Event Summary: The Day After Soleimani: Are the US and Iran Headed to War?
On Tuesday, January 7, 2020, the SETA Foundation at Washington, DC hosted a panel of experts to discuss ‘The Day After Soleimani: Are the US and Iran Headed to War?’ The discussion featured Luke Coffey, Director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy; Kilic B. Kanat, Research Director at SETA DC; Trita Parsi, Executive Vice President of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft; and Mark Perry, Independent author and journalist. The panel was moderated by Kadir Ustun, Executive Director at SETA DC.
At the outset of the discussion, Mark Perry magnified the haste in which the Trump administration decided to assassinate Qasem Soleimani, and explained that many officials inside the Pentagon were surprised to hear about his death. He continued by demonstrating that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has inserted himself into the chain of command and marginalized those who are usually in positions of military authority. In terms of Iran’s retaliation, Perry believes that Iran’s response will not be controlled or proportionate but rather violent and very soon. He insists that the US has been at war with Iran for 40 years, and that the assassination of Soleimani is an act of war that will make relations more dangerous. Perry questions whether this decision will help the US’s political position in the Middle East, and anticipates an escalation in the near future.
Trita Parsi noted that he is struck by the dramatic shift that has taken place since July and the posture that Trump took then, and what has happened in the last 10 days or so. Beyond the question of whether the US and Iran will engage in war, he wonders what the US role will be moving forward. The public response in Iran to Soleimani’s death has nothing to do with the government of Iran, but rather is evidence of a sentiment and outpouring of nationalism which the Iranian government will seek to exploit. He believes that if the US were to withdraw militarily from Iraq, the Iranians would run out of excuses which would pave the way for the Iraqis to establish sovereignty. In terms of sanctions, Parsi explained that while they might be devastating the economy, he does not believe they are successful in deterring the Iranian regime.
Luke Coffey made it clear that his only complaint about the timing of Soleimani’s death is that it did not happen sooner. One of the most destructive forces in the Middle East is gone and cannot be easily replaced. Taking away whether there was a threat of an imminent attack, he highlights the fact that the world has already seen what Soleimani was capable of doing. Coffey also insists that he does not believe that officials in the Department of Defense would present President Trump with options that they did not think they could fulfill; he believes that the president has been given the option of assassinating Soleimani before. He agrees with Perry that the US has been at some sort of war with Iran since 1979, but stands by the fact that the timing of Soleimani’s demise is not concerning.
Kilic B. Kanat began by illustrating the US’s lack of strategy toward Iran in particular and the Middle East as a whole. He noted that Secretary Pompeo stated that the administration was pursuing a strategy to make Iran act like a normal nation, begging the question of whether diplomacy is still on the table. The scenarios following Soleimani’s assassination are dangerous, and Kanat made it clear that no country in the world should make the region as vulnerable as it is, but Iran does. He also added that while unilateralism has its perks, US allies were ill informed of this operation. Is this the new mode of action for the US? In terms of sanctions, Kanat highlights the fact that sanctions are not a policy but rather an instrument used to achieve a desired policy. He is concerned that the killing of Soleimani could inadvertently eradicate the deterrence strategy of the administration’s maximum pressure campaign.