January 6, 2020 – No American should shed any tears for Qasem Soleimani, but the question isn’t whether he deserved to be targeted. The real question is whether eliminating him leaves America safer in the aftermath and whether the Trump administration considered the serious consequences of such an operation.
- Even though the stakes could not be higher, Trump lacks anything close to a strategy to protect American personnel and interests and mitigate against further escalation. Only this morning, for example, did the U.S. Embassy in Iraq instruct all Americans to leave the country immediately.
- Despite the Trump administration’s claim that targeting Soleimani was necessary to deter future attacks, the available evidence suggests Americans are now less safe, while the risk of conflict is all the more real with America more isolated than ever before.
After all, it was Trump’s own recklessness and feckless strategy that needlessly brought us to this point. The administration targeted Soleimani in the context of a series of tit-for-tat escalations in the wake of Trump’s decision to abandon the Iran deal, which he took against the advice of much of his national security team and despite analysis from our Intelligence Community that it was working to constrain Iran’s behavior.
- The ensuing “maximum pressure” strategy was designed tosubdue Iran and its proxies into submission; instead, it emboldened them, placing us on a needless collision course with Tehran.
- After Trump abandoned the Iran deal and escalated against Tehran, we have seen a predictable — and predicted — response, including violence against our Embassy, attacks on shipping in the Gulf, on Saudi energy infrastructure, and a series of attacks by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq that left an American dead. This was a scenario and an operational choice that Trump’s predecessor never had to confront — because there were no similar attacks while the Iran nuclear deal was in force.
We don’t yet know what, if any, considerations the Trump administration took into account before pursuing this option, but the potential repercussions are profound. After all, Soleimani’s network, the Quds Force, has demonstrated a capability to retaliate that is global in reach, including in locations with a sizable American diplomatic and military presence — from Iraq and Turkey to Afghanistan and even the Western Hemisphere.
- What’s more, the decision is likely to weaken, if not put in jeopardy, our partnership with Iraq, which is critical to our ability to continue to pressure ISIS throughout the region, making ISIS’ resurgence all the more likely.
Nothing in the Trump administration’s foreign policy track record or Trump’s chaotic approach suggests the administration had the capacity to undertake the rigorous analysis a decision like this requires or to walk us back from a wider, disastrous conflict. After all, Trump has hollowed out his National Security Council staff, pushed out key experts from across key Departments and Agencies, elevated those who have advocated for a reckless approach to Iran, and allowed other pivotal posts to remain unfilled.
- Trump’s aborted decision to strike Iran in mid-2019 offers a troubling case in point. The President pulled back U.S. warplanes in mid-air, claiming that he only belatedly learned that the operation he had ordered would result in significant Iranian casualties.
What’s required now is a full accounting from the administration regarding its calculations and the steps it has taken to protect Americans around the world. Congress, too, must fulfill its oversight function, asking the tough questions in public and in private regarding whether and, if so, how an operation such as this could possibly make Americans safer as well as what exactly administration’s strategy is moving forward.
- That’s the key question: whether America and Americans around the world are safer today. And the Trump administration has offered nothing to suggest that’s the case and plenty that suggests otherwise.
We are Americans—former senior officials and policy experts, academics and civil society leaders—who have seen first-hand how the United States is stronger, safer and more respected in the world when we stand strong with our allies, pursue principled diplomacy, and stay true to the values that have long defined America at home and abroad. www.nationalsecurityaction.org