The self-fulfilling Iran prophecy

The self-fulfilling Iran prophecy
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We are told the death of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani from a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad prevented possible attacks against U.S. targets and has brought a sense of justice for the hundreds of Americans killed by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq over the last two decades.

But his death has also invited retaliation against the U.S. in the form of missile attacks  — now reported to have injured 11 Americans — in Iraq. 

Because Americans were harmed, this could have easily erupted into the U.S. waging a regime change war against Iran.


We are lucky it didn’t, especially at this moment when officials who have been urging for a war with Iran for decades now hold considerable influence in Washington.

While this situation is still very much developing, one thing is certain: U.S. — Iranian relations are at a 40-year low and will not recover in the foreseeable future.

Many observers have wondered if the Trump administration fully understood the longer-term implications of taking out Soleimani before giving the order. 

While some supporters of the attack fall back on the claim that Middle Eastern governments respect strength and Iran will back down after this show, the warnings from the State Department to citizens in the region and the retaliatory missile attacks prove otherwise.

Even the Bush administration and Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel — neither of whom have reputations as shirking violets when it came to using military action — passed on opportunities to kill Soleimani out of caution for the reaction it could cause. 


Rather than taking a pragmatic, realistic approach by showing restraint, the entire situation plays into the hands of those in Washington who have spent nearly four decades magnifying the threat of Iran to U.S. security to justify regime change in Tehran. Through their actions, we have been on the path of a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to a shooting war.

The killing of Soleimani has brought us closer to that brink than we’ve been since 1979.

While these ‘Iran hawks’ in the United States are unlikely to call themselves warmongers, they do hold to an unshakeable belief that America cannot peacefully coexist with the current regime in Iran.

Central to this is Iran’s longstanding belligerence towards Israel, and by extension the United States as Israel’s primary source of external support. It is also upheld by the deadly work of Iranian proxies over the past decades across the Middle East in areas where the U.S. has also been heavily engaged.

But unlike other proponents of a large U.S. presence in the Middle East, these idealists believe no level of negotiation or military deterrence will be sufficient for our security interests — only a changing of the guard in Tehran, whether by democratic means or external force. 

That’s why they equally opposed the Iran nuclear agreement brokered under President Obama and criticized the Bush and Obama administrations for not fully embracing protesters and dissidents inside Iran.

They were irate that Iranian-backed forces were participating in the fight against ISIS, despite their effectiveness. Anything less than a step towards ushering the Ayatollahs out of power is viewed as heresy.

Through such a lens, every action or inaction by Iran is seen as something that should be added to the rap sheet. Iranian-backed militias weren’t fighting against ISIS fighters in Iraq to protect ethnic Shias as they have sought to do for years — it was a grand conspiracy out of Tehran to gain control over the government in Baghdad.

The Iranian Quds Force wasn’t in Syria attempting to shore up a longtime ally Bashir Assad — they were preserving close access to Israel from which to stage attacks! Simmering violence between Iran and Saudi Arabia isn’t about a millennium-long religious conflict in which both sides resort to asymmetrical tactics like terrorism — it’s about Iran spreading its malign influence at the expense of a blameless U.S. ally.

It was as obvious as it was rational to know that the Iranians would retaliate for the death of their most beloved military figure. We were fortunate that the missile strikes did not kill anyone, creating an opportunity for President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Gov. Ron DeSantis more popular in Florida than Trump Sotomayor accuses Supreme Court of bias in favor of Trump administration MORE to choose de-escalation.

But we must not lose sight of the fact that it easily could have been a dangerous inflection point in the self-fulfilling Iran prophecy that some in Washington have spent decades trying to fulfill.  

Robert Moore is a public policy advisor for Defense Priorities.  He worked for nearly a decade on Capitol Hill, most recently as a lead staffer for Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' The 8 Republicans who voted to curb Trump's Iran war powers MORE (R-Utah) on the Senate Armed Services Committee.