It should not be hard to imagine how a President Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden sends 'best wishes' to Clinton following hospitalization The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle MORE would have responded if she were presented with solid intelligence that an imminent attack on American diplomats and personnel was being planned by the world’s leading terrorist state with the blood of hundreds of Americans on his hands, especially in the wake of an orchestrated proxy attack on America’s largest embassy in the world in Baghdad. She likely would have chosen to target the mastermind of the attacks, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
These thought exercises, placing partisans in the roles of those they demonize, is a good test to see whether what they are saying is truly in the nation’s interest or for political advantage.
The hatred for President TrumpDonald TrumpMcAuliffe takes tougher stance on Democrats in Washington Democrats troll Trump over Virginia governor's race Tom Glavine, Ric Flair, Doug Flutie to join Trump for Herschel Walker event MORE has blinded many Americans, making them unable to see what may be in the nation’s interest if it is initiated by his administration, such as the strike last week that killed Soleimani. The sad joke is that if Trump found the cure to cancer, the first response might be, “Will he profit from it?” Trump has invited much of the disdain against him, especially with his ad hominem attacks and apparent lack of respect for different opinions.
Which brings us to a fundamental, but unappreciated, reason that American foreign policy is compromised and will remain so in the dangerous post-Soleimani world. It’s a combination of Americans’ antipathy toward their fellow citizens who hold differing political positions, and the political leaders who are unwilling or unable to rally the American people toward a common purpose and sense of cohesion.
America faces tough foreign policy choices, and we must acknowledge our lack of unity as a source of weakness that benefits and emboldens our enemies. It needs to be acknowledged as a fundamental handicap for all our most difficult foreign policy choices — with China, Russia, Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Seeing America at war with itself increases their appetite for provocative actions.
Has America has fallen into a trap set by Soleimani’s Iran?
There should be little doubt that Soleimani was baiting the U.S. to respond and upped the ante after Trump resisted strong pressure to respond to the Iranian downing of a U.S. drone, the brazen Iranian attack against the world’s oil supply in Saudi Arabia, and Iran’s targeting of shipping in international waterways.
Soleimani calculated that Iran was in a win-win situation. Continue to attack America, forcing it to respond, knowing that Americans are at each other’s throats and don’t have the stomach for another Middle East war, or humiliate the United States as it withdraws troops from the region with its tail between its legs.
He thought he had impunity, but he was wrong. He set a trap and was caught in his own web.
What should America do now? Militarily, a good choice would be to quietly tell the Iranians that we will target their fossil fuel infrastructure on Kharg Island if they respond. They know this would collapse what’s left of their economy. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei wants to survive, and ending Iranian oil exports, combined with the maximum pressure sanctions campaign, could lead to regime change.
For there to be any sense of purpose within America, Americans need to know whether there are still U.S. interests remaining in Iraq. If there are, Americans won’t tolerate leaving our soldiers as sitting ducks in Baghdad’s Green Zone. We Americans know not to trust the Iraqi military to protect American forces — we saw them last week sit idly by while Iranian-controlled protestors and militia members marched uncontested through the gates of the Green Zone right up to the U.S. embassy doors.
America indeed has strategic interests in Iraq, primarily related to Iran’s nuclear program, terrorism and hegemony. We need a commander in chief who chooses what is best for American interests in the long term, even if it isn’t considered the politically expedient choice. And yes, the president would do well to consult with Congress, even if he has the last word.
President Trump must explain why a small American presence in Iraq can keep us in the game to inhibit Iranian expansionism. If Iraq demands that America leave, what about U.S. troops in Kurdistan (northern Iraq)? Will we abandon this territory as we did with the Kurds in northern Syria? If we do, they almost certainly will have to cut a deal with Iran, much as the Syrian Kurds were forced to make a deal with Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime. America should not abandon Kurdistan.
Our ally Israel is in a more acute situation in the post-Soleimani era. Israel will want to continue to hit Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq, to keep Iran’s proxies at bay, but how will that affect American plans for either de-escalation or further targeting of Iranian interests? It seems likely that an Israeli confrontation with Iran will happen sooner or later. America must ask itself where it wants to be when that happens.
Unfortunately, our foreign policy choices will continue to be undermined by America’s disunity, and both the president and Congress must find a better way to work together for the national good and our interests abroad.
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides on the geo-politics of the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter @MepinOrg.