In an interview with the website of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, Dr Majid Mohammad Sharifi added: “All the justifications Trump administration members made to persuade Congress and public opinion was overwhelmingly rejected, showing what they did in appearance with what they were actually seeking were very different, so the reasons for this assassination should be sought elsewhere.
He said it must be examined as to why the United States despite earlier warnings that consequences of such an action were unpredictable and things could get out of control, decided to assassinate General Soleimani. He added developments occurred in the US administration and in the region that persuaded them they could prevent a crisis by killing General Soleimani.
He added that the assassination plan of General Soleimani had already been put forward by the Bush and Obama administrations. It was again raised by the Trump administration in the spring of 2017. When Ansarullah launched an attack on Saudi Arabia, one of the reactionary options proposed to Trump was to assassinate General Soleimani. At the time, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis strongly disagreed and explicitly stated that it would have very dire consequences and thus dissuades Trump from taking such an action.
Reshuffles in Trump Administration in Three Stages
The international analyst said that to understand what happened when they decided to carry out the assassination one must first consider the cabinet reshuffle and the emergence of new faces in the Trump administration. To divide the Trump Administration from 2016 to 2019, the political-security sector has undergone at least three stages of transformation.
He added: In the first phase, people like Rex Tillerson in the State Department, James Mattis in the Department of Defense, Herbert McMaster as National Security Adviser, and Pompeo as CIA director. General Joseph Dunford was the commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Joseph Votel was the commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) in the region. The most important feature of the US administration during this period was that these people, known as “the wise men of the Trump administration,” were trying to manage or even abandon the dangerous strategic consequences of his remarks and decisions.
Recalling that many of the decisions made during this period were in line with their views, Mohammad Sharifi added: “They were trying to control all actions that were contrary to the American mainstream decision and were largely successful, for example, for two years. Keeping Trump in the brink, even McMaster testified that this was in the interests of American national security.
Features of Trump Administration’s Second Term
The university professor said the second term was marked with the dismissal of Rex Tillerson and Herbert McMaster as two of the most senior members of the administration. In an interview, Trump clearly stated that he disagreed with Tillerson on a number of issues, including the Iran Nuclear Agreement or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). At this time Pompeo who served as the CIA director is appointed Secretary of State. John Bolton too is appointed national security adviser, but James Mattis retains his post. General Joseph Votel serves briefly as CENTCOM commander in the Middle East and is replaced by Kent McKenzie.
A feature of this term is that Bolton was able to persuade Trump to quit the JCPOA. In a 2017 article, he wrote for National Review he fully explained how the US could pull out of the Iran Nuclear Agreement and outlined his steps for Trump. This period marks the beginning of “US Iran escalation” or “maximum pressure” against the Islamic Republic, but the important point is that the presence of Gen. Dunford and James Mattis in the Department of Defense continued to make the Americans not to think of military option against Iran.
Mohammad Sharifi added: Even after Iran shot down a US drone Mike Pence, Pompeo and John Bolton in a morning session after the incident urged Trump to give top priority to military option and advised him to even attack Iran. But the person who strongly opposed the idea and submitted a plan to Trump about his opposition was General Dunford. Of course, Trump later thanked him very much and said that he was a great general in his team.
The professor of international relations stated that in spite of the increasing pressure on Iran but because of the presence of James Mattis, Dunford and some differences between Pompeo and Bolton it was not possible to pursue a coherent policy against Iran. Meantime, they could not consider the military option because Mattis was really opposed and Trump himself was not interested in the idea.
Uniformity of Trump’s Administration against Iran in Third Term
According to the analyst, during the third term of the Trump administration, James Mattis left the Department of Defense and John Bolton was still in office and General Mark Milley was replaced by General Dunford. During this period, Kent McKenzie was at the forefront.
Mohammad Sharifi added: The beginning of development in this period for Iran is the time when John Bolton stepped down as National Security Adviser, as he had some differences with Pompeo, which made the Trump administration unable to implement a coordinated policy. Bolton is replaced by John O’Brien as National Security Adviser, and Mark Esper replaces James Mattis. Mr Pompeo and Mr Esper were both graduates of West Point military academy and have close relations. During this period, the Trump administration was in fact very homogeneous and put aside disputes.
Pompeo in Control of Trump Administration
Citing Mike Pompeo as the person who will be in full control of the Trump administration, the analyst said Pompeo has a very good relationship with Mike Esper and the CIA chief who has been appointed by himself.
Meantime, Bolton’s place has been filled by Robert O’Brien who is not an influential member of the administration. He himself has said that he is not much of an influential figure in the Trump administration, and has made it clear that he is only a facilitator and coordinator and, unlike Bolton, has no independent opinion.
The international affairs analyst, while stressing that Trump’s cabinet could reach unanimity in the shortest time, said Pompeo’s presence intensified US anti-Iranian policies, saying he had a long history of personal and ideological hostility with Iran.
