A Crossroads in Iran

Be it through the news, discussion around campus, or the barrage of memes fortelling an impending draft for a third world war, you would be hard pressed to have missed the situation that has been developing in Iran over the past week.

Be it through the news, discussion around campus, or the barrage of memes fortelling an impending draft for a third world war, you would be hard pressed to have missed the situation that has been developing in Iran over the past week. While you can rest easy knowing the return of the draft isn’t coming anytime soon, the crisis in the Middle East facing our nation presents serious cause for concern. In this past week, we have witnessed the most serious escalation in the region since the 2003 invasion of Iraq—an action which spawned a war that continues to this day, more than 16 years later.

Given the complexity and misinformation surrounding recent events, it's understandable that many around campus and throughout the nation don’t understand the true gravity of the current situation. However, through the partisan spin and 24-hour news cycle that have shaped the public’s perception of the relationship between the U.S. and Iran, a chilling truth emerges. We, as a nation, are far less safe than we were a week ago and in all likelihood, America stands on the brink of war. Here's why.

While tensions with Iran have been brewing since the 1970s, the most recent escalation occured on January 3, when a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, widely considered the second most powerful figure in Iran. As the nation awoke to learn of the attacks that day, the White House and other administration officials conveyed that Soleimani’s killing was to prevent an imminent attack. While more details have yet to be revealed, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed that the attack was not intended to take place on American soil. Although details on this alleged attack are sparse, there has been no shortage of celebration from Republicans in Washington who have been quick to paint Soleimani’s death as an American victory, touting his responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of Americans as justification for his assasination. However, through this argument, the true complexity of the situation reveals itself, as like most matters in international politics. Ultimately, the choice to kill Solemani is far less cut-and-dried than Republicans would have you believe.

Before I continue, it's important to get one thing straight: No American should mourn the death of Qasem Soleimani. He was nothing more than a ruthless murderer and a terrorist. In his role as the leader of Iran’s notorious Quds Force, Soleimani commanded international paramilitary operations, funding and training Shia militia groups like Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Conservative estimates directly implicate him in the deaths of hundreds of American citizens. While Solemani’s crimes and depravity are undeniable, they do not strategically justify his murder. Herein lies the threat posed by the president’s choice to kill Solemani. On paper, the choice seems justified. The notion that he killed Americans so therefore he should be punished might appeal to a sense of strong international presence, but it fails to capture the potential diplomatic and military consequences of such a brazen move. While the president would have you believe that his death is being lauded throughout the Middle East, it has only furthered anti-American sentiment, most notably within Iran, in which an October 2019 survey by the University of Maryland found 82 percent of Iranians viewed Qasem Soleimani favorably. Until his death, it was widely circulated that he may very well have been the nation’s next leader. With this in mind, his killing becomes far more complicated and conflicting. There’s no doubt that he had American blood on his hands, but that doesn’t change the fact that his death could all too easily start a war. If that concept seems hard to understand, consider this: Russia and China are also responsible for the deaths of Americans, but the very thought of assassinating their leaders at will is outrageous. While the White House may have you believing that the killing of Qasem Soleimani was transactional, international relations are never that simple. Just as it would be the case for the murder of any world leader, Soleimani’s death will likely have severe repercussions.

Given the Trump administration’s recent track record in the Middle East with disastrous moves like abandoning our allies, the Kurds, and inviting the Taliban, our enemies, to Camp David, it stands to reason they likely didn’t appreciate the consequences of killing Soleimani, especially considering their scramble to save face after criticism for the attack came in droves from experts and allies alike. Even Israel, perhaps Iran’s most staunch enemy in the region, sought to distance itself from Soleimani’s killing in a statement given by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

If you still believe that President Trump made the right call, consider this: Both Presidents Obama and Bush had numerous opportunities to take out a then less powerful Qasem Soleimani. However, during the height of the Iraq War, President Bush decided to hold off, knowing that such dangerous action would likely result in an all-out war with Iran. While the President and his aids have been quick to assert that their action was anything but an act of war, the facts speak otherwise.

After vowing revenge over the weekend, Iran retaliated on Tuesday evening, launching ballistic missiles at a military installation in Iraq where Americans were staying, marking one of the first actions in a conflict that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. American wars in the Middle East against far less formidable enemies have been long and bloody, and we may very well have just stumbled into another one. While the future of the region has never been more obscure, one thing is certain: Americans are not safer now.

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