Did Trump Just Sign Up to His Own 'Forever War'? | Opinion

It is hard to contemplate a more reckless act than the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, one of Iran's top military leaders and by some accounts Iran's most popular public figure. Yet that is what was just ordered by President Trump and carried out by U.S. forces operating near Baghdad International Airport, a few hours after Iran's Supreme Leader insulted Trump over Twitter.

Regardless of whether Trump decided to risk a war because of the bruising of his ego online, or or to retaliate over the storming of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad by Iraqi Shia militias and their supporters, or any number of shadow moves by the U.S. and Iran that have transpired since Trump decided to violate and exit the Iran nuclear deal in 2018—Soleimani's assassination has every chancy of being remembered as the first bloody salvo in a chaotic regional war not easily contained within any nation's borders. Worse still, a war that could have been easily avoided if Donald Trump was not the epitome of unsuitability for the job of Commander in Chief.

There were any number of ways for the president to stop the escalation spiral and negotiate with Iran. At every turn, he chose conflict.

President Trump could have stuck with the nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor and other major powers that guarded against both a nuclear-armed Iran and war with Iran over its nuclear program. Trump left the deal to spite Obama, promising a better deal and a more peaceful region. We got neither.

President Trump could have let well enough alone after violating and exiting the nuclear deal. Iran, after all, played things cautiously at first and maintained their compliance with the nuclear deal for a full year after Trump's withdrawal. Instead, Trump elevated war hawks to his cabinet in John Bolton and Mike Pompeo and escalated sanctions pressure full throttle. Under their advice, Trump slapped a foreign terrorist organization designation on Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—an unprecedented move against a country's primary military force—and ended sanctions waivers that had allowed foreign countries to continue importing Iranian oil in the first half of 2019.

Shortly thereafter, Iran calculated that its own caution was inviting U.S. escalation. It halted compliance with the nuclear deal and has been accused by the Trump administration of orchestrating numerous escalatory steps against the U.S. and its regional partners - the downing of a U.S. drone in June; the sabotage of oil tankers in the Persian Gulf; an attack on a key Saudi oil facilities; and most recently the rocket attack attributed to Iraqi Shia militia group Kataib Hezbollah that left a U.S. contractor dead, triggered U.S. retaliatory strikes and then the storming of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on New Year's Eve by Iraqi Shia militias and their supporters.

At every step of the way, Iran insisted it was open to negotiate—if the U.S. took the meager first step of easing unilateral sanctions that violated the nuclear deal. Trump wasn't interested.

Iran is a nation of 80 million, many of whom survived a bloody eight year conflict with Iraq. Many do not like their government or condone its actions. Yet, its people have suffered under Trump's sanctions and may soon suffer another bloody war with the United States. Iraq is a nation of 38 million, which has been torn apart by war for years and now stands poised to enter a new era of conflict. And, an entire generation of Americans have been born and never seen their country in a state of peace. If Trump is allowed to continue his march to war with Iran, a nation far more populous and prepared for battle than Saddam Hussein's hobbled Iraq in 2003, there may be another American generation doomed to endless war in the Middle East.

Congress has not authorized an Iran war, nor an assassination campaign targeting Iranian generals and Shia militiamen. The American troops in Iraq that were apparently threatened by Iran have little defined or authorized role in the country with ISIS largely defeated. Iran, and the Shia militias they support in Iraq, actually loosely coordinated with U.S. forces to retake Iraqi territory from ISIS. Now, however, there is a new war being cooked up to justify their presence. Trump is poised to walk over Congress' halfhearted efforts to protect its Constitutional prerogative to declare war and open a new front in the forever war. The days that follow may provide Congress, and the American people, our last best hope at halting a new American war in the Middle East that should have been utterly avoidable.

Ryan Costello is Policy Director with the National Iranian American Council.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.