Trump’s Strike Against Iranian General Has Proven Ineffective

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 You’ve doubtlessly heard that on Jan. 3, President Trump ordered an execution strike, killing Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, along with Iranian politician and commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and several others at the Baghdad airport. In the following days, many speculated: Are we headed towards another undesirable Middle East conflict? Is this the beginning of a dangerous and illegal shadow war between Iran and the U.S., rife with rebounding political assassinations? Have years of growing tensions between the two countries now triggered an irreversible wave of violence that will kill and maim countless Iraqi and Iranian civilians?

Thankfully, for the time being, the answer appears to be “no.” When Iran returned fire several days later, striking two American bases in Iraq and killing zero Americans, it became clear that the Iranian government had deemed it unwise to escalate the situation further. Instead, it opted for a muted strike, allowing the Iranian government to save face before its own people, but doing no real damage to the U.S. or its assets. On the night of its retaliatory strike against the U.S., the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps also shot down a Ukrainian airliner that was leaving the airport in Tehran for Kiev, killing all 176 civilians on board in a horrific and widely condemned miscalculation.

Trump wasted no time boasting about his success in killing Qasem Soleimani, and in the eyes of his supporters, he seemed to have much to brag about. Soleimani — long since deemed a terrorist by the U.S. and responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of others throughout the region — was finally dead, leaving Iran with one less national hero. Trump boasted on national TV, “The American people should be extremely grateful and happy. Our great American forces are prepared for anything.”

However, as Congress has fiercely debated the consequences of the strike, resulting in a Senate vote this past Thursday limiting Trump’s powers to wage war on Iran – a vote which the president has promised to veto – it is important to note that Trump has by no means achieved any realistic, lasting change in the U.S.’s fraught and violent relationship with Iran. Rather, his aggressive behavior has only increased the militaristic and extremist tendencies of both countries, putting Americans, Iranians, and others throughout the Middle East at great risk.

For one, the strike’s brazen disregard for international law was reckless and dangerous. In justifying the strike, Trump leaned on an argument popularized during the Bush administration years which maintained that striking another sovereign nation is legal in order to deter an imminent attack against America or Americans. Yet in the weeks following the strike, the Trump administration’s justifications fluctuated and changed, growing weaker and more potholed. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argued on Twitter that the strike was “in response to imminent threats to American lives,” but later, other U.S. officials disputed the timeline and the imminence of the threat, and even Pompeo admitted that there was no clear knowledge as to when or where this supposed ‘threat to American lives’ would take place.

Trump is obviously no friend to international law, but this particular strike sets an extremely dangerous precedent. The White House appears to have argued implicitly that assassinating America’s enemies is justifiable regardless of whether those individuals pose a proven and active threat. Americans must now imagine a future in which the U.S. might strike anyone, even on the territory of allied governments, based on opaque and unsubstantiated threats.

Beyond this clear dereliction of international law, we must also question whether Trump’s extralegal activity has achieved any positive impact on the ground. However, it seems obvious that Qassem Soleimani’s assassination has only resulted in a deeper entrenchment of the political conditions that existed in the weeks and months before the strike. For example, the Iran nuclear agreement, pioneered by the Obama administration to decrease tensions in the Middle East, has now been damaged further as Iran has reneged on its commitment under the deal to cap its enrichment of uranium. Likewise, multilateral attempts to build confidence through diplomacy have been so thoroughly damaged by the recent military strikes that the Iranian regime is unlikely to trust the U.S. again in the future.

So, really, what has been achieved? Have any of the underlying causes of distrust between the U.S. and Iran been dealt with? Certainly not. Instead, we have accomplished little beyond shattering all potential avenues of peaceful and trustful diplomacy, with nothing to say for it beyond the death of a single general who has already been replaced by another.

As Trump moves into his reelection campaign, we must investigate the dangerous precedents of his presidency as it relates to Iran. The Ukraine scandal — in which Trump withheld millions in military aid to Ukraine in order to prompt investigations into his political rivals — demonstrates clearly that Trump is fully willing to risk the U.S.’s national security if it helps him get reelected. There seems to be little hope that Trump will rein in this kind of reckless and deceitful behavior, particularly as the U.S. election cycle heats up. U.S. citizens are thus left to wonder: Is it still possible to shift away from the current trajectory of U.S.-Iran relations, which can only lead to rising violence and tension? We can only hope that this time, the answer will finally be “yes.”