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In ordering the drone strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, at the Baghdad airport in Iraq, President Trump showed that he had the intelligence to know where Soleimani was, and commanded the hardware to do the deed. The intelligence services he so derides served him well.

Trump Incoherence

But he hadn’t the good sense to know what he was doing. Since the invasion of 2003, American presidents (Bush, Obama and now Trump) and their advisers have had an insufficient grasp of the treacherous complexity of Iraqi society and the volatile region around it. Troops on the ground could defeat Saddam Hussein and establish what amounted to a puppet government, but have never been even close to establishing the sort of stable democracy that would have enabled the US to declare victory and go home.

On the contrary, we have been stuck in what Trump has called an “endless war.” Obama before him criticized the original invasion and tried unsuccessfully to pull the remaining troops out. Trump vowed to do better, but three years into his presidency we are no closer to getting out, and this latest drone strike promises to draw us more deeply into Iraq and the region.

The fundamental problem, as with so much of Trump’s foreign policy, is incoherence: the pieces not only don’t fit together, they work against each other.

The fundamental problem, as with so much of Trump’s foreign policy, is incoherence: the pieces not only don’t fit together, they work against each other.

One of Trump’s most fundamental foreign policy positions has been hostility to the Islamic revolutionary regime in Iran. He pulled out of the international accord that had limited Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, and instead escalated sanctions against the Iranian regime. The US and its Israeli and Saudi allies have been working against Iranian proxies from Yemen to Lebanon.

The Iranians for their part have been trying to undermine US interests throughout the region. General Soleimani was the commander of that whole effort. So at the most obvious level, taking him out made as much sense as killing Osama bin-Laden or al-Baghdadi.

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But if Trump wants to actually get out of Iraq, this is going to backfire. Recent weeks have seen mass protests against the Shia-dominated, Iranian-supported Iraqi government. These protests threatened Iran’s privileged position as a power-broker in Iraq. The Iranians want effective control of the Iraqi government so they can use it as a regional ally, along with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah, against the Israelis and Saudis.

As part of their strategy of working against the Americans in Iraq, an Iranian militia staged an attack that killed a US contractor. The US responded by escalating: an air raid on the militia killed a couple dozen militia fighters.

In this context, and losing in the Iraqi streets, the Iranians decided to up the ante. Soleimani no doubt ordered the pro-Iranian militia to attack and partially occupy the US embassy in Baghdad, in a transparent attempt to replicate the Occupation of the Tehran embassy in 1979 (just forty years ago). They clearly surprised both the government and the embassy staff, and nearly succeeded. American intelligence, good enough to know where Soleimani was, apparently was blindsided by the attack on the embassy. The Trump administration should be asking how it happened that this militia was allowed into the supposedly secure Green Zone in the first place.

Ultimately the government did send troops in to hold the embassy, and got the militia to withdraw by promising to support legislation in Parliament to require withdrawal of all US troops from the country. Trump wants to leave, but not that way. Ironically, killing Soleimani might produce the final break with the Iraqi government, which, to save its own skin, could back an order for US withdrawal.

Trump said the attack on Soleimani was “to stop a war.” That’s just silly. If US intelligence knew what Soleimani was planning, we could have quietly countered it. But assassinating the top general is sure to elicit escalation from Iran.

That’s how the Middle East works. An eye for an eye. The only question is where and when the blow will come.

impeachment unavoidable

John Peeler