Changing US policy toward the Middle East
Recalling that during James Mattis era it was always emphasized that the United States should not have a strong presence in the Middle East and should gradually withdraw troops and concentrate on competing with Russia and China. Big powers are a priority for the Department of Defense, but it is clearly stated that this does not mean abandoning the Middle East completely. In fact, some sort of rethinking of their policies in the Middle East took place and tried to be more active and incidentally, the most important part of their focus was Iran.
Trump Administration Focus on Iran
He recalled: In the previous era, Joseph Votel, Commander of CENTCOM, was the one who designed American policy in the fight against ISIS, but his successor, Kenneth McKenzie, is more focused on Iran. In various interviews, he made it clear that once the threat of ISIS is over in some sense, our next priority is Iran and we want to focus on Iran.
US Department of Defense Options against Iran after Iraqi Embassy Attack
Asked why the Department of Defense decided to assassinate General Soleimani and put the proposal on the table, the professor said: “After the Iraqi developments and the attack on the US embassy, the Department of Defense had four options on Trump’s table for action. One of them was the assassination of General Soleimani; the other options were attack on an Iranian ship in the Persian Gulf, attack on an Iranian missile site, and attack on Iranian support forces in Iraq. Trump points finger at the assassination of General Soleimani.
Why the Option to Assassinate General Soleimani?
He attributed this to Trump’s choice of the Department of Defense assessment of the move, adding that the assessment was that if we were to continue with Iran in the same way, Iran and its associated forces in the region would raise our military expenses with their actions. This would force us to constantly deploy forces and equipment and expose them to new attacks. This would also become an eroding trend that would force us to spend more in the Middle East. We must take action to end this cycle of the action-reaction erosion cycle.
Mohammad Sharifi explained: “Finally, the Americans came to the conclusion that they have to give a response to Iran that, according to the positions of the US Department of Defense, would not be predictable for Iran at all, and it would be so heavy to get them confused and unable to respond properly. In fact, Eli Lake’s article in Bloomberg revealed many issues that were intended to inflict a blow on Iran that would be so shockingly large that it would confuse them.”
Attacking General Soleimani Was Strategic Move
“Their calculation was that by doing so, Iran’s leaders would realize that we were taking a step forward and changing our deterrence from troop deployment to war and pre-emptive attack; so attacking General Soleimani was a very strategic move rather than tactical,” said the university professor. That is to say America’s policy of deterrence changes from a defensive state to an offensive state or preventive war, and they do this within a broad plan. He added: Before the assassination of Commander Soleimani, the Americans had planned to assassinate Hajji Zadeh in Syria, but had failed.”
Mohammad Sharifi said that with the subsequent developments that occurred the Americans are trying to show that their policies have been successful. “They believe that first of all they have inflicted a heavy blow on Iran and taken its best regional force. Secondly, pro-Iranian forces in the region too would get confused and come to the conclusion that they should not counter the US through direct military action because they will face direct US response.
Americans Cross the Red Line
The professor of international relations emphasized that the Americans had crossed the red line and that they had shown tough reaction to Iran and had done a great job in their imagination; but contrary to the predictions of all experts, nothing happened and the two sides did not enter into war; So now the duplicity for which everyone criticized Trump arguing that his Iran policy has drawn the country into a dual state of negotiation-war. But now Trump, his officials and supporters very openly state this duality does not exist.
The National Review, a complete right-wing news agency close to Trump, had opened the topic, despite experts suggesting that we had reached a third path in the current conflict-negotiation situation. We continue the same policy of maximum pressure and we will react if Iran wants to do something in the region. That is why Brian Hook, the US State Department Special Envoy for Iran, said “we will kill
Characteristic of Changing US Strategy toward Iran
Commenting on the changing nature of the US strategy toward Iran, Mohammad Sharifi said: “By strategy change, they want to say we will hit Iran once and for all so that it would abandon its policy of escalating tensions in the region to achieve its goal of pressuring the US and force American troops out of the region. We have shown the Iranians that none of this will happen and we will continue to be in the region and respond to Iran’s actions. This is the most important step the Department of Defense has taken to enforce changes in Trump administration’s strategy toward Iran.
As to whether this change of strategy depends on the presence of these particular figures in the US administration, the university professor said: “It depends on the outcome. Any administration in the United States can choose and implement a new strategy as conditions and priorities change. Trump has also opened up a path to confront Iran and if this policy succeeds without severe consequences, it would seem quite natural that even if a Democratic president were elected in 2020, he would continue the same policy because it has been fruitful.
He emphasized: Usually with the change of administrations, the main body of the Department of Defense will not change, and if this view is consolidated in the Department of Defense, it is likely to be followed by the next administration from any wing, so despite the move by the Trump administration it can be consolidated in the next administrations and they can implement it and move forward. It should be remembered that the Democrats did not have much argument with Trump over the assassination of General Soleimani. The most important thing for members of Congress was why you didn’t tell us!
Reverse Results of an Assassination
Mohammad Sharifi said Soleimani’s assassination might have been a big achievement by the Americans, he said, adding that all the excuses members of Trump administration made to convince the Congress and public opinion were outright rejected. Even among members of the Trump administration, the differences were obvious. This shows what they did in appearance is very different from what they were actually looking for, and the reasons for this assassination should be sought elsewhere.