- On Tuesday, December 31, 2019, a large contingency of Iranian-backed protestors breached the United States embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.
- The group was demonstrating against five US airstrikes launched last Sunday on militia bases located in Iraq and Syria.
- Protestors withdrew from the embassy on Wednesday, before a US missile strike killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani the next night. Now the world waits for Iran’s response.
So, how ya feelin’ about World War 3?
2019 has come to an end, and as a new decade begins, the situation in the Middle East is swiftly escalating. During the past week, tensions between the United States and Iran have started boiling over.
Iranian-backed militias stormed the US embassy in Baghdad, Iraq – allegedly in response to five recent American airstrikes – the Pentagon, on Thursday, approved a drone strike that killed General Qasem Soleimani.
Now, Iran is promising to retaliate, with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warning that “severe revenge awaits the criminals” responsible for the General’s death. Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in the attack.
An all-out war with a country as large and military-capable as Iran will likely involve all of the world’s major powers. It will also have enormous implications for the 2020 presidential election.
Attack on US Embassy in Baghdad
The latest round of escalations between Iran and the United States started on Tuesday, December 31, when a sizable group of demonstrators stormed the US embassy located in Baghdad, Iraq.
The protestors were angered by a string of airstrikes that targeted Iranian-backed militia bases in western Iraq and eastern Syria, killing at least 25 members of the Kataib Hezbollah.
The United States says the attacks were in retaliation for the death of an American civilian, who was killed when a militia rocket hit the Iraqi military base in which they were working. Following the funerals of the fallen militia fighters, protestors burned down an empty guard post and breached a reception area within the embassy.
US troops were able to repel the demonstrators using teargas and were later reinforced by riot police, Iraqi soldiers, and additional marines. Some hostilities resumed on Wednesday, with rock-throwing protestors being met by more teargas, but the skirmishes eventually subsided later that evening.
Drone Strike Kills Top Iranian Commander of Revolutionary Guards
Two days after the clashes at the embassy, President Donald Trump approved a drone strike targeting General Soleimani and other militia leaders as they were leaving Baghdad airport. At least five people were killed, including Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
A statement released by the Pentagon read, “At the direction of the President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani.”
“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.”
Who Was General Qasem Soleimani?
To put things into perspective, this killing is the equivalent of an Iranian airstrike killing one of the US’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, while they were meeting with troops in the Middle East. Gen Soleimani was an enormously powerful and influential man in his country and the leader of the Quds Force – a division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations.
The United States has classified the Quds Force as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and claims the group, and their affiliated militias, are “responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and Coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more,” according to a Pentagon spokesperson.
What doesn’t make sense is that on the surface, it would appear that Gen Soleimani’s forces and the United States shared a common goal: defeating the Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS). Like Iran’s IRGC, the current Iraqi government is controlled by Shia Muslims. The US’s role in the country was to maintain stability while training Iraqi soldiers.
Possibilities of War
By some accounts, Soleimani and the Kataib Hezbollah fighters are primarily responsible for defeating most of ISIS in the region – both in Syria and Iraq. That the US government would see them as terrorists plays into conspiracy theories accusing America of arming and funding ISIS in the area, in hopes of overthrowing Assad’s government in Syria.
Whatever the case, this latest strike is undoubtedly being seen as an act of war by Iran. Understand, Turkey, China, and India are the top consumers of Iran’s oil exports. Should the US look to invade, a halt in production could trigger an economic crisis in China.
With China’s economy already over-leveraged, any major disruptions of this sort could be catastrophic for the emerging superpower. For that reason, you have to believe they’re weighing their options with regards to intervening in this growing conflict. If China feels it’s in their best interest strategically, to defend Iran, a third World War is not out of the question.
Possible Implications for the 2020 Presidential Elections?
2020 Presidential Election Odds
- Donald Trump -120
Donald Trump’s reelection odds have changed to make him an even larger betting favorite to win the 2020 presidential election. During the impeachment inquiry two months ago, the President’s betting line was hovering around +130 at Bovada. After the two articles of impeachment were passed, his implied probability of winning improved, shifting to –105. Now, his odds are sitting at –120.
It makes sense – no incumbent US president has ever lost their reelection bid during wartime. People don’t like to “change horses midstream.” This will be especially true if Trump is faced with a progressive Democratic nominee.
While an increasingly large percentage of the American electorate is demonstrating a desire for drastic systemic changes, voters may be less inclined to embrace such uncertainty in the middle of a major conflict.
Following Thursday’s airstrike, the pundits and war hawks are already banging the drums again; there are multiple powerful groups and lobbies with a vested interest in starting another full-scale war. As we’ve seen in the past, criticisms of the US’s foreign policy can be attacked as “un-American” in times of war. The George W Bush administration used that tactic before invading Iraq.
I see this as particularly damaging to outsider candidates like Bernie Sanders, Andrew Yang, and Tulsi Gabbard. The closer we get to November, the more it’s looking like an inevitability that Donald Trump will be reelected to a second term in office. That said, this Iran situation is still extremely fluid and volatile. Anything can happen from here.