- The Trump administration does not appear to have a strategy for what’s next following the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top military leader, experts warned.
- The administration said the killing was aimed at deterring Iranian attacks – but with Iran vowing revenge, it could have the opposite effect.
- “The potential for escalation was already high but now is nearly certain,” Dalia Dassa Kaye, the director of the Centre for Middle East Public Policy at the RAND Corporation, told Insider.
- “I don’t think there has been serious thinking about the steps post-killing,” Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, told Insider.
- Even Republicans, such as Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, emphasised the need for a “coherent strategy” in the Middle East following the news of Soleimani’s killing.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Under orders from President Donald Trump, the US killed a top Iranian general in a drone strike in Iraq on Thursday, sending shockwaves through the world and raising fears of a new conflict in the Middle East.
The Middle East has been rocked by instability for years, but experts warned that Trump might have just poured gasoline on the fire – and without a clear strategy on what to do next.
Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani was Iran’s most important military leader, who reported only to the country’s supreme leader, and the Iranian government has painted his death as an act of “international terrorism” and warned that “harsh retaliation is waiting.”
Dalia Dassa Kaye, the director of the Centre for Middle East Public Policy and a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, told Insider that the Iranians were “likely to view this attack as an act of war.”
“The potential for escalation was already high but now is nearly certain,” Kaye said.
Kaye questioned the Trump administration’s goal in taking out the Iranian general.
“There’s also the question of what the US was trying to achieve. Punitive action is not a strategy. If the goal is to reduce Iranian meddling in the region and produce a better nuclear agreement, it’s hard to see how this action helps,” Kaye said. “It may only lead to more destructive Iranian actions and a spiraling of the conflict throughout the region. We are now at an extremely dangerous moment.”
Republicans in Congress have largely praised Trump’s move as the killing of a leader who fuelled terrorism, but at least one senator has raised concerns about the larger Iran strategy.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday, as allies distanced themselves from the US and Democrats raised concerns that Trump’s decision put Americans in the region in greater danger.
‘I don’t think there has been serious thinking about the steps post-killing’
The US and Iran have had an antagonistic relationship for roughly four decades, but Soleimani’s killing is among the most provocative moves from either side – even after tensions reached historic heights in 2019 with a series of incidents in the Persian Gulf region.
There were widespread fears that a new Middle Eastern war was on the horizon amid attacks on oil tankers and facilities and as Iran took major steps away from the 2015 nuclear deal that Trump withdrew the US from in May 2018.
The Trump administration has claimed that killing Soleimani will help deter attacks, as the Iranian general was linked to the deaths of least 608 US troops in Iraq from 2003 to 2011, but Iran has vowed “severe revenge” for the deadly strike.
Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, told Insider she didn’t think the Trump administration had a coherent strategy when it decided to strike.
“The circumstances surrounding the attack seem to indicate that this was a unique opportunity to kill Soleimani with minimal civilian casualties that was presented to Trump and he made the decision to go for it absent the usual interagency process of gaming such action on different levels,” Slim said.
She added: “I don’t think there has been serious thinking about the steps post-killing.”
‘One wonders if the Trump team thought through how it will play out’
Less than three months ago, Trump said he was moving to end “stupid endless wars” as he justified his controversial decision to abandon US-allied Kurdish forces to a Turkish military invasion in Syria.
Killing Soleimani does not appear to be a step toward ending or deterring endless conflict; previous administrations chose not to target Soleimani because they were concerned it would escalate the conflict.
“The logic of the assassination was to reestablish deterrence, after many months of not responding forcefully to attacks on ships, drones, and oil facilities,” Mark Fitzpatrick, a former US diplomat who’s an associate fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told Insider. “But one wonders if the Trump team thought through how it will play out.”
Fitzpatrick said that the “bitter irony” was that while the justification for the assassination was “deterring future Iranian attacks,” it “ensures there will be many more attacks.”
‘We’re in uncharted territory’
Michael Singh, a senior director for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush who’s now at the Washington Institute, told Insider that targeting Soleimani was an “enormously significant act,” describing the Iranian general as a “near-mythic figure in the Middle East.”
Singh said that he wouldn’t call Soleimani’s killing an “act of war” but that “it’s fairer to characterise it as an act of self-defence.”
“Iran had been targeting Americans in Iraq who were there lawfully to advise and assist the Iraqi government, and it’s fair to assume Soleimani was in Iraq partly to oversee those attacks,” Singh said.
At the same time, Singh said, it’s “hard to say what happens next.”
“We’re in uncharted territory,” Singh said. “The road ahead is uncertain, but certainly a rocky one.”
Singh added that Iran would be “highly motivated to retaliate in as spectacular a way as it can, though now it will perhaps be more cognisant that the US is willing to push back.”
Iranian proxy forces, including Iraqi Shiite militias, will have their own agenda that will include “pushing the US out of Iraq and retaliating for their own significant losses,” Singh said.
He added that Soleimani’s death could set off a “jockeying for power and influence in Iran’s regional power structure that could have nasty external manifestations of their own.”
‘Trump’s disastrous approach to Iran has, from the beginning, been all tactics and no strategy’
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, echoed such concerns in a statement on Friday.
“President Trump’s disastrous approach to Iran has, from the beginning, been all tactics and no strategy. They make it up day by day,” Murphy said. “The assassination of Soleimani fits this pattern. I hope I am wrong, but I suspect this White House is totally unprepared for the cascade of consequences that will follow last night’s actions. I pray for the Americans who, today, are in harm’s way.”
In an interview with MSNBC on Friday, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the committee, questioned the intelligence behind the killing.
“I have been arguing for some time that the administration needs to devise a strategy as how it relates to Iran and what’s our pathway forward,” Menendez said. “And I fear that this administration used tactics but has no strategy in the long term. What we cannot accept is a march to an unauthorised war.”
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have generally been supportive of Trump in their responses.
“We killed the most powerful man in Tehran short of the Ayatollah,” GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, who also sits on the committee, tweeted. “This was not an act of revenge for what he had done in the past. This was a preemptive, defensive strike planned to take out the organiser of attacks yet to come.”
But Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, another committee member, raised questions about the next steps.
The Utah senator said in tweets that Soleimani was a “depraved terrorist” with American blood on his hands who was “doubtlessly planning operations to further harm our citizens and allies.”
But Romney said that “with ever increasing challenges confronting us in the Middle East, it’s imperative that the US & our allies articulate & pursue a coherent strategy for protecting our security interests in the region.”
Romney said he would be “pressing the Administration for additional details in the days ahead.”
- Read more:
- Trump tweets predicting Obama would start a war with Iran to get re-elected are coming back to haunt him
- Lawmakers react in strikingly different ways after the US claimed responsibility for an airstrike that killed Iran’s top general
- Trump tweeted a photo of the American flag minutes before the Pentagon claimed the US killed Iran’s top military general in an airstrike
- How the Trump administration got into a showdown with Iran that could lead to war
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.