For 20 years, he had sowed terror and confusion throughout the Middle East with impunity. As head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Qassem Soleimani was the mastermind of the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, as well as the second most powerful person within that oppressive Islamist theocracy. No matter how much mayhem he spread, he believed that he was untouchable. And three American administrations run by both Democrats and Republicans validated that belief, forgoing opportunities to kill the man who had the blood of many Americans and countless Syrians, Lebanese, Israelis and others on his hands.
But following the orchestration of attacks on American forces in Iraq and the staging of an assault on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Soleimani’s get-out-of-jail free card that he had been given by the international community and successive American presidents expired.
When an American drone killed him along with the leader of Iran’s Iraqi terrorist auxiliaries, what happened was more than a settling of scores. It proclaimed to the world that the old rules by which Iran had been able to do its worst against the United States, Israel and the West—never to face any consequences—were no longer valid.
Much like his moves to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy there, Trump’s authorization of the attack on Soleimani proclaims that he has thrown out the foreign-policy rulebook that had restrained America in the past—rules that wound up shielding bad actors like Soleimani.
There’s no way of knowing how far the Iranian regime will go in order to retaliate for the major blow they have received. American citizens and assets are now at risk. Yet it is also possible that, as was the case with Trump’s pro-Israel policies, predictions of the world blowing up over this will be exaggerated.
What we do know is that this is likely to prove a crucial moment in the history of the modern Middle East. For 40 years since the Islamic Revolution took place in Iran, the regime has been able to go on pursuing its agenda of regional hegemony via terror and subversion with the West acting as if it could not or would not try to do much about it.
Indeed, the guiding principle of the Obama administration’s foreign policy was an effort to appease and accommodate the Iranians, no matter what they did. While President Barack Obama said he hoped that the nuclear deal he negotiated with Tehran in 2015 would enable the regime to “get right with the world.” But the ayatollahs didn’t want that opportunity. What it wanted was the West’s seal of approval for their nuclear program and access to foreign markets to sell the oil that would finance their pet terrorists like the IRGC. It bluffed Obama into conceding point after point in the negotiations to where the pact actually guaranteed that Iran would eventually get a nuclear weapon, while at the same time enriching and empowering the regime. And after that, it doubled down on its adventurism laying waste to Syria while consolidating control in Lebanon and attempting to do the same in Iraq.
The premise of much of the criticism of Trump’s decision on Soleimani rests on a false assumption. Those who lament the president’s trashing of conventional wisdom act as if he has upset a tradition that safeguarded American interests and lives. But it did nothing of the kind.
What happened in Syria as Iran and its ally, President Bashar Assad, lay waste to that country was the direct consequence of American appeasement. The same is true of Iran’s ability to essentially take over Lebanon through its Hezbollah henchmen. And in recent weeks, Tehran’s efforts to do the same in Iraq involved direct attacks on Americans, culminating in the assault on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad ringing up troubling memories of both the 2012 Benghazi debacle and the seizure of American hostages during the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.
The argument against Trump’s foreign policy is that his actions are ill-considered, disregarding the advice of both experts and allies, and endangering the peace of the region and the world. Obama administration alumni, in particular, are saying that Trump is squandering chances for peace that the nuclear pact created.
No matter; the opposite is true. Killing Soleimani won’t start a war; Iran has been waging a hot war against America and its allies for years. Like Trump’s much-needed action in pulling out of a dangerous nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions on Iran—and even adding some new ones—the Soleimani operation makes it clear to Iran’s leaders, perhaps for the first time, that the costs of their provocations are now going to be borne by them, and not only their foes or the helpless population that groans under their despotic rule.
Playing by the rules—rules that served the interests of a rogue regime—is what endangered American lives and interests by making Iran stronger and feeling less constrained about employing its brutal and bloody tactics.
It is to be hoped that Iran’s remaining leaders are chastened, as well as angered by what has happened to their indispensable man of terror. Perhaps they will comprehend that the tables are turned, and it’s now time for them to start backing down, lest they find themselves embroiled in a conflict in which they will have far more to lose than the United States.
Whether or not happens, it’s also time for the chattering classes to stop pretending that Trump is the problem. It was high time that someone had the nerve to break the wheel that perpetuated Iran’s power and violence. Whatever happens next, a world in which the world’s leading state sponsor of terror is afraid of the United States can’t be much worse than one in which the ayatollahs have nothing but contempt for the Washington’s resolve to defend American interests.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.