Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani was assassinated by a US drone strike, the Pentagon announced in a statement late Thursday night, US time. The attack came as Suleimani’s convoy left Baghdad International Airport and was carried out under the direct authorization of US President Donald Trump, The New York Times reported.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif immediately responded, tweeting “The US’ act of international terrorism, targeting & assassinating General Soleimani—THE most effective force fighting Daesh (ISIS), Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al—is extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation. The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.”
As Zarif stated, the possible repercussions of the action cannot be understated. There is no comparable figure in the US to draw a perfect analogy, but it could be best equated a hypothetical scenario whereby Iran’s government military – not a proxy militia or associated terrorist group – would target and kill US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Even then, the comparison is difficult to adequately paint because Suleimani was a war hero and a popular figure of revere in Iran.
A Legendary Career Ended
Suleimani attained legendary status at home during a 40-year military career beginning with the Iran-Iraq War in 1980. He had joined the Revolutionary war Guard (IRGC) only a year prior to assuming command of a military company in the war and quickly rose to fame due to his bravery and military genius. Before the age of 30, he was commander of the 41st Sarallah Division and never shied away from the thickest battles and pivotal operations.
In the late ‘90s, he took command of the IRGC’s Quds Force and for a brief stint following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was viewed as a US ally. US diplomats coordinated with him directly in the war on the Taliban in Afghanistan. The American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, once said of Suleimani, “For Qassim Suleimani, the Iran-Iraq war never really ended.”
This was evident in Suleimani’s continued physical presence in Iraq. A 2008 cable revealed he was part of a delegation that negotiated a cease-fire a Baghdadi neighborhood. Furthermore, a leaked 2009 report placed him in Baghdad at a meeting with two senior US officials and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, an acquaintance of Suleimani. He never missed an opportunity to pull the strings behind the scenes for keeping Iraq weak, if he could not do so on the battlefield.
Relations with the US soured, however, and in 2011, he was promoted to Major General by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and also placed on a US sanctions list for allegedly conspiring to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US. Suleimani reportedly had close relations with Khamenei and many speculated he could eventually assume the leadership mantle for his nation.
A Reckless Move that Could Lead to War
The attack that killed Suleimani came 12 hours after US Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned of possible Iranian-backed attacks on Americans.
“There are some indications out there that they may be planning additional attacks, that is nothing new … we’ve seen this for two or three months now,” Esper said in a Thursday morning statement. In what could be perceived as a preemptive defense for the drone strike, Esper defended the use of proactive American military action.
Within the US Congress, immediate partisan reactions revealed a general consensus that Suleimani was a threat to America, but Republican and Democratic congresspeople were divided on the manner in which it was carried out.
“His death presents an opportunity for Iraq to determine its own future free from Iranian control,” said Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “As I have previously warned the Iranian government, they should not mistake our reasonable restraint in response to their previous attacks as weakness.”
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats raised concerns with both the possible repercussions of the drone strike and the usage of military powers by Trump.
“Such a reckless escalation of hostilities is likely a violation of Congress’s war-making authority — as well as our basing agreement with Iraq — putting U.S. forces and citizens in danger,” said Democratic Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, “and very possibly sinking us into another disastrous war in the Middle East that the American people are not asking for and do not support.”
Ironic Trump Tweets Come Back to Haunt Him
Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to curtail Trump’s military powers, fearing he may invoke another Middle Eastern war. Some have even speculated he may be courting it in order to rally voters before the 2020 presidential election. No American leader has lost election during wartime. In recent times, the Gulf War concluded before former President George Bush lost his election campaign and his son, George W. Bush, successfully won the office again in 2004 during the Iraq War.
From November 2011 to November 2012, Trump criticized former President Barack Obama for trying to employ that very strategy, which Obama did not do. Minnesota based newspaper MinnPost chronicled Trump’s tweets:
- Nov. 29, 2011: “In order to get elected, Barack Obama will start a war with Iran. Watch for him to launch a strike’
- Oct. 6, 2012: “Now that Obama’s numbers are in a tailspin [obviously wishful Trumpian thinking] watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.”
- Oct. 22, 2012: “Don’t let Obama play the Iran card in order to start a war in order to get elected – be careful Republicans!”
- Nov. 12, 2012: “Remember that I predicted a long time ago that President Obama will attack Iran because of his inability to negotiate properly – not skilled!”
The irony of the situation may be humorous if the stakes were not so high. The fact of the matter is the US president authorized an assassination of an esteemed Iranian military general in what Iran will likely deem an act of war. Gas prices have already rocketed upward and Iran has vowed to retaliate. And in regards to the Nov. 12 tweet, it seems Obama was actually the president who could negotiate a deal with Iran and Trump was the leader who resorted to a drone strike.