The Most Popular Man in Iran

January 05, 2020
Iranian General Qassem Suleimani was responsible for the powerful roadside bomb that killed my gunner in Baghdad. I was on leave on November 30, 2006, the day the Explosively Formed Projectile destroyed my up-armored Humvee and solidified my worldview. Far less fortunate were the 603 American service members the Pentagon estimates that Suleimai's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) helped kill during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Tensions with Iran were not created by our unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear accords, our subsequent maximum economic pressure campaign, or our assassination of the General an October 2019 University of Maryland phone study found to be the most admired person in Iran. In 1953, the CIA removed the secular, democratically elected, and Time Magazine Man of the Year Mohammad Mosaddegh as Iran's prime minister for nationalizing the world's fifth largest oil reserves away from the company we now know as BP. The blowback from American support of the Shah's subsequent dictatorial rule came to fruition in 1979 with his overthrow, the hostage crisis, and the severing of all diplomatic relations. After supporting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's eight-year war against Iran that killed hundreds of thousands on both sides in the 1980's, on July 3, 1988 our USS Vincennes accidently downed Iran Air Flight 655 with a surface-to-air missile killing all 290 people on board mistaking it for an attacking Iranian aircraft. Then in 1991, we turned against Hussein to protect Saudi Arabian control of what is now the world's second largest oil reserve, and then labeled both Iraq and Iran as members of the "Axis of Evil" after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by Saudi nationals.

Suleimai became an Iranian household name his influence reshaping the Middle East due to the power vacuum we created over the past two decades of destabilizing Iran's neighboring governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Since 1998, he was the leader of the IRGC, essentially his sovereign government's equivalent of a joint CIA and Special Operations Command. Suleimai was a hardline conservative, a social media phenomenon, and a brilliant strategist who is credited for saving the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, the perseverance of Yemen's Houthi rebels against Saudi Arabia, and the successes of both Iraq and Syria's Hezbollah Brigades against the Islamic State. However, many Iranian moderates viewed Suleimai's efforts as military misadventures bankrupting their nation and instead supported moderates like term-limited Iranian President Hassan Rouhani who sought modernization via the nuclear accords. Had the nuclear accords been economically successful, Rouhani would have been favored to replace the aging Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and then been able to scale back the IRGC's operations. Since October, frustrated Iraqi moderates had taken to Tahirir Square in grassroots demonstrations seeking political reforms, including a diminished Iranian influence in their country, despite dozens of unarmed protestors having been kidnapped, 500 killed, and thousands more wounded by Iraqi security forces backed by Sulemani.

We withdrew from the nuclear accords because they only applied to Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons and neither IRGC operations nor Iran's non-nuclear missile programs. Our subsequent maximum economic pressure campaign reduced their oil exports to zero, crippled their economy, and had the predictable impacts that blanket economic sanctions always have. We hurt the average Iranian that supported Rouhani for his promises of economic relief, we emboldened hardcore conservatives to blame Rouhani for the nuclear accords' failure, and we lost all credibility to criticize those very hardliners when they ordered the shooting of protesters unable to feed their families. With no incentive to negotiate, Suleimai's retaliatory measures went from damaging Saudi oil tankers in the straits that almost a quarter of the world's oil passes through, to highly sophisticated attacks directly against Saudi oil facilities, to having Hezbollah Brigade proxies target American bases. In response to the recent killing of an American contractor in those attacks, we just launched military strikes against Hezbollah Brigade bases in both Iraq and Syria without the Iraqi government's authorization, prompting Iraqi security forces not to shoot as that militia stormed our heavily fortified embassy in the Green Zone. Many American news outlets confused the Death to America chants from our embassy as the same goals as the unarmed demonstrations that had been going on for over seventy days just across the Tigris River calling for Iran to leave Iraq.

The Iraqi Parliament was preparing for a non-binding vote to expel our service members for breaching their sovereignty, when our drone strike assassinated both Suleimai and a high level Iraqi General in his own capitol. Assassinating the man that eighty-two percent of Iranians viewed favorably has galvanized any remaining moderates, the protesters, and their hardline oppressors against us. As a nation, we must act in our own national interest, listen to the Iraqi Parliament, and completely disengage from the Middle East because it poses no existential threat to us.