Before the new coronavirus epidemic gripped the globe — about a million supercharged news cycles ago — we seemed to be on the brink of a major US-Iran war. But two months later, the feared backlash of the US killing of top Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani has largely not materialized.
As it turns out, the region didn’t explode into war, and Iranian proxies are yet to wreak revenge on American diplomatic posts abroad. After an initial recoil, the US was also not forced out of Iraq, leaving Soleimani’s strategic dream unfulfilled.
So does the administration of Donald Trump finally have a big foreign policy win to confound its naysayers?
Washington undeniably won tangible strategic gains from the showdown. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard lost its most talismanic leadership figure, who had built a network of regional proxies. And Tehran, reeling from the economic impact of US sanctions and a coronavirus outbreak, may lack the bandwidth to exact full revenge from the Great Satan.
The whole world also dodged a bullet during Iran’s limited strikes on US bases in Iraq: More than 100 US troops sustained brain injuries from blast concussions — despite Trump’s effort to minimize their wounds. But had Americans died, war would have been a certainty.
Tehran’s military flex represented its most tangible gain from the confrontation. For the first time in a 40 year stand-off, the Islamic Republic targeted US military installations openly and directly. The controlled strikes demonstrated Iran’s new deterrence capabilities and may give US commanders pause in the future.
And the story isn’t over yet. Many experts believe Tehran is biding its time to plot deniable revenge attacks on US targets using regional terror groups. So the White House that’s always ready to declare Mission Accomplished had better keep its powder dry.