By Matthew Mai
The killing of Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani by an American drone has led to excitable cries of a “hot war” from a bevy of commentators, think tank experts, and public officials. Their narratives so far have been both intellectually dishonest and emblematic of a “Blame America First” attitude that seems to dominate political circles on the Left and segments of the anti-war Right. For most of these detractors, whether motivated by partisanship or an isolationist brand of foreign policy, their aim is to convince the general public that appeasement is the only way to prevent a war with Tehran.
Anyone with an elementary understanding of 20th-century history knows that, as President Roosevelt said, “Appeasement is the policy of feeding your friends to a crocodile, one at a time, in hopes that the crocodile will eat you last”. The Iranian regime, much like Hitler’s Germany, cannot be negotiated with, bought off, or encouraged to “moderate” on its own. Since 1979, Iran has waged a brutal and uncompromising jihad against the United States and Israel. Hundreds of Americans were killed or maimed by Iranian-made IEDs during the Iraq War while Solemiani himselfwas involved in the planning and execution of the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi that resulted in the tragic death of Ambassador Chris Stevens. According to the State Department, unsurprisingly, Iran has been the world’s leader in state-sponsored terrorism since 1984. This is a regime that cannot negotiate in good faith or trusted to behave like a normal country. They are motivated by a deep ideological hatred of the West and an imperialist vision geared towards establishing a Shia-Islamic State starting in Tehran and ending in Beirut. You need not look further than the “Death to America” chants that have kicked off Friday prayers every week since the 1979 revolution and repeated assertions by various Iranian leaders that the state of Israel has no right to exist and must be destroyed.
For months President Trump showed restraint when Iran attacked ships in the Strait of Hormuz, bombed Saudi Arabian oil facilities, and downed an American drone. Outside observers weren’t sure what the president’s “red line” was but with each act of aggression it became increasingly clear that Iran was trying to make Trump feel that the only options were a return to the 2015 nuclear agreement or an all-out war.
Instead what Tehran’s bellicosity has reflected over the last nine months is that the administration’s maximum pressure campaign is working. The Iranian economy is in total collapse with their political leaders, central bank, and trade networks sanctioned to the hilt. Given America’s soaring energy production and substantially reduced dependence on foreign oil, Iranian attempts to throw petroleum markets into chaos do not have the same effect they might have had 20 or 30 years ago. Considering Iran’s already limited set of options, near energy independence for the United States renders them impotent in conducting their own campaign of economic disruption.
Out of options and running out of time, does this mean Iran is ready to go to war?
For regimes such as the one in Tehran, their goal is self-preservation. A war, no matter how costly for the United States, would be the quickest way to ensure the regime’s demise. No matter how difficult things are at home, the mullahs would rather weather a domestic storm than one brought on by American B-2’s. If anyone is desperate to avoid a war it is Iran. This isn’t to say that they won’t try to retaliate for the death of Soleimani but it is only in the hope that more belligerent behavior will draw concessions from the United States similar to those seen in the Obama nuclear deal.
The killing of Soleimani has indicated where the president’s “red line” is. If Iran kills Americans or attacks entities that put Americans in danger, the response will be overwhelming and severe. As long as the president enforces this “red line”, both through preemptive and reactionary measures, the United States will have complete freedom of action in responding to Iran and the threat of open conflict is significantly reduced. Contrary to the punditry on cable TV, reactionary kinetic responses like the drone strikes that killed Soleimani and members of an Iranian-backed militia that attacked the embassy in Baghdad are meant to protect American personnel and assets in the region and discourage Iran from taking more aggressive action. The United States is well within its rights, both morally and legally, to use whatever means necessary to protect its citizens and its interests.
The idea that our withdrawal from the severely flawed, capitulatory, and unconstitutional 2015 nuclear deal has somehow “escalated tensions” is to ignore decades of Iranian terrorism that continued unabated even after President Obama signed the agreement. Remember in 2016 when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard captured ten American sailors and, after humiliating them on propaganda videos, announced their intention to build a statue commemorating the incident? Or how Iranian proxies continued to interfere in the Syrian civil war and infiltrate the highest levels of the Iraqi government in order to strengthen their influence across the region? It turned out that signing the nuclear deal and shipping $1.3 billion in cash directly to the regime wasn’t enough to bring out the fictional “moderates” Obama national security advisor Ben Rhodes claimed were pulling the levers of power in Tehran.
Critics of the strike are pushing a false binary when it comes to dealing with Iran. Either we sit down at the negotiating table and make the necessary concessions or we risk starting a war when we defend our interests. This is not only foolish but a highly dishonest assessment of the regime and the success of the current administration’s maximum pressure campaign. As long as the president continues to enforce his “red line”, in both preemptive and reactionary fashion, fears of an open conflict with Iran will seem even more unreasonable than they already are.
Matthew Mai is a student at Rutgers University studying public policy.