Iran stands down after Soleimani killing
America and Iran appeared to back away from the brink of war this week after the U.S. killed the nation’s top military leader in a drone strike and Iran responded by harmlessly firing 22 missiles at two Iraqi bases housing American troops. Following the exchange of military actions, in which no Americans were killed or wounded, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said his nation had “concluded proportionate measures” in response to the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3. President Trump said in a televised White House speech that “the United States is ready to embrace peace,” but announced new sanctions on Iran and warned its leaders against further hostilities or attempting to build a nuclear bomb. Despite the apparent de-escalation, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, said that the missile attacks were “not sufficient” revenge for Soleimani’s death. Iran vowed to drive the U.S. out of Iraq, announced its withdrawal from the nuclear weapons deal it signed with six nations in 2015, and said it would resume enriching uranium without any limits.
The crisis began when a pro-Iranian militia fired about 30 rockets at a joint U.S.-Iraqi base on Dec. 27, wounding three U.S. soldiers and killing an American interpreter. Two days later, Trump ordered airstrikes on five sites controlled by the Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah, killing 24 people and wounding dozens more. That led to thousands of Shiite militia supporters storming the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, where they hurled Molotov cocktails and breached the compound’s reception areas before withdrawing.
After the embassy attack, Pentagon officials presented Trump with a menu of options and were “stunned” when he chose the most severe one—killing Soleimani, White House sources told The New York Times. Sources also told the newspaper that Trump feared the storming of the Baghdad embassy—which critics called “Trump’s Benghazi”—had made him look weak. Administration officials said Soleimani was preemptively killed to prevent “imminent attacks” on Americans, but congressional Democrats who attended an intelligence briefing said the evidence of a plot was “vague” and unconvincing.
What the editorials said
Soleimani’s death “is a great moment for the United States,” said the Washington Examiner. As commander of Iran’s Quds Force, he’d “done more to destabilize the Middle East than perhaps any single figure,” plotting terror attacks and training Islamic militants around the region. During the Iraq War, his fiendish roadside bomb campaign killed and maimed hundreds of U.S. soldiers. Trump’s “bold move” puts the mullahs on notice that they will pay an “outsize price” every time they take action against U.S. interests and citizens.No one disputes Soleimani’s “blood-drenched legacy,” said the Los Angeles Times. The question is whether America is safer and more secure now that he’s dead. The price for his killing is already steep: Iran has resumed its nuclear program; the Iraqi parliament called for U.S. troops to leave the nation; and the Trump administration undermined its credibility in Baghdad by sending a Pentagon draft memo to the Iraqis that said we were, in fact, withdrawing all our troops. In addition, the U.S. and NATO have suspended operations against ISIS in order to protect troops from possible attacks by Shiite militias and Iran. Clearly, “Trump is winging it with Iran” without having strategically thought out the consequences.
What the columnists said
If Iran really does stand down, it will be “a major victory for President Trump,” said Philip Klein in WashingtonExaminer.com. By all accounts, Soleimani was “irreplaceable to Iran” as the architect of its efforts to extend Iranian influence throughout the region. By boldly eliminating him, Trump also demonstrated that America will not abide additional Iranian provocations. “The cost-benefit analysis is not even close.”
Actually, “the Iran crisis isn’t even close to over,” said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. Instead of taking “steps to de-escalate the broader conflict” when Iran chose the off ramp from war, Trump promised more sanctions and issued new threats to attack Iran. “All concessions will have to come from Tehran.” That won’t happen, so further conflict is likely. It was Trump’s “failed policy toward Iran” that created this mess, said Wendy Sherman in USAToday.com. By taking the U.S. out of the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration, Trump empowered “Iran’s most extreme hard-liners,” who have executed a string of provocations that include mining ships in the Persian Gulf, downing an American drone, and attacking a Saudi oil facility. Was the nuclear deal perfect? No. But Iran was abiding by its terms, and incremental progress always trumps chaos, which is what we have now.
Nonetheless, Trump and his giddy allies are using Soleimani’s death as “a tool to batter his Democratic rivals,” said Nancy Cook in Politico.com. Right after the drone strike, Democrats were united in accusing Trump of “acting rashly.” But in a “theme echoed across conservative circles and airwaves,” former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said “the only ones mourning the loss of Soleimani” are Democrats. With Soleimani dead and Iran apparently backing down without killing any Americans, Trump can “pump himself up as a tough guy.”
“The worst of the Iran crisis might be over,” said Daniel Drezner in The Washington Post. Iran’s leaders could have chosen a far bloodier means of reprisal but instead attacked military bases and even warned Iraq—which then warned the U.S.—that the missiles were coming. Trump has “powerful reasons” to stand down, as well. The American public has little desire for war with Iran, and a major military conflict in the Middle East “will not help him get re-elected.” Still, the worst of Iran’s revenge might still be in the offing, said Jim Geraghty in NationalReview.com. Iran “has a history of responding to attacks with terrorism through proxies.” Iran’s “symbolic” missile retaliation may have been designed to save face, “while Tehran plots a more dangerous operation for some time down the road.”
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from Getty, Impossible Foods, AP ■