Donald Trump's order to assassinate Soleimani was more about grabbing headlines than foreign policy

Up until recently the US president has shown he has no idea who Qassim Soleimani is, but the killing of the Iranian general has now pushed the Middle East to the brink of war

Ahmed Twaij
Saturday 04 January 2020 12:23
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Who was powerful Iranian general Qassem Soleimani?

Make no mistake, the assassination of General Qassim Soleimani, Iran’s second most powerful man, alongside the deputy leader of the Popular Mobilization Forces, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, is the most significant event to rock the Middle East since the 2003 US-invasion of Iraq. Seen as heroes to powerful militias in Iraq, the killings will inevitability spell out ongoing violence in Iraq.

The unilateral decision made by President Donald Trump reeks of the current administration’s impulsive nature on foreign policy, void of thought out plans to mitigate consequences and more focused on headline grabbing opportunities.

Labile decision-making, often announced through brazen tweets at untimely hours have had severe consequences in the Middle East throughout Trump’s administration. Last October, Trump’s sudden withdrawal of troops from northern Syria, left thousands of Syrian Kurds fleeing a Turkish incursion.

As is often the case, Trump’s decision in Syria and assassinations in Iraq are not accompanied with a conscious strategy, with the Pentagon and State Department scrambling to formulate policies to deal with the aftermath. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo previously stated that Trump, “makes decisions and then absorbs data and facts.”

Since the assassinations in Iraq early Friday morning, the US State Department has had to urge all US citizens in Iraq to leave the country, appearing to strengthen Iran’s grip on Iraq. Iraq’s fragile stability, which took years to build, collapsed overnight as Trump sought to show his military strength.

Announcing the news in typical Trump fashion, the US president posted a picture of the US flag. The notion of celebrating the death of Iran’s second most powerful politician as a “Make America Great Again” moment, shows the short-sightedness of the attack and neglect of the potential dire consequences.

The ease with which Trump can, from a distance, comfortably order the assassination of two senior figures in Iraq, disregarding Iraq’s sovereignty for the second time in a week, is petrifying especially since the outcomes to those living in the region will potentially be disastrous. This form of targeted killing of active senior foreign military personnel sets a worrying new international precedent.

Trump, who initially started conflict with Iran as part of a bid to roll back former president Barack Obama’s legacy, regularly accused Obama of attempting to start a war with Iran just to help re-election. Fast forward to 2020, an election year which up until now has been marred by impeachment proceedings and it appears that a war with Iran is exactly what Trump is seeking.

Understanding that a war-time leader has never lost a re-election campaign, Trump has followed Bill Clinton’s footsteps in an attempt to switch media rhetoric away from impeachment proceedings by conducting air strikes in Iraq and appear as a war hero.

Up until recently, Trump has shown he has no idea who Soleimani is, but has now pushed the Middle East to the brink of war with the assassination of the Iranian general. Trump’s pseudo-authoritarian decision to assassinate Soleimani could potentially throw the region into massive conflict but did not come with congressional approval.

Since the War Powers Resolution in 1973, federal law prevents a US president from committing the US into armed conflict, without prior congressional approval. The significance of killing a senior Iranian figure has been deemed an unconstitutional act of war by many and could now place a number of US troops in danger as a consequence of the attack.

As a journalist who has previously spent time reporting from Iraq, in the last few years I have never been more scared for Iraq’s future than after the news of the assassination, and that includes the war on Isis. The killing of 25 unknown Iraqis last Sunday by US airstrikes resulted in the US embassy being stormed by protestors earlier this week.

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Following the assassination, Pompeo posted a video of Iraqis celebrating the news of Soleimani’s death, showing the little understanding the current US administration has of the complexities of Iraq’s demographics and divided loyalties. Many in Iraq still see Soleimani as their hero – we can expect them to seek revenge far greater than storming the US embassy.

Iraq, a country which has witnessed ongoing violence since the 2003 US invasion, has likely been plunged back into a cycle of violence, albeit now as the battleground for the US and Iran’s proxy war. Trump was elected on a mandate of ending so-called “endless” wars. Now it appears we are being dragged into one.

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