“We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.” These were the words Donald Trump proclaimed on Friday, Jan. 3. He was referring to the U.S.’ preemptive air strike at Iraq’s Baghdad International Airport earlier that day — an air strike that resulted in the death of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, the intended target. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later said Soleimani was planning an imminent “broad, large-scale attack against American interests,” namely, American facilities in the Middle East.
Pre-emptive strikes must be calculated with the most careful consideration especially when no one would ever know if the claims were true. Trump tweeted that Soleimani “has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time,” and millions more “directly or indirectly,” but even if Trump was allowed to strike without consulting Congress first, the airstrike was the most severe choice top officials offered him. The option was made available because American contractor Nawres Hamid was killed by militia at an Iraqi base. Officials did not anticipate Trump’s decision, and as a result, Trump’s attack comes off as grossly hasty, using Hamid’s death as a weak justification for extreme retaliation. Pre-emption was an afterthought.
Iran’s response has been explosive from all sides, from hundreds of thousands of mourners stampeding into Tehran to pay respects to the hailed Iranian figure, to the bombings of U.S. bases in Iraq only days later. This is in line with the promise of “harsh retaliation” from sympathizing Iranians. The media has been broadcasting anti-American sentiment in the country, Iranian members of parliament chanted “Death to America” and U.S. flags were burned and continue to be burned in the streets. This is all in stark contrast to the tweet Trump made the day of Soleimani’s death, where he said the General “was both hated and feared within the country.”
Tensions with Iran have been escalating ever since Trump reestablished trade sanctions in 2018, throwing Iran into a recession. It’s reminiscent of Iran’s 66% inflation rate created by U.N., U.S. and E.U. sanctions in response to the country’s hyper-conservative former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. With the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed to end those sanctions (which began in 2005) in 2015, and it seemed as though the nation’s global relations would grow less tense; Trump even campaigned with a platform to remove troops from the Middle East, wishing an end to America’s “endless wars.”
Despite Trump’s promise to reduce the military presence in Iran and the peace the nuclear deal presented, the U.S. president chose to exit it, believing the resources it gave Iran allowed them to further their work on nuclear programs, even though the deal restricted Iran from doing so and Trump provided no evidence of his claim at the time. The re-imposed sanctions followed months later, Iran’s economic situation reverted and tensions have boiled over to the point that Iran has pulled out of the deal as well, cementing a complete reversal of a peace so long searched for, now out of sight yet again.
In response to Iran’s threats of retaliation, Trump said that the U.S. had targeted “52 Iranian sites,” in reference to the 52 American hostages held in Tehran if Iran made the choice to retaliate, and he pointed out that some were of great cultural importance. Criticisms ran rampant, even by Republican governors, stating that destroying sites so invaluable to Iranian heritage would be a war crime. Three days later, Trump retracted his statement, plainly stating that “if that’s what the law is, I like to obey the law.”
Trump is backing away from any further military action in Iran, following the Iranian government’s statement that “proportionate measures” were carried out in vengeance for Soleimani. This was in reference to the missile strikes on American bases, which did not kill anybody; some analysts suggest that Iran did it to follow through with their threat without causing real damage.
Unfortunately, a week was all that was needed for irreparable damage to be done; it was days after 156 people died in a Ukranian airliner crash that Iran admitted to having accidentally shot down, attempting to retaliate against U.S. forces. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif succinctly tweeted his sentiments: “human error at (sic) time of crisis caused by U.S. adventurism led to disaster.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also spoke up for the 57 Canadians aboard the plane, asserting that “Canada will not rest until we get the accountability, justice, and closure that the families deserve.”
Iranians are now in the streets demanding that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei step down, and Trump has shown support for it, tweeting, “I’ve stood with you (the Iranian people) since the beginning of my Presidency … We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage.”
Just a week ago, the world was against Trump; yet in a surprising turn of events the negative focus has shifted, as Iran’s people turn their scorn to their president instead. It feels like Trump just got the luckiest break from a choice that the world’s already forgotten about — or at the very least, stowed away for later.