This development of nuclear regions in parts of the world that powerful countries deem unsafe and unstable has been a lasting concern. For example, the malicious computer worm, Stuxnet, which caused significant damage to nuclear development in Iran and was discovered in 2010 is widely believed to trace its ties back to the United States and Israel (though, of course, neither country has admitted involvement if this is true nor has any other).
Under the Trump administration, however, we’ve seen far more direct approaches to the conflict and it has been highly influential in both the regional and overall U.S. foreign policy. Most notably, President Trump backed out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, which was made between Iran, the U.S., and several other world powers as well that occurred during former President Barack Obama’s administration.
Its nature is essentially aimed at limiting the growth of nuclear technology and innovations. The international community believes their plans into nuclear development were not entirely peaceful, and that these plans would endanger other countries, especially those near the region. The president’s actions have been met with immense praise and bitter criticism, both domestically and abroad.
The Domestic Controversy
On Jan. 3, however, the United States military killed Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s top military general, in an airstrike close to Baghdad’s airport. Supporters of the Trump administration and his actions cite the Pentagon, which claimed it had knowledge of an imminent terrorist attack involving the general and that he was assassinated as a threat to national security.
Additionally, and with significant bipartisan support, many are supportive of the idea that Iran is currently one of the largest funders of terrorism in the world and that, as their top general, it would be likely that Soleimani was involved in incidents everywhere – including the alleged upcoming security threat that the Pentagon claimed it had knowledge of.
However, while Trump claimed informing Congress of the plans of the assassination would have resulted in a leak that would lead to its failure, critics of the president and his actions claimed that Congress has the constitutional power of declaring war and that he needed their authorization to carry out the attacks. This remains a recurring place of tension between a president and their Congress when their parties differ – or they generally do not see eye to eye and was allegedly shoved in Nixon’s presidency in the War Powers Resolution – which gave the president 60 days of sovereignty over foreign conflict without congressional approval and a 30 day removal period, though it requires 48 hour advance notification to Congress.
The constitutionality of this document, both in giving the president war powers in general and limiting him from having unlimited war powers, is still widely debated.
The Overall Rundown
In December 2019, missile attacks in Iraq carried out by Iran armed and backed militias increased and killed several people, including a U.S. contractor in Iraq. As a result of the U.S. bombing with F-15s, protesters stormed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and an evacuation proceeded.
Following this was the assassination of General Soleimani in the alleged evidence that he was planning further attacks that dangered the U.S. and/or its interests. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, responded in threatening direct retaliation against the U.S. military in Iraq.
Five days after the assassination on Jan. 8, Iran fired missiles on a base housing U.S. troops in Iraq, which was claimed to be in self defense by leadership in the region, though resulting in no US casualties. Later the same day, a plane crashed killing 176 people, only to be later determined as a result of the missiles, but claimed to be an accident.
The following days of this direct conflict saw a congressional move at officially limiting Trump’s war powers, increased sanctions imposed on Iran, the admittance of Iran to the role in the plane crash and a denial by the U.S. Defence Secretary that Soleimani was targeting four US Embassies, which Trump had previously claimed. Protests continually increased against the Iranian government, which historically have turned to violence and reportedly did this time as well.
The European Union seeks to ameliorate the tension in the region, but claims it requires more time to do so. Additionally, Iraq saw protests which called for U.S. removal from the country days later, while the U.S. wanted permission from Iraq’s government to use patriot missile defense systems to prevent further attacks.
Protests are ongoing and will likely intensify, both for Iraq’s anti-government protests and Iran’s protests against U.S. involvement in the region, as neither Iran nor the U.S. show intentions to back down over the conflict, even given Tehran has admitted it will still remain open to negotiations (though they may prove unsuccessful even should they occur). There continues to be high tension and seemingly serious threats coming from both sides. Whether or not armed conflict will continue or it will turn political is yet to be seen.