n January 3, US troops carried out air strikes on targets located at Baghdad International Airport, Iraq on orders from US President Donald Trump, killing Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Given the general’s influence in Iran and the entire Middle East, many consider the US’s action as a turning point in the US-Iran confrontation, wrote Diao Daming, associate professor in international relations at the Renmin University of China, wrote for The Beijing News on January 4.
Trump faces the pressure of re-election in 2020. Under normal circumstances, incumbent presidents often “seek stability” in election years and especially avoid major changes in foreign relations. From this perspective, Trump’s move seems somewhat counter-intuitive, Diao said.
Yet from the perspective of US decision-making, the attack on Soleimani should have certain domestic political considerations. Given the rocket attacks on US military bases in Iraq in the past two months and the besieging of the US embassy in Iraq several days before the air strike, people are reminded of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis and the 2012 Benghazi consulate attack.
The former is largely considered to have cost Jimmy Carter re-election, and the latter became a nightmare for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016. Keenly aware of the past lessons, Trump wants to avoid any possibility of repeating the same mistakes, Diao explained.
Presidents facing impeachment have been more likely to stage “battles” outside the US to divert domestic attention or pressure. For example, the “Desert Fox” air strike against Iraq, launched on December 17, 1998, postponed the impeachment vote against US President Bill Clinton to December 19.
This logic also fits perfectly with Trump’s current situation, he said. The deceased general was blamed for the recent attacks on US military bases and embassy, and Trump is facing impeachment pressure at home.
Despite the killing of Soleimani, Diao predicted that the US and Iran have not changed their strategic calculations and cannot afford a total war. He further claimed that even if Iran responded with counter-strikes, it would not be full-fledged provocation and retaliation against the US, who would cool down and continue to maintain “extreme pressure.”