the opinions or positions of any other person or organization.