The decision to attack Iranian terrorist mastermind Gen. Qassim Suleimani was the right one. The fact that the operation succeeded in killing him should be welcomed rather than second-guessed. He was responsible not only for Iranian military operations that have killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers and thousands of civilians in Iraq, but also for actively orchestrating ongoing attacks on our troops there.
President Trump has demonstrated great patience and restraint in dealing with recent Iranian aggression. Recall Iran’s attacks last year on oil tankers in international waters of the Persian Gulf. Or Iran’s shooting down a U.S. reconnaissance drone flying in international air space. Yet when he was told that a planned U.S. retaliatory strike against Iranian rocket launching sites might kill nearby civilians, Trump called it off.
Those are not the actions of a trigger-happy president. But after more recent attacks by Shiite militias in Iraq directed by Suleimani that killed Americans, and the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad by these same militias, President Trump was right to say enough was enough.
It’s important to note that Suleimani was killed in Iraq, not in his home country of Iran. For years he had ranged freely across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, planning and executing acts of war against Americans. His military operations were a threat to the entire Mideast, especially Israel. Let’s remember that Iran’s overarching purpose is to destroy Israel and to defeat the U.S. When Iranian ayatollahs’ rabid followers chant “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” they mean it.
If past is prologue, all we need to do is look back at the history of terrorist leaders in the Middle East, beginning with Osama bin Laden. For years we knew he was fomenting acts of terrorism against the U.S. For years we tracked and hunted him, and even tried to kill him several times. In 1998, on President Bill Clinton’s orders, cruise missiles were fired at bin Laden’s Afghanistan camps, apparently just missing him. In 2000 a CIA-directed attack on a convoy carrying bin Laden again narrowly missed him. Imagine how differently Sept. 11, 2001, might have passed had the U.S. been successful in killing its mastermind.
Today, with the benefit of this hindsight, the U.S. has every right to kill terrorists and their leaders before they can kill us. When Trump authorized the attack that killed ISIS terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last October, the Mideast and the world were ridded of a violent menace.
The same goes for Suleimani. Former CIA Director David Petraeus called Suleimani’s killing even more significant than the death of bin Laden or al-Baghdadi. “It’s impossible to overstate the significance of the attack that takes out Suleimani,” Petraeus said. “This is bigger than bin Laden. It’s bigger than Baghdadi.”
For too many years, Iran has sown discord and conflict in the Middle East. It has stirred trouble in Lebanon with its support of Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that regularly fires missiles at Israel. It helped foment a brutal civil war in Yemen, backing an insurgency that relies on Iranian support. No corner of the Mideast has been free from Iranian aggression and intervention. And at every turn, the Iranian military leader calling the shots was Suleimani.
But by far the worst threat Iran poses to the entire world is its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. Consider the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran. Under the threat of nuclear war, it could take terrorism to even more violent heights. And it clearly intends to pursue nuclear weapons if the rest of the world tolerates its nuclear ambitions. Experts warn that Iran is no more than a year or two away from a building a bomb, without the now defunct nuclear deal that aimed to prevent that. The only questions remaining are when Iran will have a bomb, or when the world will stop it.
After Trump’s measured response to Iran’s face-saving but relatively harmless “revenge attack” on U.S. airbases in Iraq, he told Iran’s people, “We want you to have a great future, one that you deserve, one of prosperity at home in harmony with the nations of the world. The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.”
Just the right words. And just the right balance. There’s a reason the proud eagle in the Great Seal of the United States brandishes arrows in one talon and offers olive branches in the other.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.