As we watched Iranian-backed Shiite terrorist groups attack our embassy in Baghdad, many were in favor of a robust retaliation for the attack. What the U.S. military under the orders of President Trump delivered last night was even more than retaliation for the attack on the embassy: It was retaliation for decades’ worth of unanswered American blood spilt by Iran’s external paramilitary forces, led by Qassem Soleimani.
We have clearly intervened in numerous Middle Eastern theaters over the years that we should never have been involved in. But at every stage, Iran has been attacking and killing hundreds of our soldiers: Sacking the embassy in Tehran in 1979, the 241 Marines killed in the 1983 Beirut bombing, the killing of 19 airmen at the Khobar Towers in 1996, or the over 600 U.S soldiers estimated to have been killed directly or indirectly by Soleimani’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) during the Iraq war. More recently, Iran captured our naval ships in 2016 and humiliated our sailors in what should have been viewed as an act of war, yet Obama did nothing. Well, actually, he transferred $150 billion to Iran, so it was worse than nothing.
Trump has laid down a new set of parameters. Soleimani was reportedly disembarking from a plane at the Baghdad airport and being greeted by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the head of Kata’ib Hezbollah, when an airstrike killed them both. Kata’ib Hezbollah was the primary militia responsible for the attacks on our base near Kirkuk last Thursday and the Baghdad embassy this week. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called out al-Muhandis by name earlier this week, tweeting out a picture of him leading the attack with the militiamen.
Going forward, the best outcome is a coherent strategy in the Middle East, but the next best outcome is justice against Iran’s most potent external force that has threatened us for decades. The killing of Soleimani is justice for the blood of American soldiers on his hands, but it will hopefully also serve as a turning point in reorienting our focus in the Middle East to one of “strike and maneuver” against enemies that affect our interests, rather than holding and building ground on behalf of Islamic tribal factions in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
The death of Soleimani is a bigger deal than the death of ISIS leader Abu al-Baghdadi in October. As I’ve noted before, Sunni terrorists, lacking a nation-state, do not fundamentally threaten our interests except through immigration when we let their operatives or adherents into our country. Iran, on the other hand, had the ability to attack us for years, threaten shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Aden, and take the fight closer to our homeland through Hezbollah’s global network in Latin America. Soleimani was the most trusted and tenacious general of the ruling mullahs, whose goal was solely focused on external hegemony, not just in the Middle East, but even in our hemisphere.
Moreover, the elimination of Soleimani finally confirms to the mullahs that Trump is not a paper tiger and that we are willing to use our air assets anywhere, any time, if they continue attacking our strategic interests. But the key going forward is to identity those strategic interests.
The focus in the long run should not be saving the incorrigible Iraqi nation from either Iran or the Sunni terrorists. The Iraqi prime minister already condemned our airstrike. His government is not worth our time and money, much less the blood of our soldiers. Rather, our objective should be drawing a clear line around our limited interests and assets and ensuring that anything that threatens them is met with painful repercussions. We should not conflate the need to deter Iran and project power in the face of its belligerence with the false notion that keeping our soldiers flung out precariously throughout Iraq on an interminable nation-building mission is somehow in our country’s interests in the first place.
We need to move toward more air and naval supremacy to keep the shipping lanes open while concurrently crushing Iran with sanctions and the constant threat of a punitive strike. We can cripple the mullahs with the soft power of fomenting the already growing rebellion at home without getting involved in nation-building either in Iraq or Iran. Continuing to leave so many assets in Iraq itself will just make us vulnerable to Iran’s attacks and counterattacks in the future. Much like a father who destroys a bees’ nest from which a bee emerged to sting his child, it makes sense to hit Iran strongly for attacking our soldiers. But in the long run, we need to ask why we have our heads three inches from the bees’ nest to begin with, when not only is it imprudent in its own right, but it prevents us from actually striking the nest from a position of strength, without fear of collateral damage. It’s time to take that collateral damage off the table.
Meanwhile, we need to focus on our own homeland. Iran, more than any other entity, through its foreign operative unit, known as Hezbollah Unit 910, can strike us at any time. Thanks to irresponsible immigration policies, we’ve admitted thousands of unvetted Lebanese Shiites over the past two decades. Several Unit 910 members have already been caught and indicted by the Justice Department. These are heavily trained paramilitary operatives who have the ability to strike targets in this country.
That has always been the imminent danger of Iran, at least until its regime develops nuclear weapons, and that is why it’s so much more important to focus on the Iranians and their Western Hemisphere operations than on the Sunnis. They have a global network backed by a state that can use migrants from both Iran and Lebanon to harm us. Now is the time to push a moratorium of visas from places like Lebanon and have the FBI and DHS double down on efforts to keep tabs on those already in the country.
We face a time of potential peril for our soldiers abroad and our citizens at home in the coming days. But in this act, justice was served. (For more from the author of “The Death of Iranian Gen. Soleimani Is About Long-Overdue Justice” please click HERE)