Bloomberg Businessweek|January 13, 2020
The drone killing on Jan. 3 of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, the bloody-handed leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was an expression of President Trump’s lifelong philosophy: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard,” as he said in a 2011 speech. The question is whether what works against other real estate developers will work as well against Iran.
Iran’s immediate response to the killing of Soleimani—a Jan. 7 missile attack on joint U.S.-Iraqi military bases that caused no deaths or injuries— seemed symbolic. But that doesn’t mean it won’t strike again, and in the long run, the president’s gambit could provoke escalation and damage America’s standing in the region.
Trump is running into a dilemma other U.S. presidents have faced: How do you fight a foe who pokes and prods using asymmetric warfare, including guerrilla tactics, terrorism, and proxy forces, but against whom the use of catastrophic force would be reckless? President Nixon complained in 1970 that North Vietnam, an impoverished nation supplied militarily by the Soviet Union, stood to make the U.S. into a “pitiful, helpless giant” in Southeast Asia.
Like North Vietnam, Iran has played a weak hand expertly. The U.S. blames Soleimani for the deaths of 603 U.S. service members killed in Iraq since 2003. He’s also suspected to be behind a drone attack on Saudi oil installations in September, a Dec. 27 drone attack in northeast Iraq that killed an American contractor and wounded four service members, and the invasion of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad by Shiite militias on New Year’s Eve. In addition, Iran has supplied money and weaponry to forces fighting against U.S. allies, including the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, and the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq.
Soleimani seems to have crossed Trump’s red line with the embassy invasion. It revived memories of the 444-day occupation of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979-81, which made Jimmy Carter a oneterm president. By killing Soleimani, the U.S. signaled that Iran will face consequences for its actions even if it tries to cloak its responsibility for them.
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January 13, 2020