On the assassination of Qassem Suleimani and why Trump is a loose canon after all.
By Dyab Abou Jahjah
Ever since Trumps election, many among us have kept their hands on their hearts. Such a fool at the top of the world's greatest military and economic power. An ego tripper who gains control of the kind of power with the potential to destroy the whole world. This seems like a scenario for the prequel to the Game of Thrones with the "mad king" as the central figure. And yet, since then, Trump has often shown that he was not very keen on using military power.
Of course you have that statistical escalation in the number of drone attacks compared to figures under Obama, but that is usually not a matter of attention in the public opinion. Because that does not contain the seeds of an escalation, since it does not involve state actors. But so far, whenever he had to deal with States, Trump turned out to be reluctant to use military power. Just think of the case of the American drone that was shot down by Iran few months ago. Then Trump threatened on twitter with a destructive revenge action. But when it came to the moment of truth, he decided to abort the planned missile attack, because the number of casualties would be too large and therefore disproportionate, he claimed. Some, including me, doubted if that was the real reason, but anyway, it was a curiously mature and composed decision.
And then one had to think about the verbal war between Trump and Kim Jong-un and how it has since then produced a diplomatic bromance between the two eccentric leaders. Now, war between the US and North Korea is far away, and that is not due to a substantial breakthrough in the negotiations around the major contention issues between the two countries, but to the character of Trump. Trump the "dealmaker", the “showman” who certainly has a big mouth, but who might have a tendency towards peace and diplomacy, some dared to dream. His relative withdrawal from Iraq and Syria, his openness to a dialogue with Iran, even his good relationship with the Russians, everything seemed to contradict the fear that we had the first days after his election.
But then this happens. After weeks of escalation in Iraq, where the pillars of the pro-Iranian regime were destabilized by a popular uprising, which made the components of the regime nervous, the Americans decided to step up the pressure against the Iraqi "People Mobilization" militias (Al Hashd Al Shaabi). Al Hashd is a semi-official Shiite pro-Iranian militia that can be seen as the strongest military entity in Iraq and that played the most important role in the victory against ISIS in that country. Sanctions were first invoked against important figures from Al Hashd, and a few weeks later American bombing followed against one of its positions. As a reaction, supporters of Al Hashd stormed and occupied the American embassy in Baghdad. The Ambassador and the rest of the crew fled. Some spoke of a “Saigon moment”. The assassination of Qassem Suleimani, and the leader of Al Hashd who was in the car with him, can be placed in that context.
Nevertheless, it remains a reckless move. Because Suleimani is not just a small pawn that can be used as a sacrifice on a chessboard. The man is, without exaggeration, the number two of the Iranian regime. And the number one of that regime, Ayatullah Khameni had a collision with Trump a few days ago in response to a tweet from the latter in which he threatened Iran with an unseen response to the embassy storm. Khameni said "That guy" speaks but can't do a thing. Was Trump dead-set on proving him wrong?
So what is really going on now? Has a twitter riot between two machos driven things up so sharply? Had the Iranians miscalculated the American response? Did the incident with the drone a few months ago lead them to believe that Trump will always avoid a confrontation? I think this is all true, but it goes even further than this. From the circles of the Iranian regime , a continuous narrative was being expressed, over the past six months, about a full American withdrawal from the region. About how a war against Iran will not happen and about how Iran now has full initiative in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and throughout the region. This was the mindset of the Iranians and their allies until the slaying of Suleimani, and this mindset dictated the occupation of the American embassy. The biggest mistake of this reasoning is that it considered Trump a rational actor and thus analyzed his decisions as being part of a coherent geopolitical strategy. Calculation of the Ego-factor of his political impulses was not part of the analysis. That Ego-factor that is now stronger than ever with the impeachment procedure that is going on. And yet, the Iranians should have known that it is a classic for an American president who has a hard time domestically to see a war abroad as an exit strategy. Iran also forgot the role of Israel and its lobby in the US whispering continuously and daily to Trump that a war against Iran is a necessity.
But it is not only Iran that has miscalculated. Trump has now also overplayed his hand. By assassinating Suleimani, he has certainly dealt Iran a serious blow, but at the same time he has endangered all American interests in the region. Iran can respond in Saudi Arabia, in Israel, in Iraq, in Lebanon, or even in Afghanistan. Is America willing to follow Trump into a total war? Is Europe willing to show solidarity with America in such a war? What will Russia and China do? What about oil prices and economic repercussions? Everything depends on the reprisals of the Iranians now. And then on the reaction of the Americans to these reprisals. But one thing is certain, Trump turned out to be that "loose canon" who we always feared was able to make a foolish decision that could bring not only the Middle East but the whole world into an unprecedented chaos.