On Jan. 3, 2020, an American drone sent a missile toward the Baghdad Airport, killing Iranian Major General Quassem Soleimani, thus creating more tension in an already strained relationship. Our overthrowing of Pahlavi was a more quiet issue. But, President Donald Trump was extremely vocal about the killing of Soleimani.
Long seen as a terrorist by the United States (sanctioned under both former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama), Soleimani was divisive for Iranian citizens, said an unnamed student (who we will call Leyla) the first generation daughter of an Iranian immigrant family in an interview.
“It’s honestly a complicated picture,” said Leyla, “ … and even Iranian expatriates and Iranian-Americans can’t fully understand it. Some Iranians (the same ones who are loyal to the regime and support the more conservative version of Islam) saw him as a hero. They say Soleimani fought ISIS and Israel. Other Iranians see him as a terrorist himself. As for Iranian-Americans/expatriates, they almost universally hated him before and hate him now, just as they do the Islamic regime as a whole.”
Furthermore, after Soleimani’s death, thousands of his supporters flooded the streets to grieve their “martyr,” as Leyla described (although there is a belief among critics of Soleimani that these mourners were paid by the government). Leyla sees hope for U.S. — Iranian relations, however: “It seems that both the U.S. and Iran are interested in de-escalation, which is a surprise for me considering both of these governments are stubborn and confrontational.”
Should war actually occur, Iranian citizens will be hurt most, said Leyla. “Just like how it was Iraqi civilians who paid the price for America’s war in their country. At a minimum, I foresee even more sanctions by the U.S. against Iran. These sanctions prevent the Iranian people from acquiring necessary medications and raise prices of all goods to a point where the masses can’t afford them. Warfare by economic sanctions doesn’t hurt the Ayatollah and his followers. It hurts the people of Iran.”
Looking into the history of the two nations, Chabot history Professor Rick Moniz gave us some more insight. In 2015, the Obama administration, along with multiple countries, agreed with Iran that periodical check-ins would occur after the discovery that Iran was developing nuclear weapons. In return, sanctions would be lifted, thus returning some economic power. This deal, however, was abandoned by President Donald Trump in 2018.
Professor Moniz made it clear that the diplomacy of previous administrations should be considered when interacting with other nations stating that “we had a policy in place that was seeking to begin to if not normalize relations with Iran, at least try to prevent them as best as possible from developing nuclear weapons. And by all accounts, that was seemingly working. Independent observers were monitoring. The question in my mind is, every time we get a new administration, is that open season on policy? And in my thinking, no, it can’t be open season. You’ve got to have consistency in policy.”
Professor Moniz also elaborated on the dangerous patriotism in both America and Iran. “I don’t think that there’s any intention by the administration to do anything to ratchet up the pressure that’s already in place with its sanctions … and [Iran]’s bellicose jingoistic policy … And we don’t learn anything … this isn’t the first time we’ve engaged in this kind of behavior with other nations. With similar, poorer results. If the desired result is regime change, it’s not oftentimes what happens.”
Just as Leyla stated earlier, Professor Moniz reminds us that the American people are not invincible; that the citizenry will suffer first. “It’s in the President’s hands, and that’s a lot of power we give to one individual … So if Congress isn’t going to put a leash on the President, and he can just go stumble into any conflict he wants, then we the American people are left with what the consequences are.” Professor Moniz said as he shifted in his chair, considering the outcome of further aggression.
Moniz continues saying that the consequences “could be another war, where we send men and women to fight. What’s Iran in the scheme of things? There’s a hell of a lot of oil there. Our policy is often predicated on what are the resources that a nation has that we want?’ … we support the Saudis. One could argue that they don’t make for a very good ally. But they have a lot of oil. Are we being manipulated? Are we going to go to war with Israel over Iran? The American people need to say wait a minute, is that in our best interest? And your conclusion would probably be not.”
As with previous interactions with world leaders, President Donald Trump was quick to speak on the power of the U.S. only three days after the death of Soleimani.
The President stated, “Our great American forces are prepared for anything. Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.”
In response to Trump’s statement, the Chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard warned on state television “to withdraw from this field,” and that if the withdrawal does not occur, the U.S. “will definitely regret it.”
The tension is still ever-present, but it seems that both countries have laid down arms at this point. Given the American role in the Iranian Revolution, it’s important to remember that Iran has a right to be angry with America.
We overthrew the democratically elected Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and replaced him with the dictator Khomeini. There is, without a doubt, fault on both sides. What must be considered, however, is who will suffer from these faults.