The missile strike happened in the dead of night, when millions of Iraqis were either sleeping or retiring for the evening. The plane carrying Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani touched down at Baghdad International Airport just after midnight. Iran’s most notorious general climbed down the stairs and into a waiting car, where he was greeted by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces and a key Iranian ally in Iraqi affairs.
9 minutes later, an American MQ-9 Reaper tracking the two vehicles barreled down on both men, sent missiles towards the convoy, and engulfed it in a sea of flame. Both Soleimani and Muhandis were killed, an operation Trump has cited as a glorious accomplishment at campaign rallies ever since.
Soleimani’s assassination was not only a shocking development in terms of U.S. policy—George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Trump’s two predecessors, considered the option but ultimately rejected it as too risky. It also led many Trump watchers inside and outside of Washington to reassess their previous beliefs about the president. Gerard Araud, a former French Ambassador to the United States, told Bloomberg News that “The Americans are now totally unpredictable.” Nathalie Tocci, a senior adviser to former European Union foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini, labeled U.S. policy “more reckless” than it was during the U.S. invasion of Iraq nearly 17 years earlier.
All of which leads to an interesting hypothetical: if tensions between the United States and North Korea bubbled up to the surface circa 2017, would Trump consider the option to take out a member of the North’s senior military or political leadership? Would one of those targets be Kim Jong-un himself?