Sen. Joni Ernst released a statement on Thursday night praising the killing of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s most prominent military leader. Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force — the branch of the Iranian military responsible for covert operations outside Iran — was killed in a targeted drone strike ordered by President Trump.
The strike took place in Iraq, near Baghdad’s airport, shortly after Soleimani arrived in the country early Friday morning. (It was Friday morning in Baghdad, but Thursday night in the United States.) Several important Iraqi militia leaders allied with Iran, who had greeted Soleimani at the airport, were also killed in the strike.
“Many consider Soleimani to have been the second most powerful person in Iran, behind [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei, and arguably ahead of [President Hassan] Rouhani,” The Guardian reported following the assassination. “Through a mix of security operations and diplomatic coercion, he has been more responsible than anyone else for projecting Iran’s influence in the region. This has been led in Iraq, but also by establishing a seemingly permanent military foothold in war-torn Syria, linking Tehran to the Mediterranean and a land border with Israel.”
The United States has said that Soleimani was ultimately responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers in Iraq, by providing training and material to Iraqi paramilitary groups fighting Americans. In 2011, Soleimani was one of several Iranian officials to be designated as a terrorist by the U.S. government. Last year, the Trump administration officially declared all members of the Quds Force to be terrorists.
“Qassem Soleimani orchestrated heinous and reckless actions, including the slaughter of Americans, for far too long. Now, at the direction of President Trump, he has been brought to justice before he could could kill even more Americans,” Ernst said in a written statement issued by her Senate office. “I applaud the work of U.S. military personnel in carrying out this mission. America, and our world, is safer because of Soleimani’s death.”
Middle East experts outside the Trump administration almost uniformly disagree with Ernst’s assertion that killing Soleimani made anyone safer. And the Pentagon’s official statement regarding the drone strike raised questions about how much expertise there is within the Trump administration, since the statement got the name of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps wrong.
A datapoint for those wondering whether the US has fully thought through and prepared for the consequences: Official Pentagon statement on killing Soleimani misstates the name of the organization he led. https://t.co/FJWr1FES0w
— Max Fisher (@Max_Fisher) January 3, 2020
(DASD is an abbreviation for Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense.)
“This is a massive walk up the escalation ladder,’’ Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute said. “With Suleimani dead, war is coming — that seems certain, the only questions are where, in what form and when?”
According to the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer whose career has focused on the Middle East, “The administration is taking America into another war in the Middle East, bigger than ever.”
Iran’s “history suggests [it] will not take on the United States frontally,” David Sanger wrote in an analysis for the New York Times. “Iranians are the masters of striking soft targets, starting in Iraq, but hardly limited to that country. In the past few years they have honed an ability to cause low-level chaos, and left no doubt that they want to be able to reach the United States.”
In a written statement, Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei said “a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands.”
The U.S. Embassy in Iraq has officially told all Americans to leave the country as soon as possible, and warned them not to approach the embassy building for their own safety.
The drone strike followed a week in which supporters of an Iraqi militia affiliated with Iran attacked the U.S. Embassy building in Baghdad.
Speaking to Fox News on Friday morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said killing Soleimani was necessary to prevent an imminent threat to Americans. Pompeo declined to describe the alleged threat, or why Soleimani’s death was needed to stop it.
Trump has been at Mar-a-Lago, the Florida resort run by the Trump Organization, for a Christmas vacation, and was reportedly eating dessert in the resort’s dining room when the drone strike occurred. Top Democrats in Congress said they were not consulted by Trump, or even informed of the drone strike in advance. So far, the only Republican lawmaker who has said he had advance notice is Sen. Lindsey Graham.
“I was briefed about the potential operation when I was down in Florida,” Graham told Fox News on Friday. Graham had been at Mar-a-Lago earlier in the week to play golf with Trump.
In her statement, Ernst did not address Trump’s decision not inform Congressional leaders of his decision to kill Soleimani.
So far, Ernst is the only member of Iowa’s congressional delegation to issue a statement about the killing.