The Trump administration is still celebrating the death of Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian military commander the president called “the number-one terrorist anywhere in the world.” But in a single hectic weekend after the killing, virtually all of America’s other goals in the Middle East took a significant hit.
The U.S. wants to stop Iran from going nuclear; Iran said it would ditch the last restrictions on its nuclear program. The U.S. wants to check Iran’s influence throughout the region; one of America’s closest allies, Iraq, incensed that the U.S. struck Soleimani on its own soil when he was there as a guest of the government, gave Iran a victory in a nonbinding parliamentary vote asking U.S. forces to leave the country—which a commander in the counter-ISIS mission in Iraq said in a letter he would honor, sparking confusion and forcing Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to deny any plans to leave Iraq. The U.S. wants to keep the Islamic State down through its Iraqi partner forces; the relationship is now damaged, and the U.S. coalition has paused its counter-ISIS operations in the country to focus on guarding against Iranian attacks.
Depending on what happens next, all of this could add up to big opportunities for two U.S. enemies—if ISIS can reconstitute and Iran can expand its influence.
The chaos extends beyond Iraq and Iran, and had been gathering for months before this weekend. It has hit worried allies in the Gulf, who in recent months have seen their shipping lanes and oil infrastructure targeted and have quietly tried to tamp down tensions with Iran. It has emboldened dictators like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erodğan, who is flexing his strength in Libya after intervening, counter to American wishes, against American allies in Syria. And it has damaged friendships with European allies, who keep scrambling to deal with Donald Trump’s impulsive decisions—and have just barely recovered from his surprise attempt to withdraw from Syria last fall.