The president has been conned by Washington, D.C. warmongers. After three years of sticking with admirable restraint to his election promise to put America first and avoid “endless wars,” the president has finally succumbed to the wiles of those who have never seen a war they have not liked by ordering the killing of Qasem Soleimani.
This cabal, composed of the defense establishment and irresponsible politicians, has been itching for a conflict with Iran at least since George W. Bush’s presidency. Despite the brinkmanship with then-Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Bush wisely avoided another quicksand in the Middle East. Unfortunately, the president has stepped right into it. Here’s why.
To be clear, this is not a defense of Soleimani or any regret over his demise. He probably got what he deserved. Soleimani has been described as an “evil bastard,” “murderer,” and “master terrorist.” But we don’t go around the world killing all “evil bastards” or murderers. There are plenty more of those where Soleimani came from and even more around the Middle East and beyond. American taxpayers did not sign on to the thankless task of terminating murderers around the world.
And don’t be fooled by the label that Soleimani was a “terrorist” and that assassinating him on foreign territory is the same as killing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or Osama bin Laden. For starters, the latter were not officials of any sovereign country, and were not under the protection of any state. They were nonstate actors leading organizations that had pledged to commit acts of terror against the U.S. and other countries.
As such, they were legitimate targets. Regardless of the label assigned to him as a terrorist, and the horrible crimes he may be guilty of, Soleimani is an Iranian leader subject to that country’s protection. Unlike Osama bin Laden and al-Baghdadi, Iran has an obligation to respond — or run the risk of being perceived as impotent. Imagine if the Iranians sought to execute Bush or some other American leader they have labeled as a terrorist. Would the U.S. sit idly? The Iranians will respond just as America or any other country would have, and an escalation of the conflict in the Middle East region is inevitable. (RELATED: REP. MARSHALL: Trump Was Damn Right To Kill Soleimani)
Next, consider the rationale advanced to justify Soleimani’s killing. President Trump said, “What the United States did yesterday should have been done long ago. A lot of lives would have been saved.” In an attempt to hold on to his prior statements abjuring war, he explained, “We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.” Trump elaborated that “Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him.”
Now that the euphoria generated by the stunning assassination has evaporated, probing questions are being asked and Trump’s justification is looking less secure. For instance, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was forced to backtrack and admit that the threat presented by Soleimani was not on America’s homeland. He clarified, “These were threats that were located in the region.”
Threats located in the Middle East region are vastly different from the original implication that America was under threat. Soleimani and his ilk have been a threat in the Middle East for a long time. Even assuming arguendo that there was some new intelligence about him “plotting imminent and sinister attacks,” it is not clear how the assassination of Soleimani makes those attacks less likely. Soleimani was neither the person executing those attacks nor the leader of a band of rag-tag fighters who were loosely organized.
If either circumstance had been true, killing Soleimani makes sense. Unfortunately, the truth is that Soleimani was the leader of a well-organized military unit. As such, he was merely an instrument in the Iranian regime’s grand strategy: Soleimani will be replaced by another leader who will carry out the regime’s objectives. And unlike ISIS or al Qaeda, Soleimani’s death is not likely to disrupt or destroy the ability of the Quds Force to carry out hostile acts.
Soleimani’s killing is suboptimal for another reason. As Sun Tzu observed in “The Art of War,” “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Sanctions against Iran were working and the regime was facing severe internal strife. Now, Soleimani’s killing has provided the regime with oxygen to unify Iranians against an external threat and divert attention away from their miserable failures. (RELATED: TAKALA: Election Expert Says Soleimani Death Complicates Trump Reelection — But Military Expedition Could Help)
Trump has known for a long time that the Iranian regime is a problem — for Iranian citizens, and Iran’s neighbors. Iran is far less a problem for America today because U.S. dependence on the Middle East has declined and its strategic priorities have changed. Shrewdly, he had previously decided that Iranian citizens and other countries in the Middle East must solve their own problems. Having established the eminently sensible, America-first, and avoiding foolish wars as his signature doctrine, Trump’s acquiescence in Soleimani’s killing can only be characterized as a mistake.
The president should retake the initiative from the warmongers before it is too late, and he should revert to the Trump doctrine. Otherwise, we will spend trillions of dollars and sacrifice innocent American lives for no benefit in the Middle East’s godforsaken conflicts. The wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have already cost us about $6 trillion thus far and the world is no better for it. Taxpayer dollars must be spent here to improve American infrastructure, schools, safety, and health care — not in Iran. The president must put Americans first.
Sandeep Gopalan (@DrSGopalan) is vice chancellor at Piedmont International University in North Carolina. He was formerly a professor of law and pro vice chancellor for academic innovation at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. He was also co-chairman or vice chairman of American Bar Association committees on aerospace/defense and international transactions, a member of the ABA’s immigration commission, and dean of three law schools in Ireland and Australia. He has taught law in four countries and served as a visiting scholar at universities in France and Germany.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.