The Corner

National Security & Defense

Iran Is Not Iraq

Iranian armed forces members march during the National Army Day parade in Tehran, Iran, September 22, 2019. (Official Iranian President website/Handout via Reuters)

We have no clue how Iran will react to the elimination of its terror chief Qasem Soleimani. Religious fanatics tend to be unpredictable. One thing we can be certain of, however, is that every time the United States acts in its self-interest in the Middle East, a bunch of pundits and policy experts will start spouting lazy tropes about the Iraq War.

Of course an Iran reprisal is likely to come sooner or later, and Americans will also likely be in danger. We shouldn’t dismiss these serious concerns. They are nothing new. Iran has been conducting a terror campaign against the United States and its allies for 40 years. It was the mullahs, not Trump, who “escalated” tensions when Iranian-led militias stormed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Until recently, the Iranians faced few repercussions for hundreds of Soleimani-coordinated murders and the maiming of thousands of American troops. And let’s not forget either that there is not a single conflict in the region that Soleimani wasn’t fueling or coordinating in some way. If this is not an enemy worth knocking off, who is?

But the notion that the United States is now on the precipice of a “world war,” or even another Iraq War, is simply scaremongering. Iran, like Iraq in 2003, is in no position to fight a full-blown conflict with the United States. People have probably forgotten that we annihilated the Iraqi army within weeks. The United States is a military hyperpower with the ability to atomize virtually any fighting force it pleases. (It feels ridiculous writing that sentence. I had assumed most people understood this basic truth. After spending time on Twitter today, though, I realized I’ve been operating under a misconception.) The decade-long disaster that cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars in Iraq was not a war, but a misguided and mishandled social engineering project and police action that was meant to install “democracy” to the region. As far as I can tell, there’s no evidence that Trump, or anyone else, has any appetite to invade Iran or force regime change. Many brave Iranians are already trying to do that on their own.

It’s simply that Trump, who showed plenty of restraint with Iran, couldn’t ignore Iran’s behavior anymore. This is the consequence of eight years of Obama pandering to the mullahs. Let’s remember: Not only did Trump’s predecessor give Soleimani — a man who specialized in mass murder — a pass, but helped fund his terror apparatus with ransom money. It’s no wonder that Soleimani functioned with impunity. Only days after orchestrating an attack on the American embassy, the head of the Quds Force, a U.S.-designated terror organization, felt free to drive around Iraq. Not anymore. As Eli Lake points out, Trump has effectively erased the distinction between Iran and its terror proxies. It’s about time.

You might not believe it was worth killing Soleimani. Maybe you’ll turn out to be right. Maybe the consequences will be too severe. But the idea that United States should be inhibited, in perpetuity, from defending its interests abroad because we failed to transform Iraq into a functioning democracy, is both ahistorical and unconvincing. We can’t let the failures of Iraq dictate American foreign policy forever.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun

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