Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
The U.S. and Iran have been on a collusion course for the past 15 years and while Soleiman’s demise was a forgone conclusion, the place where it occurred has created tensions that will continue for the forseeable future.
The strike should be the opening salvo in a concerted strategy to bring about regime collapse in Tehran. Even if the U.S. avoids that worst-case scenario, however, killing Soleimani was still ill-advised for a number of reasons.
It shifted the spotlight in Iran and Iraq from widespread popular protests against the governments of both countries to hostility and resentment over the U.S. military presence in Iraq and the region. It significantly and perhaps fatally damaged America’s relationship with Iraq, which has been the object of a fierce rivalry for influence between the U.S. and Iran. It disrupted the ongoing efforts to fully eradicate the Islamic State in Iraq. It once again blindsided America’s European allies, who already see the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and re imposition of sanctions as the catalyst for this round of U.S.-Iran tensions. And to the extent that it is still possible, it further cemented Trump’s reputation for taking ill-considered, uninformed and unpredictable actions, often driven by little more than personal pique.
In exacting further retribution, Iran’s challenge will be to craft a response that befits the severity of its loss and the fury of the ruling clerics, without provoking America, and its mercurial president, into a spasm of such violence that it endangers the survival of a regime beset by economic sanctions and anti-government protests at home. And beneath that calculation lies a game of nuclear brinkmanship that has underpinned the crisis for years.
All of that will weaken Washington’s hand in its standoff with Iran, which is now likely to endure even if Trump loses his reelection bid in November. The reasons why are in part structural, beginning with the two countries’ long history of conflicting interests in the Middle East. Those differences were tamped down during the negotiations over the deal curbing Iran’s nuclear program and tacitly suspended in Iraq after the emergence of the Islamic State in 2014. But despite some hope for a thaw in relations after the signing of the nuclear agreement, Trump’s election and withdrawal from that accord ensured that the brief détente would not survive the battlefield defeat of the Islamic State.
Make no mistake, the Iranian people have been held hostage to this culturally perverse, socially ruthless and ideologically rogue regime for 40-plus years. The dynamics of escalation are by nature unpredictable. But for both sides, managing the fallout from the Soleimani killing without resorting to open war is the more attractive option.