Uncertainty Over US, Middle East Relations After Trump Orders Assassination of Iranian Major General Soleimani

Many fear escalating tensions between Iran and the US after Jan. 3’s drone strike on a Baghdad airport, which killed six people—among them influential Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani. The first viral posts and hashtags of 2020 raise the alarm about the possibility of a third World War in response to the strike and Soleimani’s death. 

President Trump says he saved American lives by ordering the drone strike, claiming Major General Soleimani planned attacks on US diplomats. The Dec. 31 attack on the US embassy in Iraq by Iranian-supported militia groups prompted President Trump to deploy 750 troops to the Middle East. The BBC reports that President Trump is planning to send 3,000 more troops into the area. 

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, among other top Iranian officials, assures Iran will retaliate forcefully, although how the country will retaliate is unclear. The BBC notes that economic sanctions have capped Iran’s weapons arsenal, but the country has enough short- and medium-range missiles to hit targets along the Persian Gulf and Saudia Arabia. The US has taken preventative measures against such strikes. However, there is also speculation of drone strikes and cyberattacks.

President Trump’s comments seem to suggest that the United States will not shy away from the possibility of war, though the Trump Administration’s foreign policy plan as it pertains to Iran and its allies is not entirely clear.

The Washington Post notes that in 2011, President Trump appeared to advocate for the invasion and destruction of Iran, in part to gain control of Iran’s oil supply. More recently, President Trump took to Twitter, posting in all caps that the US would meet any country that dared threaten the US with fire and fury and that Major General Soleimani “should have been taken out many years ago.” This contradicts the official statements of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is adamant that the United States is committed to de-escalation in the Middle East, though he himself lauded the assassination. 

Major General Soleimani’s power over and reputation amongst Iranians, Iraqis, and their supporters as a revered military strategist remains profound enough for his death to incite furor among other militant groups, namely Iranian-backed Iraqi forces (the two countries have formed a close relationship), groups in Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Telegraph posted a video of thousands of people gathered to pray in Iran’s capital city “chanting ‘Death to America.’”

While President Trump asserts Major General Soleimani unjustifiably slaughtered millions of people, and The Wall Street Journal reports that Soleimani was a brutal terrorist who killed hundreds of American citizens, many fear the carnage and desecration that could result for all countries involved in the conflict following President Trump’s decisive action. 

Past tweets reveal President Trump expressed former president Barack Obama would erroneously start a war in Iran because he was “weak and ineffective” and needed to “save face” in a bid to bolster popularity and secure reelection. The internet has been quick to point out the irony of the tweets given contemporary circumstances. American Democratic politicians have also been quick to condemn the president’s actions, while Republicans praise the decision, reflecting a larger trend of partisanship regarding US foreign policy. The BBC cites UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ representatives as stressing that the world cannot afford another Gulf War.

While the world awaits a response from Iran and its allies, global consequences have already taken effect from the heated rivalry; oil prices have jumped four percent since news broke of Major General Soleimani’s death. 

Though the probability of a World War III seems limited, wars have been launched for lesser transgressions and the US has faced off with Iran, Iraq, other Middle Eastern countries, and familiar political adversaries in the region for a long time now (including Russia, who called the hit “reckless”). As of right now, nothing is certain.