January 6, 2020

Soleimani Killed

The United States killed Iran’s top general and the architect of Tehran’s proxy wars in the Middle East in an airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport early on Friday… The Defense Department said it killed Soleimani because he ‘was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.’ It also accused Soleimani of approving the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad earlier [last] week.” AP News

President Trump tweeted on Saturday evening, “Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.” Twitter

“Iran announced on Sunday it would abandon limitations on enriching uranium, taking a further step back from commitments to a 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers, but it would continue to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog.” Reuters

Also on Sunday, Iraq’s Parliament “approved a resolution asking the Iraqi government to end the agreement under which Washington sent troops more than four years ago to help fight ISIS. The bill is nonbinding and subject to approval by the Iraqi government but has the backing of the outgoing prime minister.” AP News

See past issues

From the Left

The left criticizes the strike, arguing that it will result in retaliation and risks escalating into war.

Let’s remember how we got here. The United States and Iran have been at odds for decades. America’s disastrous invasion of Iraq set off a new, deadly round of tensions when Iran organized attacks on American troops in Iraq, attacks often coordinated by Suleimani. But in 2015, the United States and Iran signed an agreement that successfully stopped Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons. Despite the threatening activity of Iranian proxies in places such as Yemen and Lebanon, the US and Iran both fought against the Islamic State…

“Then Trump took office, ramped up the pressure, and, in 2018, withdrew from the nuclear deal. Since then, tensions between the two countries have increased and multiple moments in 2019 alone brought the two countries to the brink of conflict. The Trump administration has brought us to the precipice we are at today, and that is why this assassination was so dangerous.”
Michael H Fuchs, The Guardian

Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice writes, “Mr. Trump’s ‘maximum pressure campaign’ to impose ever more debilitating economic sanctions did not force Iran to capitulate; instead, predictably, it induced Tehran to lash out with a series of increasingly bold military provocations against Sunni Arab and Western targets while restarting important aspects of its nuclear program. Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, notably in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, have only intensified. At the same time, it has conducted a brutal crackdown on its civilian population…

“To assess the fallout of killing General Suleimani, we must understand that the Iranian regime cannot survive internal dissent or sustain its powerful position in the region if it backs down from this provocation. For Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a strong response is essential. For the United States, the question is: What form will it take and how quickly will it come?”
Susan E. Rice, New York Times

“Soleimani’s death has been compared to that of terrorist leaders such as Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Soleimani was as evil as those men — he has the blood of hundreds of Americans and thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of Arabs on his hands — but the comparison is misleading. Soleimani was not the leader of a stateless terrorist organization. He was one of the most powerful figures in the Iranian government. His death makes him the highest-ranking foreign military commander assassinated by the United States since the shoot-down in 1943 of an airplane carrying Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack. This is a major, unexpected development whose full import no one can predict.”
Max Boot, Washington Post

“The main question about the strike isn’t moral or even legal—it’s strategic. Soleimani was a supremely powerful leader of a state apparatus, with his own cult of personality, but he was not a terror kingpin. His death doesn’t decapitate anything. He had the blood of tens of thousands of people—overwhelmingly fellow Muslims—on his hands, but he was only the agent of a government policy that preceded him and will continue without him… The only reason to kill Soleimani is to enter a new war that the United States can win… [Yet] No one seems to have thought past the action itself…

“What would [a] war [with Iran] look like? How will Iran fight it? How will the U.S. respond? What credible allies will we have, after Trump’s trashing of the nuclear deal thoroughly alienated Europe? Who will believe any intelligence about Iran’s actions and intentions from an administration that can’t function without telling lies?… What is our war aim, and how can it be aligned with Trump’s obvious desire to be rid of any entanglement in the region? What will happen if Jerusalem becomes a target and Israel enters the conflict? What will the American people accept by way of sacrifice, when nothing has prepared them for this? There’s no sign that anyone in power, least of all the president, has even asked these questions, let alone knows how to answer them.”
George Packer, The Atlantic

“By declaring that the United States will respond with airstrikes to any attacks on American targets or assets, Mr. Trump is drawing a bright red line that Iran cannot cross. And yet, Iran relies on a network of proxy actors from Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Must they all respect Mr. Trump’s red line? There are plenty of hotheads in those proxy forces that will be incensed by the assassination, the same way young men with weapons and minimal discipline often are… Mr. Trump can’t keep an entire region from crossing his red line, making violent conflict all the more likely if the president holds to it…

“It is crucial that influential Republican senators like Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Mitch McConnell remind Mr. Trump of his promise to keep America out of foreign quagmires and keep Mr. Trump from stumbling further into war with Iran.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

Destroying cultural heritage sites is a war crime… [but] Trump’s threatened actions would be morally reprehensible even outside the law, because they would destroy centuries-old places of profound importance not just to Iranians, but to all of human civilization… A nation that willfully destroys another country’s heritage would be no better than the criminals who have destroyed irreplaceable sites in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in recent years… If [Trump] follows through on his threat, he will violate international law and the United States will risk further damage to its increasingly fragile global reputation.”
Sarah Bronin, Los Angeles Times

From the Right

The right supports the strike, arguing that it was necessary to push back against Iranian aggression.

