The assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the longtime commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has profoundly changed the playing field between the United States and Iran. For the first time since 1988 – when then-US President Ronald Reagan responded to Iranian provocations in the Straits of Hormuz by sinking Iranian warships and destroying two oil platforms – tangible consequences were imposed on the regime. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini and the IRGC are now forced to revisit their decades-long assumption that America would not respond militarily to its nefarious behavior, and the United States needs to develop a strategy to take advantage of its newfound leverage.
As former Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman and former director at the National Security Council Franklin Miller wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “deterrence works only if the threats are credible … his death is the first time the regime has lost something of value in its conflict with the United States.”
We cannot let the proportional response of Iran fool us. The foundational core of the regime remains revolutionary and expansionistic: Their goal remains ejecting the United States from the region and acquiring nuclear-weapons capabilities to become immune to regime change and dominate the region.
What is still open for debate and in American hands is how to manage this unrepentant tiger going forward, especially with all Democratic candidates pledging to return to 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) and remove US President Donald Trump’s sanctions, while the president might decide to remove all troops from Iraq.
Critics are focused on the constitutionality of the targeted assassination. Yet they seem to have forgotten that the recent Iranian attack on the US embassy in Baghdad itself was an act of war, directed by Soleimani. It can be argued the killing was or wasn’t strategically wise, but that Trump was well within his rights to make that decision.