But what about the Iranian people? Don’t they matter?
The reaction to the killing on social media within Iran varies widely. Some are applauding Soleimani’s death because they considered him a pillar of the regime. Those close to the government are mourning him for the same reasons.
Yet there is one thing all Iranians can agree on: No one wants a war. Many in the country still have vivid memories of their nightmarish eight-year conflict with Iraq. Those who didn’t experience it directly know about it from relatives who did. Every family was affected.
The Trump administration now has a chance to show Iranians that the United States has learned from the many mistakes the Bush administration made when it invaded Iraq in 2003.
Washington should start by proving that it has a plan for bettering the lives of Iranians. Its policies over the past three years have offered little evidence that it has thought about this. If anything, its policies have made life inside Iran worse.
I still don’t see major conflict as a foregone conclusion. But that will depend on how Tehran responds in the days and weeks ahead. The current leadership will almost certainly take some vengeful and emotional actions that are almost guaranteed to prompt U.S. countermeasures. Almost any U.S. response is likely to have painful consequences for rank-and-file Iranians.
Crushing economic sanctions and assassinations cause deep wounds to any regime, but they aren’t death blows. Nor are they catalysts for democracy.
Again and again, Trump’s Iran policy advisers have claimed they seek a diplomatic settlement with Iran’s leaders even while provoking them. Is the administration ready to shift course?
Either way, the focus must turn to actually empowering the Iranian people.
That doesn’t mean that we should have any illusions about the nature of the Tehran regime. We know, from 40 years of experience, that we must expect the unexpected. History shows that the regime has little regard for international laws and norms — and especially when it feels cornered.
Remember, the assassination of Soleimani was in part a response to the Kirkuk attack and the breach of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad by Shia militias sponsored by the Iranian regime, and probably led by Soleimani and his Quds Force. The killing of Soleimani will almost certainly provoke the Iranians into upping the ante.
Tehran will likely ratchet up the tension with an attempt at a focused act of aggression that it considers to have a high probability of success.
My guess is that the response will be an audacious one, perhaps against high-level U.S. personnel. The sort of attack that no U.S. presidency could let stand without a massive reaction.
I also worry that Iranian agents might be mobilized in the United States. Many of us who follow developments with Iran closely have long suspected that the regime has plants on American soil.
This is also a moment of truth for Iranians in the United States.
Ours is a community that has become civically engaged in recent years, but can’t seem to learn how to be civil with each other.
Iranian Americans who vocally support President Trump’s strategy will feel emboldened. Many of them want regime change — and the sooner, the better.
There is a small group among them that currently has the ear of the administration. It’s time they start publicly offering up their prescriptions for ensuring that a post-Islamic Republic Iran does not turn into a repeat of the post-invasion disaster in Iraq. If they have them.
So far they have presented few details on this score. I believe they are woefully misguided and completely unequipped to advise the U.S. government on how to handle its Iran policy now and in the future.
This would be an excellent time to start proving me — and everyone else who considers them charlatans — wrong.
These Iranian Trump backers hail Soleimaini’s assassination as a favor to ordinary Iranians. But how? How does his killing improve the lives of ordinary people?
The Soleimani killing is a watershed. This could be the most consequential moment in 40 years of animosity between the two countries. But this is not the beginning of the endgame. If anything, this is a time to take stock.
The regime is not about to crumble — certainly not over the death of a single commander. Soleimani was the face of Iranian international aggression, lionized by state propagandists for his adventures abroad.
But there are others who, by invoking his legacy and their connection to him, will fill the void. A political figure is useful until he is not. But in Iran, death — “martyrdom” in its revolutionary lexicon — can become one’s most essential political attribute.
Soleimani’s death is certainly a setback for the leadership in Tehran, but it’s a temporary one. It doesn’t solve any of the problems facing the region and will likely only exacerbate them.