The right supports the strike, arguing that it was necessary to push back against Iranian aggression.

“One of the world’s top terror masterminds is dead, and that’s an unalloyed good — no ifs, ands or buts about it… Soleimani’s forces killed at least 608 US troops in Iraq from 2003 to 2011, the Pentagon reported last year — and that doesn’t include those killed then and since by the many proxies under his control. He had nearly that many Iraqis killed in the final months of 2019, ordering a brutal crackdown on protests against a corrupt, Tehran-dominated government. He helped kill far more at home, with over 1,000 peaceful protesters slaughtered in what Iranians call Bloody November…

“Yes, Iran’s rulers may sponsor some atrocity in the name of revenge for Soleimani — but only by using terror networks he was crucial to building, networks it has always intended to use at a time of its choosing. And that’s the only ‘but’ that matters here.”
Editorial Board, New York Post

“Mr. Trump’s critics immediately accused him of needlessly provoking Iran, arguing that Mr. Suleimani’s assassination could lead to war. This is an analysis that ignores the fact that Mr. Suleimani has been waging war on America and its allies for years and was directly engaged in the planning of attacks…

“The decision to kill Mr. Suleimani represents the final demise of Mr. Obama’s Middle East strategy, which sought to realign American interests with those of Iran. Mr. Obama’s search for a modus vivendi with Tehran never comported with the reality of the Islamic Republic’s fundamental character and regional ambitions. President Trump, by contrast, realized that Tehran’s goal was to replace America as the key player in the Middle East. The United States has no choice, if it seeks to stay in the Middle East, but to check Iran’s military power on the ground.”
Michael Doran, New York Times

“There are obviously numerous ways Iran could retaliate against American forces and assets in the Middle East. But the very reason Iran has the capability to inflict such damage is precisely because of the policies of appeasement America has undertaken for decades. In other words, just as there are potentially major costs to action, there have too been major costs to inaction… President Trump has demonstrated not an interest in war, but in ensuring peace through strength

“Not just Iran but every adversary that threatens American servicemen or civilians will have to think more than twice after a player as crucial as Soleimani was taken off the board. The message the United States sent is unequivocal: If threatened, we can and will take out anyone who poses a threat to our national interest at a time, place, and in a manner of our choosing. You can bet Kim Jong-Un has taken notice. You can also bet that he and other anti-American leaders are now internalizing that the Trump administration does not have infinite patience or tolerance for provocations.”
Ben Weingarten, The Federalist

Former Senator Jim Talent (R-MO) writes, “Economic power is clearly Donald Trump’s preferred tool of national influence, and his administration is good at using it… The [Iranian] regime tried to get the Europeans to break American sanctions, but that largely failed… Then Tehran began shifting the conflict into the kinetic sphere… The regime threatened to close the Persian Gulf; in response, the United States stepped up its regional presence. The regime used proxies and other assets to attack oil tankers and a Saudi oil installation. That failed as well; the effect on the world market was negligible, and the administration responded by ratcheting up sanctions even more…

“[Then] Iranian proxies launched at least ten rocket attacks on American-Iraqi bases, killing an American contractor and wounding four American service personnel. The United States retaliated by striking through the air against a pro-Iran militia, killing at least 25 militia personnel… [Soleimani’s response] was to direct his militia proxies to attack the American embassy in Baghdad. It was the last outrage for which he will ever be responsible…

“The Iranians are no doubt considering whether and how to inflict additional costs on the United States, though henceforth they will have to make their plans without the aid of Qasem Soleimani. But they were in the process of escalating anyway. This is a case where not responding would have been riskier, and more likely to lead to additional and more serious attacks over time.”
Jim Talent, National Review

“Mr. Trump is accused of violating the executive order against assassinations. But that long-time ban has never applied to terrorists, which Soleimani clearly was. He ran Iran’s Quds Force, which the Bush Administration designated as a terror group in 2007. He was also a general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which Mr. Trump designated as a terror group last year. If Mr. Trump’s drone strike was illegal, then so were Barack Obama’s raid on Osama bin Laden and his hundreds of drone strikes over eight years as President.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“For all the focus on the threat of blowback toward the U.S., it’s important to recognize that Iran has a lot more to risk from a major escalation. Sanctions have squeezed Iran’s economy and the regime is encountering regular street protests. Whatever the costs of escalation may be for the U.S., for Iran, all-out conflict would pose an existential threat to the regime. Leaders will want to take vengeance, but Trump just showed that the U.S. has the intelligence assets, military capability, and will to neutralize one of the most important figures in Iran. How far are they willing to go to test Trump?”
Philip Klein, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“While it is tempting to view the domestic political reactions to Suleimani's assassination as a typical partisan game, something more important is also happening here. The executive branch has had free reign—under presidents from both major parties—to engage in a destructive, ill-concieved ‘War on Terror’ that has destabilized the Middle East and caused massive human suffering. Since 9/11, more than 500,000 people have been killed in conflicts across the Middle East and Central Asia… we may see yet more erosion of Congress' ability to control when the country goes to war. Any politician using Thursday's attack merely to score political points should not be taken seriously.”
Eric Boehm, Reason

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