The domestic perils of Trump’s adventurism abroad

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to assassinate top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani has faced brickbats abroad for the risks that it poses to peace in West Asia and beyond. But there is also little doubt that in embarking on this adventurist path of antagonising Tehran, the American President has driven a deeper wedge between political constituents at home.

Deepening fear and anger

First, in invoking the spectre of national security to justify the assassination, Mr. Trump has endangered American persons and assets, military and civilian, abroad. A bill passed in the Iranian parliament this week designated all U.S. forces involved in the “martyrdom” of Soleimani as “terrorists”. Every one of them could now potentially find themselves in the cross hairs of the inevitable reprisal that will originate from an angry Iranian regime.

Second, Mr. Trump’s strike against Iran has deepened the sense of angst and hostility on Capitol Hill, where partisan bickering has already polarised lawmakers over the impeachment of the President in an election year. Now the House is formulating a response to Mr. Trump not notifying it in advance of the drone strike that killed Soleimani. The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and her Democratic colleagues will do so via a war powers resolution — even if there are slim chances of the Republican-controlled Senate passing any such bill into law. Mr. Trump could only continue so far without running afoul of the 1973 War Powers Act. The Act requires that the President inform Congress within 48 hours of introducing military forces into armed conflict abroad. Second, it bars the president from committing armed forces to any foreign action lasting over 60 days without Congressional approval. Already questions of presidential propriety have been raised regarding Mr. Trump’s decision to make the White House’s notification to Congress on the Soleimani strike a classified document, a move clearly aimed at limiting transparency on the subject.

A third strand of domestic opposition to Mr. Trump’s agenda in West Asia comes from the American public. Last weekend, anti-war protests swirled through communities across the U.S. Protesters numbering from a few hundred to more than a thousand called for an end to the hostility against Iran and Iraq. This begs the question: what is the exit strategy Mr. Trump and his team have in mind for their West Asia strategy, one that they will have to explain to their domestic constituents? Washington has steadily nudged Tehran onto the warpath — first by scuttling the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, then by slapping Iran with crushing sanctions, and finally by killing Soleimani.

More hostility towards the U.S.

The White House appears to have exponentially multiplied hostility against itself from Baghdad as well — as the strike against Soleimani was at the Baghdad airport, U.S. personnel in the country might be considered targets of the Iranian regime. It was thus entirely unsurprising that the Iraqi parliament voted to have U.S. troops withdraw from their country within an unspecified time frame. Saudi Arabia may also have been displeased with the strike, however ironic that may seem, particularly given the intelligence that Soleimani was in the process of taking forward proposals to de-escalate tensions between Riyadh and Tehran.

Mr. Trump may have won himself a reprieve from the negative publicity associated with his impeachment by the House of Representatives last month. However, if he sees military adventurism on foreign soil — missions that at best have a hazy strategic denouement — as a legitimate means to divert attention from issues in domestic politics, he may well be opening the door to forces that are genuinely beyond his control.


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