Georgetown professors debated the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani earlier this month. The panel was hosted on Jan. 15 by the School of Foreign Service and the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics).
Anthony Arend, a professor of government and foreign service, moderated the panel, which featured faculty with experience in the State Department, Central Intelligence Agency, and National Security Agency.
A U.S. drone strike near Baghdad Airport on Jan. 3 killed Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Quds Force and second-in-command after Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. The strike occurred after months of increasing tension between Iran and the United States, including escalating Iranian aggression against tankers in the Persian Gulf throughout 2019 and an attack on Saudi oil facilities last September.
The targeting of Soleimani, a venerated military leader throughout Iran, has deteriorated Iran-U.S. relations and sparked a public debate over the Trump administration’s actions. In the aftermath, U.S. counter-ISIS operations were paused and the Iraqi parliament voted to expel U.S. troops from the country on Jan. 5.
Ned Price (SFS ’05), policy and communications director at National Security Action and adjunct professor, condemned the killing and argued that the strike put American lives at risk. “The question I began thinking about that night was whether this decision would make the American people safer, and that really is the only metric when it comes to national security policy,” Price said. “And from that night until now, at least in my mind, that question is a resounding no.”
Carrie Cordero, a CNN analyst and professor of law, was skeptical about the logical process of the President’s decision making due to potential long term impacts of the strike.
“There have been actions that the administration has taken based on whims or, in many cases, political objectives of the president that did not follow the normal policy process and that were not thought through legally,” Cordero said. “The difference with this is that you can’t undo this.”
The discussion also focused on the legal implication of the airstrike, and whether the White House exercised sound decision making even if the attack was found to be technically legal.
Price pointed out that just because an action was legal did not justify the action as a good policy. “Is something lawful, or is something lawful, but awful,” he said. “Even if something is lawful in domestic international law, the consequences of it can still be so momentous, so profound, cutting against our national security, that it argues against taking a specific operation.”
Price explained that one of the greatest implications of the U.S. airstrike was the tense relations, not only with Iran, but with the United States’ closest allies and partners. “[It] has been surprising to see even the reaction from Riyaad, from Israel, from the Gulf, countries that certainly have no affinity for the Islamic Republic, but are profoundly uneasy with a policy that I think is as unclear to them as it is to many of us,” Price said.
Matthew Kroenig, an associate professor of government, portrayed Iran’s retaliatory missile strike on U.S. military targets in Iraq following the Soleimani killing as an opportunity for Khamenei to satisfy the demand for an Iranian response while preventing all-out war with the U.S. However, Kroenig predicted future strife between the U.S. and Iran.
“Iran’s breakout time to a nuclear weapon is currently six to eight months, but if it continues to ramp up its program over the coming weeks and months as many people suspect it will, that will begin the shrink,” Kroenig said. “So my prediction is that the crisis that will happen in six months or so over Iran’s nuclear program is going to be even worse than this crisis we just came out of.”