FAREED ZAKARIA: An objective analysis of what just happened

Fareed: The Soleimani Strike Was Trump’s Michael Corleone Moment

“‘Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.’ Michael Corleone’s lament in The Godfather Part III, about never being able to escape his family business of crime, could well be said about America’s entanglement in the Middle East,” Fareed writes for CNN.

President Trump ran for office opposing foreign wars and prizing American interests above all—so why, Fareed asks, has he risked being drawn into another Middle East conflict, as other global competitions stare America in the face?

“[G]etting dragged back into the morass, once again getting mired in other peoples’ quarrels, losing another decade as China and others march on—that would be the surest path to America’s strategic decline,” Fareed writes.

The Backlash: Nukes, War, and a New Drone Precedent?

Almost on cue, Iran’s nuclear timetable is of renewed concern: Even before Iran’s announcement Sunday that it will disregard enrichment limits included in the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran had reduced “to a matter of months” the time it would need to develop a bomb, David Sanger and William Broad write for The New York Times. The Obama-negotiated deal had extended Iran’s nuclear breakout timeline, but after President Trump abandoned it, Iran stepped up its nuclear activities piecemeal, and Sanger and Broad argue that Trump’s withdrawal has “effectively backfired.”

Is a US-Iran war on the horizon? Ilan Goldenberg, who previously detailed what that might look like, writes at Foreign Affairs that the answer depends on Iran’s response to Soleimani’s killing. Tehran could attack Gulf oil infrastructure or US bases in Saudi Arabia or the UAE, and regional proxies could target US diplomats or civilians. Iran could try for something “appropriately proportional,” he writes, but a bungled 2011 assassination plot in Washington, D.C., revealed limited capabilities. As The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins writes, “The biggest danger, of course, is that the Iranians respond, and possibly miscalculate, and then the United States does the same.”

As Fareed noted on GPS, Chidanand Rajghatta raises another question at The Times of India: If the US killed Soleimani for supporting proxies that attack Americans, who’s to say Pakistani generals or intelligence officials, thought to support proxies like the Taliban and the Haqqani network, are off limits?

Opportunities Squandered, and the End of America in Iraq?

Before Soleimani’s death, politics had looked quite different in both Iran and Iraq. Where anti-regime protests raged in Iran in November, Goldenberg notes that after Soleimani’s killing, political momentum is now gathering behind revenge against the US.

In Iraq, demonstrators had been protesting Iranian influence, but the Soleimani strike “totally changed the narrative,” Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass noted on GPS; now, a movement is afoot in Iraq’s Parliament to expel US forces completely—which would remove America’s ability to fight ISIS in the country. Facing that reality, and the threat of Iranian reprisals against US personnel in Iraq, Emma Sky writes for Foreign Affairs that the US may find it has to leave. “Closing the embassy in Baghdad would be a wretched end to the U.S. relationship with a country in which it has invested so much blood and treasure. But by assassinating Soleimani, the Trump administration just made that outcome much more likely,” Sky writes.

What Soleimani’s Death Changes for Iran

Filkins, who profiled Soleimani in 2013 (and who joined Fareed on GPS yesterday), calls Soleimani’s death “a heavy blow to the Iranian regime.” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, coincidentally, had held a discussion in April on what the loss of Soleimani might mean for Iran’s Quds Force, which Soleimani led. (The group has been studying the effect of leaders’ sudden removals.) The conclusion, summed up by the Institute’s Michael Knights: Soleimani was a charismatic leader who symbolized the Revolutionary Guards’ power and who was able to coordinate a regional strategy across Iran’s military arms and proxies. Even if others pick up the slack, Knights argues, disorganization could emerge in Soleimani’s absence. “In combination with recent mass protests in Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran itself, the death of Soleimani could be a momentum-breaker for the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’] expansionist policies,” he writes.

What the Strike Says About Trump

As with other sudden Trump decisions, analysts are asking whether the president thought this through. Eliot Cohen suggests at The Atlantic that the answer appears to be no. It also reveals that no one in the administration serves as an effective counterbalance, Cohen argues: “There seems to have been no one playing that role, and thereby ensuring that second- and third-order considerations had been identified and explored. Beneath the Cabinet officials is an uneven crew, many of its members filling acting positions. And above them all is a mercurial, impulsive, and ignorant president who has no desire to be pulled into a Middle Eastern war in an election year, and who wants to look tough without being prepared to follow through,” Cohen writes. “This is a recipe for strategic ineptitude, and possibly failure.”

0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Mark Adams #

    Maybe Trump got his advice from the Israelis or Saudis? Assassination is part of politics in the middle east. It is also appropriate under the American model to take out opposing military leaders. Something we have don in most of our wars beginning with the revolutionary war.

    As long as Trump is serious about bombing the 51 sites up to using atomic warheads he is the strong man in this and should receive the respect of the Persians, who now must act, or make noise and come to Trumps table in supplication. Not pretty, not very American, but true to middle eastern norms.

Your Comment