With the Baghdad airport strike, President Trump has carried out among the most influential foreign policy decisions in his presidency. It is undoubtedly audacious, yet also a very important strike to the Iranian regime, which had been a thorn in the side of Americans ever since the Iran-Iraq War. And perhaps most importantly, from a contextual perspective, this is a decisive and strong strike against the Iranians, after they attacked the US embassy in Baghdad. Trump’s action is crucial towards re-establishing American eminence in the Middle East, after increasingly bold threats from the Iranians.
This most recent strike by the American forces is in response to the attack on the US Embassy in Iraq. It was perpetrated by the Shi’a terrorist organization Kata’ib Hezbollah and the Popular Mobilization Force. However, this attack was primarily backed and approved by the Iranian Quds force, led by Qasem Soleimani. The protestors attacked the gatehouse checkpoint of the embassy and the walls surrounding the main complex using stones, battering rams, and weapons of that ilk, all the while, chanting “Death to America”. Qasem Soleimani was the man behind this attack.
Then, on January 3, 2020, near the Baghdad International Airport, American drone strikes were able to gun down Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the Iranian Quds Force, as well as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of the Popular Mobilization. Soleimani, in particular, is the man that was responsible for 17% of American deaths in Iraq, and numerous other American deaths in Iran. This is also the man that was responsible for much of the war in Yemen (by arming Houthis), arming Jihadists in the Gaza Strip, and numerous foreign terrorist attacks. While the American forces killed Soleimani under the pretence that he was planning another attack against America, whether or not that is true, the US is justified in killing Soleimani for his previous crimes against them. In a strategic sense, Soleimani’s death is a massive loss for Iran and a great victory for America. Soleimani was the closest man to the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and even a potential successor. Soleimani’s leadership of the Iranian Quds Force is another crucial Iranian loss, as the Quds Force is the primary extraterritorial operator in the Middle East, and even in the members of the Eastern Bloc.
While the US may have made the key recent decisive strike, all this mess started with the Iranian backed attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad. America’s action was not an act of war, and rather, a retaliation to Iran. Qasem Soleimani was a listed terrorist anyway. While the official explanation was that this attack was a retaliation towards American drone strikes on Hezbollah bases in Iraq, it still does not make sense for a country like Iran (that is not as militarily strong as the US, nor has an equalizer like a nuclear weapon) to attack the US this directly, and not its allies like Israel. Thus, there must be some underlying, deeper motivation for Iran to attack the US. And that motivation is clearly there. Iran is miffed at the American involvement in propagating the last Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in the 70s, who the current Iranian regime was in direct opposition to. American involvement in Iran during that time was extensive, to the point that the CIA assassinated the Iranian president Mohammed Mossadegh over his plan to nationalize the Iranian oil industry and his communist convictions. Tensions have been growing ever since, and America has grown to become something of a natural enemy of Iran. The converse has slowly become true as well, but more so in retaliation to Iran’s actions. Iran has regularly backed terrorist organizations like Hezbollah (and has in effect, damaged Lebanon greatly) and targeted US regional allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia under the pretence of religious or sectarian differences. Finally, and perhaps most pressingly, the US is the eminent power in the Middle East, due to the amount of military strength and allies they have in the region. If Iran wants to get any sort of “imperialist” strength in the area, they will have to remove the US from the scenario, and ideally, weaken them.
With all of that said, even if Iran wants to remove the US from the region, they will find it hard to do so. The fact of the matter is, the US simply outclasses Iran militarily, and unlike North Korea, Iran does not even have fully developed nuclear weapons to use against the US. Not only that, the US has Iran basically surrounded by American military camps. And to top it all off, the US has strong allies in the region with Saudi Arabia and Israel willing to back them. In terms of allies for Iran, while they might get some smaller countries to support them, it is very unlikely that China or Russia will back Iran in this situation — they do not want to risk World War 3. Iran knows all of this. They know that if they declare war, America might face some losses, but the US would come out as winners anyway. So, this will not turn into a full-scale war. What will happen, however, is Iran becoming more militaristic, and perhaps attacking US allies (in a loose sense) like Saudi Arabia and daring America to fight back. This way, if America retaliates against Iran, Iran will blame America for overreacting. If America does not retaliate, Iran will call America weak for not attacking back, and the victim country will likely lessen ties with America. This is the type of trap that Iran should look to set. Overall though, the US holds the advantage in this scenario. Americans know that if Iran goes too far, they can crush them.
Above all, this strike by the US is a massive win for President Trump and his foreign policy doctrine and has vindicated the foreign policy of peace through strength. The primary opposing view of foreign policy to President Trump’s is pairing isolationism with appeasement; America has no place in interfering around the world, even against states like Iran — interference just causes more harm than good. Instead, America should just give concessions to the Iranians and appease them. This type of policy was adopted by the Obama administration through the Iran nuclear deal — an abject failure where Iran reaped the benefits of the deal such as lessened sanctions and recovered cash, and still in secret, was able to refine uranium way more than the limit and continue researching nuclear weapons. Because America never militarily stood up to Iran, the Iranians were also able to gain a stronger foothold in the Middle East and fuel Shi’a insurgencies in places like Iraq and Lebanon. Iran basically started following the age-old tactic of continuing to push and gain territorial influence until someone stops them with force, just like Stalin did with the Soviet Union, Russia did in Crimea, and China did in the South China Sea. No one forcefully stopped the Iranians until President Trump’s most recent strike.
The type of foreign policy that President Trump has adopted in the Middle East is a much more nuanced one. He combined the classic idea of isolationism with the idea of deterrence. The current administration has embraced the idea that if there is a large threat overseas (and only if it is a large threat), that it will eventually reach America, if not apprehended at its root. This does not mean regularly sending troops to foreign countries, but rather, strategically striking targets that will cause the maximum damage to the enemy. As a result, the enemy is cowed into either being less demanding or simply backing down altogether. In this current situation, it was by taking out Qasem Soleimani. Such a policy retains the idea of isolationism, as America isn’t constantly nation-building around the world, but also maximizes security within the borders of the US.
In the aftermath, America has given President Trump approval for his actions. Trump’s approval rating is at a three-year high and much of the country has felt a feeling of justice, now that Soleimani has died. Such a move is a victory for him and his country. With that said, President Trump on January 4, did send out a tweet that he is willing to use military strength to fight back if the Iranians retaliate, with Americans having 52 specific places they can target. Thus, the ball is firmly in Iran’s court. Hopefully, it does not come to that. But, at the very least, he has a plan. America will not cower to Iran.