President Trump’s decision to take out the man regarded as the second most powerful official in Iran has politicians and the chattering class in a state of agitation. Putting this daring move by Trump in perspective is becoming a challenge with all the partisan vitriol being aired and inked by the national news media. In order to shed more light than heat on the subject, Liberty Nation sought out someone who knows the players and the theater in which they operate intimately and dispassionately.
James Carafano is vice president of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Following a distinguished 25-year military career, Carafano has dedicated himself to teaching, commenting, and writing about American defense and intelligence issues. Mr. Carafano has previously provided commentary for Fox News and now joins Liberty Nation for a no-holds-barred analysis of the drone attack that killed Iran’s Major General Qassem Soleimani. We found Carafano’s comments refreshingly honest and spot on. We hope you find them equally edifying.
Liberty Nation: Jim, you were with the U.S. Army in Europe, South Korea, the U.S., rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. What do you make of this move by President Donald Trump yesterday?
Carafano: Well, this is clearly an act of self-defense. Which is, by the way, the conditions under which the U.S. and Iraqis agreed to station U.S. forces in Iraq: that they had the inherent right to defend themselves. This is a known terrorist, a man from a designated terrorist organization, who is actually under U.N. sanctions, forbidden from international travel, who is in a foreign country organizing terrorist attacks against the United States. It’s a completely justifiable act. Matter of fact, I would venture that any American president, Bush, Obama, would have done exactly the same thing in this situation.
Liberty Nation: Well, Washington whispers are that Soleimani and Iran were planning a military coup in Iraq, which is why President Trump acted. Do you find that far-fetched?
Carafano: Here’s what we know for a fact. There are three groups in Iraq. There’s the Sunni, the Shia, and the Kurds. The Kurds live in Kurdistan. They, of course, hate the Iranians, they hate Soleimani. Soleimani organized Iraqi militias, attacking and killing peshmerga, so they have no love for Iranians.
The Sunni are in the minority; that was the tribe of Saddam Hussein. They dominated the country even though they were in the minority. They, of course, hate the Iranians.
The majority of the country is Shia, and so, not surprisingly, they control the government. But they are split between Shia, which essentially is patriotic and Shia that essentially is working at the behest of the Iranians. They have controlled the government. This is why we’ve had months of protests against the government.
The protests have been complaining about the influence of Iran, and the protesters had been killed, murdered, and wounded by militias, which had been funded and directed by Iran. And so now, there’s this great turmoil and yeah, what the Iranians would like is, they would like to install another government, which is essentially a puppet of the regime in Iran. That’s what the struggle has really been about for months.
Liberty Nation: I’m going to give you a quote and let you respond to this. “This is one of the very few times in my life that I can say the U.S. has just made a move that is strategically brilliant. We’ve done a lot of good things, but this is the kind of daring and decisiveness I previously thought only the Israelis were capable of.”
Carafano: Well, this President has been pretty consistent in what he’s been trying to do. And one is not tolerating Iranian disruptive behavior. Putting the sanctioning and the pressure campaign in place, and then when the Iranians have tried to intimidate the U.S., whether it’s cutting off the oil, or closing the Gulf or firing rockets at Saudi Arabia or shooting down the drones, the United States has reacted with calm and firm resolve. So, what they’ve done is demonstrate not just to the Iranians, but the entire region, that the United States will not be pushed around by Iran. I think they have reset the table, and every time we see Iran try one of these things, they’re acting out of frustration and anger, not because they’re on the march.
Liberty Nation: It’s quite fascinating because the Democrats are hemming and hawing today about Trump using the drone. But Mr. Obama was quite fond of the drone attack.
Carafano: Well, look, it’s hard to look at these criticisms and not see them as anything other than blatantly partisan rancor. I mean, there’s no difference between taking out Osama Bin Laden and taking out Soleimani. They’re both terrorists. They’re both lawful attacks. If anything, Soleimani is more important, because he was actively planning on killing Americans. If we had not killed him yesterday, they would be killing Americans today. To somehow complain about this just makes no sense whatsoever.
And to claim it’s an escalation is just ridiculous. Again, what do you want an American president to do? Not to defend American troops? Just the other day, they were going after him, and they were saying, “Well, the attack in Baghdad is Trump’s Benghazi,” which is laughable, considering they went around for years claiming that the Obama administration didn’t do anything wrong in Benghazi. And now they’re attacking Trump, for having a failure like Benghazi. It’s like they forgot their own talking points.
The response in Baghdad was the polar opposite. We very quickly reinforced our embassy, and it was never at risk. So, I think the criticisms just come off as really unfortunate. And really, very inappropriate. America is out there trying to defend America. That’s not the time, essentially to say, “Son, well, somehow it’s all Trump’s fault,” which is essentially what we see happening here.
Liberty Nation: Speaking from a strictly military point of view, let’s review. Not a single Iranian civilian was harmed. Iranian sovereignty was not violated. The man most responsible for targeting us and directing attacks at us was basically killed cleanly. So, what’s the downside here?
Carafano: Well, I mean, let’s be clear about what happened here. This is unbelievably brazen. This would be like if, after Pearl Harbor, Yamamoto went and took a vacation in Waikiki. Or if Bin Laden after 9/11, checked into a hotel in Times Square to plan the next terrorist attack. I mean, they were so in our face, the Iranians were in Iraq, in a foreign country, organizing terrorist attacks against the United States. The fact that they thought they could do that and get away with it? That they would even try something like that? To take, essentially, the world’s most wanted man and have him walk up to the front lines? I mean, that’s just unbelievable.
Liberty Nation: Earlier today, managing editor of Liberty Nation, Mark Angelides, wrote, “How to kill more terrorists than we create? That is, indeed, an important element of the equation.” Is that a fair question to ask in response to this situation?
Carafano: Well, I think the important thing in the short term is, it hopefully disrupts the capability to organize attacks against Americans. These have been going on for well over a year. The official estimates are almost 2000; the reality is it’s many, many more than that.
People probably wonder, why now? Well, the reality is, after the United States pulled out in 2011 and ISIS was overrunning everything, the Iranians moved in, in part, to fund the militias to attack ISIS. After ISIS was killed off, and we were all kind of distracted doing that, what Iran did is they took the infrastructure they had built in Iraq – in control and security, political people and the militias – and they weaponized that, to kill their opponents in Iraq, political opponents in Iraq, and to kill Americans.
They created this threat, and the U.S. just responded to it. And I don’t think the U.S. really had any option. I mean, we could all debate about, what this will lead to, will there be more terrorists? But, when somebody’s trying to kill you, that’s not the time to say, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t stop it, because if I don’t stop it, it’ll get worse.”
Before 9/11, a lot of people were saying, “We shouldn’t go after Bin Laden, because if we don’t go after Bin Laden, he’ll just leave us alone.” And we left him alone, and he planned 9/11 and killed a bunch of people. The argument that somehow, we should’ve just left Soleimani alone, and we’d all be better off? No, we wouldn’t because they would just be trying to kill us.
Look, I think this is an act of self-defense. The U.S. had no choice. It did the right thing. And what we need, I think, is more of the same. The steady leadership, you cannot push us around, we don’t have a target on our back. And if America stands for itself and its interests, I think it will be better for us, and it will be better for our friends and allies around the world, as well.
Liberty Nation: Thank you.