EXCLUSIVE: IS to benefit if US and Iran stop working together against them, says expert in Middle East politics
Russell Lucas, an associate professor at Michigan State University, felt that while the Bush and Obama administrations had the opportunity to hit Soleimani, they did not do it considering America's interests in the Middle East.
The assassination of top Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani in an American airstrike in Baghdad on January 3 has left the politics of Middle East in a highly volatile state. The incident saw Iran responding with missile attacks on US bases in Iraq that even downed a Ukrainian passenger jet accidentally. Iraq, meanwhile, has found itself in the crossfire between the US and Iran and has sought removal of American troops from its soil. The Donald Trump administration saw a moment of embarrassment when a leaked letter to the Iraqi military spoke about America’s imminent pull-out from that country though Washington denied it.
Will the US-Iran clash deteriorate things on the ground? Or will this be a decisive moment in the US’ decades-long occupation of Iraq? MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) spoke to Russell Lucas, associate professor of International Relations and Global Studies at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, over mail. An expert on the US’ relation with the Middle East and the politics of the Arab world, Lucas feels the elimination of Soleimani will only strengthen the Islamic State (IS) while adding that there might not be an open war between the US and Iran.
Here are some excerpts of the interview of the man who has authored the book institutions and the Politics of Survival in Jordan: Domestic Responses to External Challenges, 1988-2001’.
Was it a massive misjudgment from Trump to have asked for Soleimani's killing?
While the past two presidents had the opportunity to target Soleimani, they chose not to because of the many possible consequences that would hurt US interests in the Middle East. It looks doubtful if President Trump made the same considerations of future consequences when it came to killing the general. In addition, on Iran potentially striking back in the future, President Trump has also voided the norm in international relations against the assassination of opposing leaders. With the spread of drone technology across the world, this may be one of the more dangerous consequences.
Is there a possibility of a full-fledged war between the US and Iran now?
At this particular moment, it seems that Iran has publically stepped back and so has the United States after Iran’s launch of missiles into American bases in Iraq. However, Iran has historically acted against the US through proxies or with actions that are short of war. So, attacks by its allies will probably be forthcoming by Iran – but in ways that it could be deniable that it was Iran itself being responsible.
Could the Soleimani assassination put Saudi and its allies in trouble by mobilizing Shias?
This is a possibility. The degree of influence that Iran has over Shias in Saudi Arabia, however, is unclear given the repressions in Saudi Arabia. Iran certainly has influence, but its level of control over Saudi Shias is fairly limited.
Was Soleimani a real threat to the West or has his elimination has made it easier for the IS?
General Soleimani was certainly a threat to US interests in the Middle East, but his efforts can also be seen as a natural reaction to local powers trying to balance and undercut the power of the US in the region. The IS will also benefit from the elimination of one of their major opponents and will also be able to take advantage of the fact that the US and Iran will no longer continue to work together against the IS.
Will this crisis better Russia's clout in the region?
Russia will try to gain an advantage by both playing the protector of Iran – up to a point -- but it will gain more in appearing as a voice of moderation if tensions between Iran and the US worsen.
What if the US exits Iraq at this time?
The US being asked or even forced to leave Iraq by the Iraqi government would have been one of the consequences that the Bush Junior and Obama administrations would have foreseen and why they did not target General Soleimani. If the US leaves, this will be a blow to American prestige in the region and it will enable groups like the IS to regain some of its strength. In the long run, it may be beneficial for the Iraqi state as it would need to provide more for its own defense. Iraq, in the short run, however, would probably be more violent and unstable. President Trump, though, might be able to claim that he is bringing US troops home from costly foreign missions.