American President Donald Trump (left) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (right).
On January 3, 2020, President Trump approved a missile strike that assassinated Iran’s most powerful commander, General Qasem Soleimani. This attack did not come out of thin air: hostility between Iran and the United States has existed for a long time, but it became heightened following President Trump’s election.
The United States and Iran have a sorted past. Looking back to 1979, a major factor that led to the rift between the United States and Iran was when Shah Mohammed Pahlavi, a U.S.-backed leader in Iran, was forced to flee the country when the government was overthrown during the Iranian Revolution. That same year, a group of Iranian students who supported the revolution held Americans hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran’s capital. They did this because they were angered by America’s interference with their government. The hostages were not released until two years later in 1981. Following that conflict, tensions between the two nations persisted and intensified. More recently, in 2015, Iran and the P5+1 (US, UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany) signed the Iran Nuclear Deal. This deal restricted Iran’s nuclear activities because the country was said to be developing a nuclear weapon, and dictated that if they failed to follow the requirements of the deal, they would be heavily sanctioned.
However, the understanding between the two countries was abandoned in 2018 when President Trump followed through on a campaign promise to pull the U.S. out of the deal. He disapproved of the fact that Iran would be able to resume their nuclear activities in such a short time; therefore, he wanted stricter sanctions on Iran to be certain that they wouldn’t be able to build nuclear weapons. In addition to leaving the agreement, he placed sanctions on the country and any other countries or corporations that bought Iranian oil. Iran and the four other countries remained in the deal, but the decision still worsened American relations with Iran. After the assassination of Solemani, however, Iran declared that it will be ending it’s commitment to the deal entirely.
Before the missile strike that would prove to define a new era of American-Iranian relations, there were a lot of back and forth blows exchanged by the U.S. and Iran. On December 25, 2019, a United States Defense contractor was killed in Iraq during an Iranian-backed militia attack. In retaliation, Trump approved an airstrike in Syria and Iraq that killed over 20 people. Angered by this, protestors bombarded the doors of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, on December 31, 2019. The protest–which the Trump Administration blamed Iran for–saw protesters throwing stones at the walls, smashing through the main door, and chanting “death to America,” a reference to an Iranian emoji depicting a Muslim woman holding a sign with the slogan. Although the sentiment is rather harsh, it is highly unlikely that their chants will become reality. Just as the chant “send her [Ilhan Omar] back,” during the President’s rallies was the embodiment of hate towards a Muslim immigrant, “death to America” is the embodiment of hate towards America.
Following these tensions, General Solemani was assassinated near Baghdad International Airport by a U.S. drone strike. Following the event, Trump tweeted, “General Qassem Soleimani has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more…but got caught!” The Department of Defense supported Trump because they agreed that Soleimani was actively planning to attack Americans in Iraq. However, President Trump and his administration have not provided the public with any evidence to support this claim.
Iran heavily grieved for a leader that the people viewed as revolutionary. His images were televised on screens across the country following his death, along with recitations from the Quran. Large crowds of people were also observed marching through the streets of Tehran, mourning the General, some holding up framed images of him as they wept. The fact that his death was at the hands of Americans has angered Iranian leaders, and the supreme leader of the country promised “forceful revenge.
This vow of “revenge” stirred conversations on the possibility of a large attack on the United States, or even a potential third World War. As the weeks have passed, the fear of an attack in the United States has died down, but killing Soleimani has still caused great loss of civilian life. On January 8, 2020, a Ukraine International Airlines flight that was scheduled to travel from Iran to Ukraine crashed in Tehran less than five minutes after taking off. The crash killed all 176 people onboard. A few weeks later, Iran confirmed that its Revolutionary Guard shot down the plane, mistaking it for a U.S. missile.
President Trump’s decision to order the missile strike that killed General Soleimani could also be a setback on his run for re-election. A month before the event, on December 18, President Trump was impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. His decision further hurts his reputation because it put American lives at risk, especially those in the Armed Forces stationed in the Middle East that he’d campaigned on protecting and bringing home. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 51% of registered voters disapproved of Trump’s choices regarding conflict with Iran. The House of Representatives also passed the War Powers Resolution in response to this incident, which limits the President’s war powers against Iran. Although there are people who support Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani, the repercussions of the strike have made him unpopular among the majority of Americans, and the long-term repercussions of this decision have yet to be known.