The US took out Iran's top commander. So what happens next? President Trump insisted Friday afternoon that he's not looking for "regime change" or to start a war. "We took action last night to stop a war," he said at Mar-a-Lago, per CNN. "We did not take action to start a war." In defending the military strike that killed Gen. Qasem Soleimani, Trump said "the Iranian regime's aggression in the region—including its use of proxy fighters to destabilize its neighbors—must end and it must end now." The president's comments came as the Pentagon prepared to send 3,000 US troops to the Mideast from Fort Bragg for a scheduled stay of 60 days, reports NBC News. Related coverage:
- Consequences: In the Atlantic, Kathy Gilsinan and Mike Giglio write that the airstrike is far more consequential than previous military actions of this nature because Soleimani had the resources and backing of an entire nation. "Of the most feared terrorist leaders the United States has hunted and killed this century—from Osama bin Laden to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—no death ever had the significance of the one America just dealt," they write. The oft-cited "proxy war" between Iran and the US just took a big step toward becoming a real one.
- Going further: "This doesn’t mean war, it will not lead to war, and it doesn’t risk war. None of that. It is war." So writes Andrew Exum, also at the Atlantic. "The United States is now in a hot war with Iran."
- Or not: The fallout might actually be limited, Henry Rome, an analyst with Eurasia Group, tells the Washington Post. "Why would the Soleimani assassination not immediately trigger a limited or even major conflict?" he asks. "The structural factors are powerful." Tehran, already reeling economically from US sanctions, might not want to risk a major conflict. And Trump may not want to escalate further amid a re-election campaign.
- A split on the right? Allahpundit at Hot Air notes that while Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade praised Trump on Fox News, "there are some principled nationalists out there who’ll make unhappy noises about this development," and one is Fox's own Tucker Carlson. Thursday night, Carlson wondered if Trump got bad advice from hawkish advisers that might lead us into a misguided war. "If the confrontation with Iran does blow up, how many righties will end up in the Hannity camp and how many in the Tucker camp?" writes Allahpundit. "The first will be bigger, but how much bigger?"
- Backing Trump: Republicans in Congress were largely behind the president. “In a display of resolve and strength, we struck the leader of those attacking our sovereign US territories,” said House Minority Kevin McCarthy in a typical sentiment, per the Washington Post. In the Senate, the GOP's Lindsey Graham revealed that Trump informed him ahead of time about the strike, which he labeled a "blow to (an) Iranian regime that has American blood on its hands." He also said he appreciated "being brought into the orbit" ahead of time while in Florida with the president.
- Anti-Trump: One of the more scathing assessments comes from Mehdi Hasan at the Intercept, who notes that in 2016, then-candidate Trump seemingly had no idea who Soleimani was when asked. Now, Trump has "effectively declared war on Iran," and Hasan is finding it hard to fathom "that an unhinged, know-nothing former reality TV star and property developer, with zero background in foreign affairs or national security, may have just kicked off World War III."
- The general: Need a primer on Soleimani? Read a 2013 profile by Dexter Filkins in the New Yorker.
(Trump himself defended the move