On the 3rd of January 2020, the US carried out a drone strike in Baghdad, Iraq. The strike was ordered by President Donald Trump and killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, dubbed by the media as Iran’s second in command. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini has since promised ‘harsh retaliation’, creating the worrying possibility of impending war between the U.S. and Iran.
The attack has been justified by the Trump government as retaliation for recent violence in Iraq, a nation which has been backed by Iran and has attacked various American targets, including the American Embassy in Baghdad. Further explanations consider Soleimani’s role in supporting various militias and terrorist groups in the Middle East, which according to the New York Times ultimately led to the death of hundreds of American soldiers. However, various critics have deplored the decision. Strategically, the attack seems more likely to inflame Iranian anger against the U.S., as highlighted by the Ayatollah’s comments. In addition, some Democrats have expressed skepticism about Trump’s motivations for the attack, pointing out how the possibility of war distracts from talk of impeachment. For example, Rep. Maxine Waters commented ‘Perhaps Donald Trump believes that if he drags the country into war, the American people and Congress will rally behind him. Perhaps he thinks that war is a diversionary tactic. Perhaps he thinks it will drown out the criticisms of his scandal-plagued administration and protect him from removal by the Senate.’ Also accusing Trump of self-serving political motives rather than sound foreign policy was Russian reporter Valentin Bogdanov: ‘without being hounded by the impeachment, Trump would not have attempted to solve his domestic political problems at the expense of foreign policy.’
Despite his assertions that, ‘We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.’, as is often the case, Trump’s actions belie his words. Trump has been offered a variety of policy options to respond to the violence in Iraq. Yet the U.S. President chose the most dire option, which, according to the New York Times, stunned Pentagon officials. Before news of the attack had been made public, Trump tweeted a picture of an American flag. Although devoid of (known) context at the time of posting, the symbol has been considered greatly incendiary in light of the statements about the attack. The Huffington Post described the Tweet as ‘jingoistic’, while Samantha Power, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., responded by tweeting that ‘A flag is not a strategy… This is likely to get ugly very quickly.’ Two days after the news of the attack, Trump escalated the issue by threatening that in the case of Iran’s retaliation, the U.S. would strike 52 Iranian sites. This number echoes the number of U.S. hostages taken during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.
Through both the initial strike and Trump’s follow up actions, the U.S. President has shown a blatant disregard for international peace and security and even his own national interest. The U.S. has been entrenched in a Middle Eastern war before, to the detriment of their own troops (in 2018, the Washington Post reported that nearly 5,000 U.S. Service members had been killed in the Iraq war, though the exact number of total casualties is ‘almost impossible to calculate’ and there are currently many more troops in neighbouring Afghanistan) and their international support. U.S. failure to install effective democratic governments represents an inability to achieve their ultimate goals in the region while continuing to cause damage to local populations. In addition, Trump originally ran on a policy of getting out of the Middle East in 2016, yet these actions only further intertwine the fates of the two regions. Should war break out due to Trump’s actions, there will only be more death and violence. The global public is evidently aware of and worried about the possibility of war, with Euronews reporting that the hashtags #WorldWar3 and #WWIII quickly started trending on Twitter.
Trump has some knowledge of historical relations between the U.S. and Iran as evidenced by his reference to the Iran hostage crisis. Yet he is either ignoring or is unaware of the American interference in Iranian politics from the early Cold War period, in which the CIA backed a military coup in 1953 that helped reinstate the repressive Shah of Iran in 1954. This governmental interference helped sow the seeds of discontent, leading to the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the Iran Hostage Crisis, and has ensured ongoing tension between the US and Iran. It must be hoped that the current interference of Trump’s U.S. does not have similarly far-reaching consequences and that despite all odds there will be no great outbreak of conflict between the two nations.