Were we right to take out Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani?
The voices on the left say no.
Soleimani, they say, was a state actor.
He was a general revered by the Iranian people, a hero of the Iran-Iraq War who was seen by partisans of the regime as a profoundly valiant figure.
That meant not only was his death illegal under international law, it would also be a flashpoint in the Middle East that could drag the United States into war.
In terms of international law, proponents of this viewpoint seem to forget that Soleimani was technically a terrorist; he was the commander of the Quds Forces, an elite group within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is labeled as a terrorist organization by the United States.
If you want to know why the group was labeled as a terror organization, the ideal person to ask would be retired Army Gen. David Petraeus.
Petraeus was the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan during some of the bloodiest years of the wars there. According to CBS News, Petraeus has described the Iranian general as “our most significant and evil adversary in the greater Middle East.”
This is par for the course from Petraeus, mind you. In a 2015 interview with The Washington Post during a visit to the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Petraeus was asked about pictures of Soleimani taking battlefield tours in Iraq,
“I have several thoughts when I see the pictures of [Soleimani], but most of those thoughts probably aren’t suitable for publication in a family newspaper like yours,” Petraeus responded.
Petraeus also talked of a message he says he received from the general in 2008 during a pitched battle between coalition forces and Iranian-backed militias: “General Petraeus, you should be aware that I, Qassem Soleimani, control Iran’s policy for Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan,” it said.
“The point was clear: He owned the policy and the region, and I should deal with him. When my Iraqi interlocutor asked what I wanted to convey in return, I told him to tell Soleimani that he could ‘pound sand,'” Petraeus said.
The intervening years haven’t changed much in Petraeus’ outlook; in an interview with Foreign Policy on Friday, he said that killing Soleimani was “more significant than the killing of Osama bin Laden or even the death of [Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi.
“Soleimani was the architect and operational commander of the Iranian effort to solidify control of the so-called Shia crescent, stretching from Iran to Iraq through Syria into southern Lebanon,” he said.
“He is responsible for providing explosives, projectiles and arms and other munitions that killed well over 600 American soldiers and many more of our coalition and Iraqi partners just in Iraq, as well as in many other countries such as Syria. So his death is of enormous significance.”
In an interview with Public Radio International, Petraeus said Soleimani was “our most significant Iranian adversary during my four years in Iraq, [and] certainly when I was the Central Command commander, and very much so when I was the director of the CIA.”
As for why the Trump administration decided to act now, Petraeus said this wasn’t just a tit-for-tat action after Iran-backed militias attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad or because, as the Department of Defense said in a statement, he “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”
Instead, Petraeus said it was about re-establishing deterrence after a series of aggressive actions against American interests by Tehran.
“Well, I suspect that the leaders in Washington were seeking to re-establish deterrence, which clearly had eroded to some degree, perhaps by the relatively insignificant actions in response to these strikes on the Abqaiq oil facility in Saudi Arabia, shipping in the Gulf and our $130 million dollar drone that was shot down,” Petraeus said.
“And we had seen increased numbers of attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq. So I’m sure that there was a lot of discussion about what could show the Iranians most significantly that we are really serious, that they should not continue to escalate.”
In terms of the response, Petraeus was hesitant to say Iran couldn’t muster a significant strike against American interests, either in the region or abroad. However, he noted that recent protests and economic unrest have put the country on less-than-solid footing.
“Iran is in a very precarious economic situation, it is very fragile domestically — they’ve killed many, many hundreds if not thousands of Iranian citizens who were demonstrating on the streets of Iran in response to the dismal economic situation and the mismanagement and corruption,” he told Foreign Policy.
“I just don’t see the Iranians as anywhere near as supportive of the regime at this point as they were decades ago during the Iran-Iraq War. Clearly the supreme leader has to consider that as Iran considers the potential responses to what the U.S. has done.”
In short, Soleimani had masterminded much of the terrorism against our troops in Iraq.
He had revanchist designs on a wide swath of the Middle East, as well; it wasn’t just Iraq where he aimed to advance (and sometimes succeeded at advancing) Iranian interests, much to the terror and loathing of those countries’ citizens.
Furthermore, while “#WWIII” may be trending on Twitter, the response Iran can muster will likely be asymmetrical at best.
Soleimani was a terrorist and a thug; his existence at the top of the Iranian food chain represented a threat to Americans, Iraqis, Iranians and a whole host of other groups across the Middle East.
The decision to take him out was absolutely the right one.
Those doubting the decision are, at best, are engaging in a kind of reflexive fear of anything the Trump administration does abroad, where any foreign policy or military move is like a chess blunder that’s given the game away.
At worst, these doubts come from individuals who believe appeasement is almost always superior to deterrence; that any enemy of the United States can be won over through soft power.
Petraeus used the right word for Soleimani: “evil.”
You don’t bargain with evil if you can eliminate it. That’s exactly what America did.
The Western Journal reached out to Petraeus for additional comment on Soleimani’s death but did not hear back in time for publication of this article. We will update this article if and when we do hear back.
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