National Security & Defense

Iran Blinks — For Now

President Donald Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, senior White House advisors, and senior military personnel, delivers remarks from Cross Hall at the White House, January 8, 2020. (Shealah Craighead/White House)

World War III is off.

The killing of Qasem Soleimani stoked a round of hysteria in the media over the consequences, with serious people on cable TV invoking August 1914.

The formal Iranian military retaliation makes all this look even sillier than it already seemed. The Iranians hit two bases in Iraq in a missile strike carefully calibrated to limit the damage, and indeed, there were no U.S. casualties. Tehran clearly wanted to be able to say it had directly struck at the Americans, while limiting the risk of further confrontation with the U.S.

This suggests that Trump won the first round of this stage of the contest with Iran. He took a key enemy player off the board in Qasem Soleimani and affirmed a red line against killing Americans. In announcing new sanctions against Iran in a White House address, he also made it clear that Iran isn’t escaping from the stringent sanctions box that it is desperate to get out of (hence its series of provocations the past few months).

Yet, Iran obviously still has cards to play. Biding its time, it could launch retaliatory assassinations and terror attacks in the months ahead. Our position in Iraq is precarious, with the Iraqi parliament taking a symbolic vote to expel foreign forces and Iranian proxies still a threat (there are fresh reports of a rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone). Iran, meanwhile, is ramping up its nuclear activities.

There are more flash-points ahead, but for now, the killing of Soleimani looks less like a turning point than another incident in a long confrontation with the Iranian regime.

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