Before we get to the Washington Post’s analysis of the strike on Qassem Soleimani a month out, let’s first recall the reaction from Donald Trump’s opponents. In a presidential debate earlier this month in New Hampshire, ABC News anchor David Muir asked the Democrats on stage if any of them would have ordered the strike on the IRGC’s top commander and terror-network coordinator. Every person on stage went on the record to oppose it.
“There is no evidence that that made our country safer,” Pete Buttigieg responded:
Similarly, Joe Biden declared that “there is no evidence yet of imminent threat that was going to come from him.” Bernie Sanders claimed that the strike on Soleimani would lead to “international anarchy,” and wondered why Trump didn’t take aim instead at Mohammed bin Salman or Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping.
Perhaps it was because those people aren’t killing Americans in combat. Now that Soleimani’s gone, suddenly the IRGC seems less eager to continue doing that, the Washington Post reported over the weekend:
Soleimani’s death in a U.S. drone strike last month has forced the Revolutionary Guard to recalibrate its strategy and weigh the risk of further escalation in the conflict with the United States, they said. The group, Iran’s most powerful security force, with sway both at home and across the region, must also rebuild the domestic standing it lost because of its role in the airline disaster and in a crackdown on anti-government demonstrators in November, which left hundreds of protesters dead.
Publicly, the group’s leaders appear unbowed by the recent setbacks. Earlier this month, they unveiled new weapons technology that they said would let them develop a more advanced arsenal of ballistic missiles. Last week, U.S. Central Command said that the U.S. Navy intercepted a ship carrying Iranian-made weapons, cargo it said was destined for Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Revolutionary Guard also appeared to get a boost in Iran’s parliamentary elections on Friday, which produced a victory for hard-line candidates the group usually supports after many moderate politicians were barred from running.
But analysts and officials in the region say the Revolutionary Guard in fact now finds itself on the back foot, a notable change after successfully projecting its power in the Middle East over recent years.
In fact, al-Monitor reported yesterday, the entire Iranian regime finds itself back-footed with Soleimani’s demise. Their control over Iraq is now suddenly threatened, and perhaps even their “bridge to the Mediterranean”:
Iranian top commander Qasem Soleimani and his right-hand man Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were the prayer-beads thread of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). When they were killed by a US drone strike Jan. 3, the thread was ripped and the PMU factions were scattered. Iran is now struggling to reorganize the military network in order to maintain its power in the first and most important station of its regional network along the Shiite crescent. …
Because of the sectarianism that has been prevalent in the PMU and because many militias have fought outside Iran, the PMU has been the center of controversy since its creation among the Iraqi public. The PMU is now under greater scrutiny amid the loss of its unifying leader and the Iraqi protests that began in October; many protesters are opposed to Iranian influence in Iraq.
Iran, which has been a big PMU benefactor, has used the PMU as a powerful instrument for maintaining Iran’s influence in the Shiite Crescent. Iran is now working to develop and implement strategies to reunite the organization; chief among these has been the search for a common leader, who has to meet a series of requirements that make it an almost impossible mission for Iran.
Although Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei immediately announced Brig. Gen. Esmail Ghaani as Soleimani’s successor to lead the Quds Force, Ghaani does not have the diplomatic charisma and networks to be an effective leader of the PMU. Due to the recent anti-Iranian sentiment arising from the recent protests in Lebanon and Iraq, Iran realizes the new PMU leader must be an extremely loyal Arab who can disguise Iran’s shadow influence among the Iraqi public.
The shock value alone of the strike has changed the calculations in the region. However, Soleimani might have been the indispensable man to the mullahs, the only one capable of executing a delicate mission to knit together a coalition of Arab-dissenting militias to do the Iranians’ bidding. It will take a lot of time and work for someone else to truly replace Soleimani, and that will come to naught if they provoke the US into another decapitating strike on the IRGC — and especially those militias, who will wonder whether it makes sense to work with the Iranians at all.
Perhaps Buttigieg can find no evidence that all of this made our country safer, at least in the short run, but Americans might disagree, especially with the Washington Post pointing out the evidence for them to read for themselves.