In an absolutely stunning and unexpected move, Trump recently killed Suleimani. First, there’s no reasonable doubt that Iran’s top general deserved to be killed. He’s killed thousands of people, planned to kill more Americans, and was the mastermind’s behind a corrupt military regime. The question then isn’t whether the attack was morally justified, but whether it was strategically correct. If you do not respond with force, Iran continues to get away with its recent provocations. Iran’s desperate because of their crumbling economy and decreasing influence over its own people. Instead of renegotiating, as Trump has repeatedly offered, they prefer to act with violence. Trump has shown a lot of constraint in the past. And Iran, knowing the US is scared of war, thinks it can get away with these attacks. They want to force us to play the timid “diplomats” and remove the sanctions because they hope that our fear of war is greater.
We should not let Iran’s misdeeds go unpunished because justice demands it, but we do not want war either (hence the sanctions). Trump has been very cautious in his response. He called off an attack because he asked the right question, “How many people are going to be killed?” and found that it was not proportional. But Iran continued to escalate their attacks by attacking two oil tankers, an Aramco oil facility, and then finally attacked a US installation that killed an American contractor and harmed four soldiers. Attacking physical objects requires sanctions or cyberattacks. Attacking our people requires a more lethal response. Trump launched a very limited airstrike against those responsible for the attack. Their response? Use it as an excuse to escalate and attack the U.S. Embassy. Trump vowed to never allow another Benghazi to happen again. A justified concern. After discovering further malicious plans by Iran’s top general, Trump decides he needs to make a big, decisive attack to show that the U.S. is not going to play footsies with this any longer in hopes of deterring and weakening Iran. So he kills Suleimani.
I am no foreign policy expert, but I do not think that this decision is black and white. Trump is taking a risky gamble here. He’s hoping Iran does not want war either (Iran’s shadow war tactics indicate this) and that this will have the effect of weakening and deterring Iran. But Iran in their pride may say, “We’ve come this far. We can’t back down now. We will treat this as an act of war. It’s either all or nothing for us.” Some evil men are willing to risk senseless war because of their pride. Irrationality seizes them. But Trump is hoping that fear will overpower that. And if not, Trump is showing to the world that America is not to be trifled with because it will give a decisive, powerful, and swift response to attacks. Trump’s message is this: I don’t want war, but if Iran wants war, then war is what they will get. Otherwise, let’s negotiate.
Now what I am saying here is rather tentative. There may be forces behind the scenes that are pulling the strings and misinforming us. Perhaps Suleimani did not really plan an attack. Maybe I got my facts wrong. Perhaps some group serves to benefit financially or strategically from Suleimani’s death. However, this is true of any war, no matter how just. Anyone could exploit a just war for their own gain; We do know that Suleimani did help destroy ISIS. Would his death embolden extremists? Maybe. Will someone worse replace him? Will this create an internal power struggle? And if war occurs, how many stand to die? Will other nations get involved? How likely is it that WW3 will occur? These are all good questions. Even the very wise cannot foresee all consequences. But as things stand now, WW3 seems very unlikely. The death count depends on Iran, not us.
The Ultimate Question
The ultimate question is this: is doing nothing better than responding with lethal force? What would the anti-war people have us do? Let Iran attack us, and drop some of our sanctions? Do we want to have a repeat of Benghazi? Unacceptable. Regardless of the consequences, we took a justified course of action given the information that we had available. Answers are never as simple as, “Never go to war!” or “Just go to war!” Each response is naively reactionary. If anything, this situation should demonstrate just how difficult it is to make a wise decision. All a wise leader can do is think carefully, pray, and hope for the best.