The American government has again proved an ally of Iran’s hardliners…


The funeral of Qasem Soleimani in Tehran, Iran on January 6, 2020. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons (cc)

From London Review of Books:

The storming of the American embassy in Baghdad, only a few months after the Aramco attack, was clearly important: other than personal criticism – or the prospect of impeachment, from which the confrontation provides a useful distraction – nothing enrages Trump so much as spectacles of American weakness. A sense of pique may also have contributed to the assassination order. [Qasem] Soleimani seemed to take pleasure in taunting the Americans. ‘There is not one night we sleep without thinking of you,’ he said in July 2018 on Iranian television. ‘Mr Gambler Trump, we are near you where you don’t expect.’ Trump may have wished to prove to Soleimani that he was near him when he didn’t expect. And Khamenei’s remark, after the storming of the embassy in Baghdad, that ‘you can’t do anything,’ may have been the last straw.

It’s hard to explain Trump’s decision other than as a response to insult, since such a dangerous escalation seems inconsistent with his aversion to foreign wars, and his (so far) unerring sensitivity to his right-wing isolationist base. As Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group remarked on Twitter, killing Soleimani is for all intents and purposes a declaration of war against Iran. It is, of course, possible that Trump is unaware of this, or that he imagines that Iran ‘can’t do anything’ in response and will simply absorb the blow – in which case he is hallucinating.

By killing Soleimani, Trump has not only supplied the Islamic Republic with a powerful casus belli, he has also reinforced its longstanding narrative of martyrdom at the hands of the Great Satan, and may well help to strengthen the supreme leader’s hand at the very moment that the regime is facing popular anti-Iranian protests in Iraq and Lebanon, and reeling from a series of revolts at home in which hundreds of Iranians were killed by security forces. Not for the first time, the American government has proved an objective ally of Iran’s hardliners. The man once known as the living martyr would be smiling.

“Trump Declares War”, Adam Shatz, London Review of Books