With a single drone attack, President Donald Trump did more than bring down a sworn enemy of the United States. It is also possible that he has disrupted a central element of his foreign policy and has brought the country closer to war.
The Friday strike in which Iran’s highest-ranking general died could have put an end to any possibility that Trump had to get the United States out of the “endless wars” in the Middle East, against which he has expressed himself since he assumed the presidency.
The death of General Qassem Suleimani in Baghdad has the world preparing for a possible retaliation, and many fear that it will turn into a large-scale conflict.
Ned Price, who served on the National Security Council during the Barack Obama administration, said that it is probably the biggest escalation the United States could have undertaken.
Trump has been in conflict with Iran even before assuming the presidency, when he promised to cancel the nuclear deal with Tehran that Obama signed. He insisted that he does not want a war and that Suleimani’s death was not intended to provoke the Islamic Republic.
On Friday Trump said that the United States had taken steps to stop a war, and that they don’t take measures to start a war.
However, the attack on Suleimani, head of the Quds Force, an Iranian elite group, is probably the most provoking military action in the Middle East since President George W. Bush started the war against Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Suleimani’s death, considered the second highest-ranking Iranian officer, occurred at a time when Trump was trying to increase pressure on Iran through economic sanctions in order to force it to abandon its nuclear weapons program, while Iran has responded with attacks against the U.S. army and oil facilities in the region.
By bringing down Soleimani, the U.S. president told Iran that his patience was running out in this prolonged and latent conflict.
The general was responsible, according to the Pentagon, for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. troops in Iraq during the height of the conflict in that country. White House officials said Trump chose to take action because Suleimani was planning future attacks against Americans while tensions between Tehran and Washington are at their boiling point.
On Friday Trump said he was not interested in a new escalation of the conflict, but warned the regime that his military advisers already have plans to retaliate in the event of an Iranian attack.
Referring in particular to Iran, Trump said that in the event that Americans anywhere in the world are threatened, they have already fully identified all those objectives and are ready and prepared to take whatever measures are necessary.
The president’s aggressive stance with Iran is notable when considering his repeated desire to avoid costly military clashes. His aversion to long-term military presence has unleashed differences with some of his top advisors when he was trying to end the presence of the U.S. army in Afghanistan and Syria.
Trump arrived at the White House after promising during his campaign that he would cancel the deal that the Obama administration negotiated with Iran to limit its uranium enrichment program in exchange for sanctions relief. He and other detractors felt that the agreement granted too many economic benefits without doing enough to prevent Tehran from eventually developing a nuclear weapon.
The president fulfilled his campaign promise in May 2018 by officially withdrawing from the treaty and reestablishing strict sanctions on Tehran.
“He withdrew from the agreement because it was an Obama agreement, and he truly believed he would have achieved a better agreement,” said Abbas Kadhim, a Middle East analyst for the Atlantic Council in Washington. “He thought that Iran would face the biggest negotiator. But I think he did not take into account the Iranians’ stubbornness.”
Precisely this Saturday thousands of people participated in Baghdad in the funeral procession of Suleimani and the Iraqi insurgent leaders killed in the U.S. airstrike. The march began at the temple of Imam Kadhim in Baghdad, one of the most important sites in Shiite Islamism.
Shouting “The United States is the great Satan,” the crowd went through the streets next to the militia vehicles in a solemn procession. In addition, the participants, many of them crying, also sang “No, no, United States” and “Death to the United States, death to Israel.”
The gates of Baghdad’s Green Zone, where there are government buildings and embassies, including the U.S. one, were closed.
In a climate of high tension throughout the region, an airstrike was reported this Friday night against a convoy of militiamen supported by Iran in northern Baghdad. Hours later, both the Iraqi army and the Washington-led coalition denied the incident.
The forces of the Popular Mobilization Committee, a group that brings together most of the pro-Iran groups, and security sources reported an airstrike in Taji, north of the capital. An Iraqi security source said five people died and two vehicles were destroyed.
It was not immediately clear if there had been any kind of explosion.
Iraq, which is a close ally of both Washington and Tehran, condemned the attack that killed Suleimani and added that it was a violation of its sovereignty. Parliament is scheduled to hold an extraordinary session on Sunday and the government was under increasing pressure to expel the 5,200 soldiers stationed in the nation to help prevent the reappearance of the Islamic State.
The United States ordered all its citizens to leave Iran and closed its embassy in Baghdad, which at the beginning of the week was assaulted by Iran-sponsored militiamen and their supporters in two days of protests in front of the complex.
No one was injured in the protests, which were a response to the U.S. airstrikes that killed 25 pro-Iran militiamen in Iraq and Syria. Washington explained that this operation was the response to a rocket attack that killed a U.S. contractor in northern Iran, for which it blames the militias.
The world powers warned that the murder of Suleimani could cause a new and dangerous escalation and many called for moderation.
In Iran, leading newspapers and state television focused on Saturday on the death of the general, and even reformist newspapers such as Aftab-e Yazd warned that “revenge is on its way.”
On the main streets, posters appeared with the image of Suleimani, many with the warning of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that a “strong revenge” awaits the United States.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relatively moderate politician, visited Suleimani’s family in Tehran to give his condolences.
“The Americans don’t realize the great mistake they have made,” said the president. “They will see the effects of this criminal action, not only today but in the coming years.”