Iranian missile attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. Deadly chaos in Iran. A sudden halt of the fight against the Islamic State. Utter confusion over whether U.S. troops will remain in Iraq, and even whether the United States still respects the laws of war. The fallout from the Trump administration’s killing of Qassem Soleimani has been swift and serious.
But one potential knock-on effect may not come into clear view for some time: the emergence of Iran as the next nuclear-weapons state, at the very moment when the world appears on the cusp of a more perilous nuclear age. It’s possible that the Reaper drone hovering over Baghdad’s airport last week destroyed not only an infamous Iranian general, but also the last hope of curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Before he’d even said “good morning” during an address to the nation yesterday, Donald Trump vowed that Iran would “never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon” as long as he’s president of the United States. Yet as he urged other world powers to abandon the nuclear deal that they and the Obama administration negotiated with Iran, and that Trump withdrew the U.S. from in 2018, he offered no details on his plan to obtain a better deal.
When the Iranian government announced that it would suspend more (though not yet all) of its commitments under the nuclear agreement, in a move made after Soleimani’s death but planned beforehand, I recalled something Richard Burt, the U.S. diplomat behind the largest nuclear-weapons reduction in history, told me back in 2018. He noted that in the ’80s, when he negotiated the START I treaty with the Soviet Union, people were acutely aware of the existential dangers of a nuclear conflict. That’s no longer the case, he warned.