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At least one of the prominent justifications offered by the Trump Admin (via Secretary of State Pompeo) for the strike that killed Suleimani is highly dubious. Pompeo said that the strike aimed to prevent an imminent attack by Iranians on US and other targets. 1/
That's highly dubious because Suleimani was not going to participate personally in any acts of terrorism or other aggression. If Iranian attacks planned by Suleimani were already in the works, killing him makes them MORE rather than less likely to be carried out imminently. 2/
That leaves two rationales for killing Suleimani. One is that he is such a great evil genius that killing him is a huge blow to Iran’s capacity to carry out acts of war, terror, and subterfuge against the US, Saudi Arabia, and other Iranian enemies. 3/
Some reporting suggests Suleimani is indeed irreplaceable, but the evidence is thin, consisting mostly of the fact that under Suleimani, Iran has waged war directly and indirectly in multiple theaters. That is hardly reason to believe that an able successor cannot be found. 4/
The other rationale is that the strike sends a message of US resolve. This is plausible as a causal account, especially given Trump’s prior equivocation and backing down. However, this works as a normative justification for the strike only on the Nixonian “madman” theory. 5/
Under that theory, the Iranians will now conclude that Trump is so crazy that they had better back down or face some catastrophe—like the nuking of Teheran—that only a madman would unleash. 6/
Trump is a madman, but not in the relevant sense, and the Iranians are unlikely to conclude that Trump has the appetite for more war. They will thus likely retaliate in kind or even escalate. The show of force will have been counterproductive. 7/
I thus conclude that (even putting legality aside) the strike was a tactical and strategic blunder. I do not voice an opinion on whether Trump had a wag-the-dog motivation. I will note that some of the previously Trump-skeptical neocons are now rallying to his side. 8/
To be sure, not even a rational president would have good options. This conflict is decades old: US overthrow of Mosaddegh; support for the Shah’s repression; 1979 revolution and hostage crisis; Reagan admin support for Saddam in the Iran/Iraq War; 2 US invasions of Iraq. 9/
And that omits Iranian conflicts with US allies Israel and Saudi Arabia. So a sober, steady, intelligent, well-motivated president could get it wrong. We now must hope that this president, who is none of those things, somehow got it right. END OF THREAD
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