The world was stunned on January 3 when the United States military launched a missile strike that killed notorious Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. Even bigger than the explosion in Baghdad, however, was the debate over the use of force against Iran, and whether the attack would provoke World War III.
In fact, Iran has been at war against the United States since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The country is the largest state-sponsor of terrorism in the world and is responsible for the deaths of many hundreds of Americans. President Trump’s decision to strike Soleimani was a much-needed response that will make war less likely, not more. It will instill fear in Iran’s rulers of American power and force them to think twice about attacking us or our allies. The alternative—do nothing and allow even more Americans to die from Iranian aggression—is a show of weakness that is tantamount to surrender.
Iran’s mullahs, accustomed to years of Western inaction in the face of Iranian terrorism, were shocked that an American president would take such a step against such a prominent Iranian target and promised to retaliate.
The reaction in the West, however, was mixed. For most on the political right, the strike ordered by President Trump was a cause for celebration. It is rare for any Western leader to take such a bold step, even against a notorious terrorist like Soleimani. In the face of aggression, most Western countries would much prefer to pay protection money (in the form of sanctions relief), issue yet another U.N. declaration, or simply turn a blind eye.
The left, motivated by its customary pacifism or by simple hatred for President Trump, was outraged. Rep. Ilan Omar, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, among many others, all condemned the strike in the strongest terms. At a town hall in Iowa, Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “The American people do not want endless war! We cannot allow Trump to drag us into war with Iran. We must prevent what would be an unmitigated disaster.”
Most of the media quickly attacked President Trump, and warned that such an action would lead to World War III. CNN anchor Erin Burnett even interviewed the Iranian ambassador to the UN, Mavid Ravanchi. She asked him such softball questions that the segment turned into a broadcast of Iranian government talking points. Colin Kaepernick, a darling of the race-baiting left, tweeted: “There is nothing new about American terrorist attacks against black and brown people for the expansion of American imperialism.”
Many on the right also shared such anti-war sentiments. Tucker Carlson, Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter and others all came out strongly against the President that they have generally supported. “All Republican presidents run on keeping us out of war, as Eisenhower, Nixon Reagan actually did. Then, they start wars. We thought Trump was different,” Coulter tweeted. Rush Limbaugh, long a supporter of the President, told him in an interview on his show: “People are being scared to death, their kids are being scared to death, out of their minds, that somehow this is going to start World War III.”
On his Fox News show, Tucker Carlson condemned “chest-beaters” who advocate for foreign interventions. “Is Iran really the greatest threat we face? And who’s actually benefiting from this? And why are we continuing to ignore the decline of our own country in favor of jumping into another quagmire from which there is no obvious exit?” he asked. “The risk of terror is also increased by bombing other people’s countries.”
According to this view, any military action against Iran, no matter how justified, is a step towards a full-fledged shooting war that we cannot win (which, they remind us, did not turn out so well in Afghanistan and Iraq). Therefore, the only sensible choice is to disengage entirely from the Middle East in general and from Iran in particular.
There is only one problem with this analysis: we are not in danger of going to war. Iran is already at war with us and has been since the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
First, some facts about Iran and Gen. Qasem Soleimani:
- Qasem Soleimani was the second most powerful man in Iran, after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself.
- Soleimani was the commander of the elite Quds Force, a 20,000-strong military organization responsible for terrorism, assassinations and other unconventional activities in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, India, Egypt and other countries across the Muslim world.
- Quds Force was the main supporter of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and was a partner of Al-Qaeda. It is accused of assassinating Lebanon’s Sunni Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, attempting to bomb the Saudi and U.S. embassies in Washington and other terrorist activities in countries such as Germany, the US, India and Argentina.
- Quds Force was one of the primary suppliers of weapons and especially Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) to Iraq’s Shiite militia, which have killed no fewer than 600 American soldiers in Iraq, according to the Pentagon.
- Soleimani sought to subvert the whole Middle East in accordance with the ideology of the Iranian Revolution. He stated that the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa “provide our (Iran’s) revolution with the greatest opportunities…Today, Iran’s victory or defeat no longer takes place in Mehran and Khorramshahr. Our boundaries have expanded, and we must witness victory in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. This is the fruit of the Islamic revolution.”
- Starting in October 2019, thousands of Iraqis have protested in the streets against corruption and Iranian influence in Iraq. Soleimani-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah Iraqi militias have killed hundreds of Iraqis and wounded thousands more.
- On December 27, Kata’ib Hezbollah attacked a U.S. airbase in Kirkuk province, killing a U.S. civilian contractor and injuring four U.S. soldiers. In response, on December 29 the U.S. bombed Kata’ib Hezbollah bases in Iraq and Syria, killing 25 militia and wounding 55.
- Soleimani retaliated by directing his militias to attack the U.S. embassy on December 31, smashing windows and setting fire to part of the compound. It was in this context that President Trump ordered the attack on Soleimani on January 3, after U.S. intelligence indicated an imminent attack against U.S. forces in Iraq.
Iran has waged an undeclared war on America and its allies ever since Ayatollah Khomeini took power in 1979. Hundreds of Americans have been killed in this war, from the 1983 bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans, to the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kuwait that same year, to the hundreds of American soldiers killed by Iranian-backed militias in Syria and Iraq.
Central to Iran’s goal of dominating the Middle East is the building of an atomic bomb. An Iranian nuclear weapon would certainly lead to an arms race in the region and make a major regional war far more likely. President Obama’s 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the “Iran Deal,” was instrumental in helping Iran achieve this goal. According to the deal signed by the U.S., U.K., France, Russia, Germany, China and Iran, Iran promised—without any verification mechanism—not to enrich uranium and build a bomb. In exchange, Iran received $100 billion in sanctions relief, much of which went straight towards its terrorist operations.
On May 8, 2018, President Trump decided to end the Western policy of appeasement and withdrew from the faulty Iran Deal, thereby reapplying heavy U.S. sanctions on the Iranian economy. Since then, Iran has suffered an economic meltdown. Its currency has lost half its value and oil exports have fallen from 2.5 million barrels per day to 250,000.
In spite of crushing sanctions, Iran refuses to curb its terrorist activities. In 2019, Iran attacked and captured oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, downed a U.S. drone, and partially destroyed a major Saudi oil refinery via drone attack. Each time the U.S. showed restraint and did not retaliate in kind.
Iran also suffers from massive internal unrest. Major protests against the regime erupted in 2009 and again in 2017. Discontent with the mullahs is widespread, and it is only by force that they remain in power.
Faced with economic meltdown and internal unrest, Iran is the last country that wants to enter an all-out shooting war with the most powerful military in the world. More than anything, Iran’s mullahs want to retain power, and all-out war is the one thing that would certainly lead to their downfall. Just ask Saddam Hussein.
Iran’s response to the Soleimani’s death was very revealing of the regime’s weakness. On January 8, Iran launched more than a dozen missiles at a U.S. base and civilian airports in Iraq. No one was killed or injured, and the bases suffered only minor damage. The head of the Revolutionary Guard’s Aerospace Force, Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, declared on Iranian state media that “we did not intend to kill…We intended to hit the enemy’s military machinery.” Such a weak response suggests a desire by the regime to save face in the eyes of its hardline supporters and to de-escalate to avoid serious repercussions. By killing Soleimani, the United States called Iran’s bluff.
Rather than an escalation, it would be more accurate to say that President Trump’s strike was an act of de-escalation. It was a prudent but firm show of force that sends a message in the only language that terrorists understand. This is not to say that Iran will never attack again in the future, but they will certainly think twice. The United States will no longer tolerate the murder of its citizens and attacks against its allies. As Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said, “The game has changed.”