The war hawks are in flight and they are circling the White House. The attack and assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the number two leader of the Iranian government, has unleashed an avalanche of consequences and potential consequences.
First and foremost, the killing of a popular leader of Iran has reversed the trajectory of support for the Iranian government. Prior to the attack there were increasing demonstrations against that government; afterword there have been massive demonstrations in support of that government.
This act has strengthened the Iranian government, not harmed it.
There is no sorrow over Soleimani’s death in a great deal of the non-Middle Eastern world, to be sure. But one of the consequences of the killing is an expected violent reaction from either Iran directly or one or more of its client organizations throughout the region.
Soleimani was the leading architect of the actions of the semi-independent military force that he headed, which carried out military actions, often with allied dissident groups, aimed at Western interests in the region. He no doubt was a dangerous adversary of the U.S.
He has been watched for years by the U.S. as well as by Israel and other nations. He traveled openly in the region and was thus an easy target. But no U.S. administration, nor any other Western nation, nor a constantly threatened Israel, pulled the trigger judging that his killing would not be worth the reactions from armed groups allied with Iran and from Iran itself.
The question remains, why did the Trump administration feel they could go against this strategic determination at this point in time? Partially, Trump has been surrounded by people, led by Secretary of State Pompeo, who have long advocated dramatic actions against Iran. Pompey has, in effect, preempted the Secretary of Defense in the administration on this issue.
President Trump has criticized the Iranian government from the beginning of his bid for the presidency. He blames Obama for appeasing the country because he was able to get a nuclear freeze agreement from that government. Even after Trump withdrew from that agreement, Western nations maintained it and as a result Iran has kept its nuclear program on ice: verified by U.N. inspectors.
So, one of the dangerous consequences of the attack is the resumption of the Iranian search for nuclear weapons, putting Israel, other Middle Eastern states, and American interests in future danger.
Trump did not take any of this into consideration when he ordered the strike against Solemani. Note that Solemani’s army remains intact and certainly has no problem finding the next in command.
Was this strike legal under international law? Probably not. Is it illegal to target cultural strikes in Iran as Trump has threatened? Definitely not.
The major result of the attack has been to isolate, not Iran, but the United States. European nations have been conspicuous by their virtual public silence on the attack. Middle Eastern allies have also remained mute. America’s allies no longer trust the United States since Trump, after all, has denigrated them throughout his administration.
You can’t make America great again by isolating it from the world and by denigrating each and every major nation in the world, allies and competitors alike.
President Trump, once again, demonstrates that he needs a “mother figure” advisor close to him. That figure could tell him what every mother tells their children: “think before you act.” Not to mention “nobody likes a bully.”
Richard Fulton is an emeritus professor of political science.