Assassination of Soleimani will put Trump in crisis

The assassination will further put the Trump administration in diplomatic jeopardy when dealing with countries like France, Germany, China and Russia.

The assassination of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, a significant figure widely respected in Iran and Iraq, on January 3 has become the top news in all major international media. This new development will produce many long-term consequences, but will primarily put U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration in crisis in many ways.

Firstly, the assassination will create domestic challenges for Trump’s administration. The last months of 2019 have seen Democrats launch an impeachment against Trump for his pressuring of a foreign government to investigate his campaign opponent by withholding U.S. government-approved military assistance. Though the Republican-controlled Senate will unlikely vote to impeach Trump, the process has undermined his prestige as the leader of the nation.

Predictably, the killing of the Iranian military commander will become another issue that the Democrats will use to question Trump’s leadership. Some senior Democrats had already questioned the legality of Trump’s decision since the operation was conducted without informing Congress. Some other Democrats said that Trump should be held responsible for the potential security threat that American businesses as well as its diplomatic and military institutions will face in the region and at home since the assassination will provoke serious retaliation from the Iranian side.

That’s not the full story. The killing of Soleimani also has huge repercussions on the American public who do not want another war in the Middle East with Iran, and do not want to see more lives lost. As is evident, demonstrations took place in more than 80 cities across America in the immediate aftermath of the operation. Americans are worried that an escalation of this growing crisis will pull the U.S. into yet another war.

The coming months will certainly see a fierce domestic debate on whether Trump is truly capable and fit to lead the country, and the debate between the parties and among the people will become a major domestic challenge to the Trump administration.

Secondly, the assassination will isolate the Trump administration even more diplomatically. The U.S. led by President Trump had already been snubbed by international powers after its withdrawal from the JCPOA, dubbed the Iran nuclear deal, and its launching of maximum pressure on Iran. As is evident, the foreign ministers of major U.S. allies including Germany and France refused to participate in the conference for the isolation of Iran in Warsaw in February 2019. They have also privately and publicly criticized Trump’s policy toward Iran. Other major powers like China and Russia are even more further removed from the U.S. position on Iran.

The assassination will further put the Trump administration in diplomatic jeopardy when dealing with countries like France, Germany, China and Russia. Michael Pompeo, the U.S. Secretary of State telephoned his counterparts of major powers shortly after the assassination, saying that the U.S. does not want any escalation. This might seem that America is fine-tuning the unilateral approach that the Trump administration had adhered to all along.

However, Europeans, Chinese and Russians have reasons to be more dissatisfied with Trump’s decision in this regard. They do not want to see more tensions between the U.S. and Iran as well as in the region, which will threaten the interests of all. They might very well help prevent the situation from becoming worse, but their dissatisfaction against the U.S. will undoubtedly grow. In one word, the U.S. will only become more isolated.

Thirdly, the latest development will put the Trump administration’s global strategy in crisis. The United States has long regarded itself as the leader of the free world, and the main power providing security for many nations. But Trump, much like his predecessor, is well aware that the U.S. actually does not have that much military resources to provide security to the entire world. Trump himself also knows that the deployment of military resources is the least cost-effective in the Middle East. He personally said that the situation in the Middle East had remained the same even after the U.S. had invested US$7 trillion by the end of 2018. Therefore, Trump has always believed that the U.S. would have to eventually pull some of its troops out of the Middle East and deploy more troops in other parts of the world.

Trump might have assessed Soleimani’s assassination in too simple of terms. He might have calculated that killing the Iranian general would paralyze Iran’s military operation against the U.S., and with Iran posing less of a threat to U.S. interests in the region, a case could be made for America’s gradual military withdrawal from the Middle East.

Contrary to this, killing Soleimani could in fact stoke more hatred from Iran and pro-Iran militias. In this scenario, the U.S. will have to invest more of its military resources to protect its businesses, its diplomatic and military institutions in the region, as well as to counter Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East as well. This means that the U.S. will have less military resources to deploy in other parts of the world. To put it in another way, the U.S. global outreach will soon be in crisis.

By assassinating Soleimani, Trump might have wanted to prove his decisiveness and boldness and establish himself as a national hero in the lead up to the 2020 election. But this decision will put him, his administration and America in serious jeopardy. Trump may soon face a host of challenges that he might have never met in his past three years in office.

Jin Liangxiang is Senior Research Fellow with the Center for West Asian and African Studies, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies. 

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China Focus