Ever since Donald Trump was elected president on a non-military interventionist platform, skeptics have questioned his commitment to withdrawing troops from the Middle Eastern quagmire and stopping the endless wars he claims to despise. Now he has authorized the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the head of the powerful Iranian Quds Force, we can be in absolutely no doubt on whether he stands with the peaceniks or the neocons. Trump is a reckless warmonger, no different from every other president the US has had during the past two decades.
How ironic it now seems that he tweeted back in 2011: ‘In order to get elected, @BarackObama will start a war with Iran.’ Then again, perhaps not. In the midst of impeachment proceedings, Trump may shamelessly be working according to the same principle. Effectively, Trump’s official re-election campaign has just been announced. The American media may hate him, but they love nothing more than any president bombing countries in the Middle East.
Whatever Trump’s motive, this is a massive strategic gamble. For Soleimani was the second most powerful figure in Iran, answering only to the Ayatollah himself. For more than a decade he has been the architect of Iran’s regional military strategy. He helped Iraq and Syria defeat Isis. Among the Iranian masses, he was a hero like no other.
According to the Pentagon, Trump ‘directed’ the assassination of Soleimani — while playing golf! — to ‘deter future Iranian attacks’. This follows the breach of its Baghdad embassy earlier this week, after US air strikes that killed 25 fighters of the Iran-backed militia in Iraq, the Kataib Hezbollah. Washington blamed Iran for orchestrating the brief siege. However, the US strikes were themselves were in retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base, for which the Pentagon held Soleimani personally responsible.
Sooner or later this tit for tat was always going to get out of hand. Over the past 18 months, Tehran has shot down a US military surveillance drone, seized oil tankers and bombed others. Most spectacularly, in September Iran was blamed for a devastating strike on key US ally Saudi Arabia’s oil industry that temporarily halved its production.
Bombing Soleimani into a thousand pieces in revenge may at first glance appear to be a massively disproportionate response, not to mention illegal according to international law. But Trump obviously wanted to send an unambiguous message to the mullahs in Tehran: don’t fuck with the US military. After all, the only possible escalation after assassinating a country’s top military commander is all-out war.
The question now is how Iran will respond. Tehran will be under massive pressure from its allies Russia and China — the three countries just held joint naval drills in the Persian Gulf — not to do anything that risks a dramatic escalation. The last thing either country wants is potentially to be dragged into a direct conflict with the US. If Iran heeds their advice, Trump will be vindicated. The red lines will have been clearly drawn. If Iran does not, there is every possibly that he will go down in history as the president who started World War III.