EXCLUSIVE | In killing Soleimani, Trump chose the worst option naively believing Iran would be deterred: Expert
Geneva-based former French diplomat Marc Finaud warns of high escalation but rules out an all-out war
President Donald Trump shed his image of an isolationist leader into an interventionist one as the new decade of the 21st century dawned. The maverick Republican leader ordered even while holidaying the elimination of top Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani and the mission was carried out outside the Baghdad airport where the latter had visited. The move has left Trump under fire both abroad and at home and things have escalated between Washington and Tehran who have only drifted in the post-Barack Obama days.
As the American and Iranian leaderships exchanged warnings over adverse consequences, the international fraternity has become worried about where this could end up. Trump’s opponents have blasted him saying in the name of ending “endless wars” abroad, he could lead the US into another devastating conflict only to divert attention from impeachment and make electoral gains. There is still another angle which says Trump did it to find an exit route from Iraq -- one of the two countries apart from Afghanistan where the US has found itself stuck in a quagmire.
MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) spoke to Dr Marc Finaud, a former French diplomat and an expert on international arms trade and nuclear weapons on the script which is unraveling in Iran and what probable impact it could have on world politics.
Dr Finaud has served in several bilateral postings and multilateral missions around the world during his 36-year-long career as a diplomat (1977-2013) and is currently the senior adviser, head of arms proliferation, Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), Switzerland.
Here is how the conversation took effect:
To what extent could the assassination of Qassem Soleimani affect the situation in the Middle East? Is a full-fledged war likely?
Dr Finaud: At this stage, no side seems to seek an all-out war: in a US electoral year, this would not be supported by most Americans, and Iran is in no position, militarily and economically, to sustain such a confrontation. However, with nationalistic and rhetoric pressure on both sides and a combination of complex factors on the ground (non-state actors, proxy wars, strategic alliances), the risk of escalation or uncontrolled events is high.
Soleimani was a sort of Iran’s national symbol. Did Donald Trump make an error in his judgment by ordering the Iranian leader’s killing?
Dr Finaud: Indeed, Trump chose the most extreme and worst option he was offered, out of ignorance or naïve belief that Iran would be impressed and deterred to confront the US. Whether this was intended or not, it shifted the media attention away from his impeachment.
Is there a likelihood of the post-Soleimani death scenario mobilizing Shias the world over and cause problems for states like Saudi Arabia?
Dr Finaud: This is a paradoxical consequence of Trump’s initiative: at a time when Iranian influence was questioned by demonstrations in Lebanon and Iraq, and discontent among the Iranian population against its government was high, the killing of Soleimani boosts the pro-Iranian factions at the expense of their opponents and re-unites the Iranian population around their leadership.
With Iran now pulling out of the nuclear deal commitment, has Trump made the Middle East a far more dangerous place than he hoped?
Dr Finaud: Iran did not fully withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA): it remains committed not to manufacture nuclear weapons under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Trump made the region more dangerous when he withdrew the US from the JCPOA: since this agreement, which was fully implemented by Iran, was based on reciprocity, one year after the US withdrawal, Iran felt empowered to respond to the US sanctions by a gradual reduction of its own commitments. However, at this stage, there is no risk of Iran developing nuclear weapons. This may change only if Iran pulled out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a response to a major military offensive by the US.
Bernie Sanders has said Trump’s foreign policy is leading to a sort of international anarchy. Do you agree with his observation?
Dr Finaud: Yes, definitely. The attack on the Iranian general is only one of the signs that Trump and his neoconservative entourage reject an international rules-based order, preferring the use of force to any multilateral or bilateral agreement imposing limits on states’ behavior. This explains why the US pulled out of organizations such as UNESCO or the Human Rights Council and trashed treaties such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Arms Trade Treaty, or the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, etc. Trump’s threats to destroy Iran’s cultural sites would amount to war crimes similar to those perpetrated by the Taliban or IS.
Is there a kind of similarity between the way Bush Jr had attacked Iraq in 2003 and Trump's order to eliminate Soleimani? Both claimed the opponents were preparing for massive attacks to defend their respective acts.
Dr Finaud: Pre-emptive attack is a convenient explanation for aggression. In both cases, such attacks were justified by unclear or fabricated evidence of an imminent threat to US forces or interests. According to some information, in the case of Soleimani, even the Pentagon lawyers were uncomfortable with mentioning any imminent threat of attack. On the contrary, it seems that Soleimani was carrying a reply to a Saudi offer of de-escalation mediated by Iraq, which could have paved the way for the reduction of tensions in the region.