Suleimani took control of the Quds force, an elite branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, in 1998. During that time he created a vast network of militia, intelligence, and financial proxies throughout the Middle East. The Quds force played a major role in fighting ISIS, as well as defending the Assad regime against rebel groups and Western forces in Syria. They are uniquely adept at waging asymmetrical warfare, attacking stronger foreign powers indirectly. Their influence and ties are strong with Hezbollah, the Shiite political party and militant group based in Lebanon, Hamas, the Sunni Palestinian militant group, and countless others. The Quds network under Suleimani’s control was designed to support and promote the interests of Iran — and Shiite Islam — in the region and around the world. But killing Suleimani will not put a stop to the Quds force. He was one man in charge of a wide ranging and effective organization. His death will reinforce their importance and their power. The Quds force will continue to operate in a deadly manner even without his leadership.
The Quds force and its leaders report directly to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei. The Supreme Leader represents the hard-line, fundamentalist political view in Iran that government and religion must be tied into an Islamic Republic. Iran, though, has a healthy history of popular protest against its own government, with young and progressive Iranians pushing towards a separation of religion and a less corrupt, more democratic Iran. As recently as December, Iranians were protesting fuel price increases. Many of these protests were directed at the Supreme Leader. But with the assassination of a government official by an already hostile foreign power, I suspect Iran’s people will, for now at least, rally behind Ayatolla Khamenei and his vision for an Iran free of Western supression. Just imagine if a foreign nation so blatantly assassinated the head of the CIA or a major Army general. Despite our differences, the nation would unite against whatever foreign power was attacking us.
Similarly in Iraq, protesters took to the streets in October to protest, among other things, foreign interference. Iraqis have often protested Western, especially U.S., influence and interference in their nation. However, in October Iraqis were protesting the continued presence Iran has had in Iraq since their role in the fight against ISIS. Iraqi anger at the assassination of Suleimani was made clear when the parliament voted to expel all American troops from Iraq. Their sovereignty was disregarded and disrespected, as the United States killed a foreign leader on their soil without notifying its government. A country demonstrating against Iran just a few months ago is now united in its disbelief and disgust at the assassination of an Iranian general.
At a time when an entire continent is on fire, we need to be able to focus on how to save the planet we inhabit, not destroy the people who do. If tensions with Iran escalate to the point of war, more Americans will die. Those deaths won’t come while defending the freedom of America, but — as too many have already died — to assert our dominance around the world.
Differences in ideals will exist, always. Stark and dangerous ones. It is still better to promote diplomacy and conversation at every turn over petty physical attacks. We, as a nation, cannot and should not aim to eliminate every enemy. It is impossible and dangerous. To create a safer future we will have to work with evil people around the world. Even those who have caused death and harm to America. It is not fair or just in any way, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be done.
It’s easy to see the allure. Quickly, cleanly, without warning take out one of the most powerful and dangerous men in the Middle East. Impressive. And that is precisely why the move is so troubling. With all the risks involved and all the possible negative outcomes, the allure of being impressive, of flexing muscle, won out. As always, it will not be those men in power who suffer the consequences of their actions, but the men and women they send to fight their wars for them.