US President Donald Trump has an unpredictable negotiating style and likes to break with precedent
Washington (AFP) - President Donald Trump campaigns on a no more "stupid" wars mantra, but the US killing of Iran's military mastermind will test his ability to stay out of Middle Eastern quagmires less than a year from election day.
Since the day of his surprise election victory in 2016, Trump has signaled an end to what critics long derided as Washington's global "policeman" role.
Now though, Trump is celebrating his order to kill Qasem Soleimani, who as commander of the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps' foreign operations was arguably the second most important person in Tehran and a lynchpin of Iranian policy across the region.
"He should have been taken out many years ago!" Trump tweeted Friday, adding triumphantly that Soleimani "got caught!"
That and an earlier tweet simply posting an American flag show Trump building himself up as a wartime commander ahead of his November reelection attempt and looming impeachment trial in the Senate.
It's a posture he will likely promote further at a speech in Florida later Friday to right-wing evangelical Christians.
- 'Worst decision ever' -
Until now Trump has built his brand on a very different platform.
While he has imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran he has repeatedly stressed unwillingness to attack the longtime US foe militarily. And in North Korea, a potentially even more dangerous foe, Trump has gone out of his way to befriend dictator Kim Jong Un.
That stand gets enthusiastic applause at rallies around the country, following two decades of costly, unpopular and often seemingly fruitless US battles in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
Just last October, Trump shocked US allies with an abrupt order to withdraw military assets backing Kurdish forces in yet another war zone, Syria.
That triggered an almost overnight shift in regional power, with Russia, Turkey, Iran and the Syrian government gaining ground.
Trump dismissed the ensuing outcry from even his own Republican party, saying that "stupid endless wars, for us, are ending."
"GOING INTO THE MIDDLE EAST IS THE WORST DECISION EVER MADE IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY!" he tweeted in his trademark all-caps style.
That was much the same message issued a month earlier when Trump fired national security advisor John Bolton, a hardliner who has pushed for overthrowing the government in Iran.
This was also the message Trump, not even a politician then, delivered back in November 2011 when he lashed out at president Barack Obama.
"In order to get elected, @BarackObama will start a war with Iran," Trump sniped.
In fact, Obama did not go to war with Iran and won reelection in 2012.
- Strong or erratic? -
The White House is portraying the Soleimani killing as evidence of strength.
The Iranian general was for years seen by both Democrats and Republicans as the single most important individual behind deadly attacks on US interests in the Middle East.
Most recently he was accused of approving a mob's attack on the US embassy in Baghdad this week.
But while Republicans publicly approve the Soleimani killing, Democrats claim Trump is now going down precisely the warmongering path he long railed against.
"Trump's dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars," leftist Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said.
"Trump promised to end endless wars, but this action puts us on the path to another one."
Foreign allies, spooked by what they see as the growing US leadership vacuum abroad, are ever more alarmed.
"We have woken up to a more dangerous world," France's Europe Minister Amelie de Montchalin told French radio.
Trump habitually dismisses Washington's European allies, but he will no doubt be watching the reaction of the US stock market -- one of his favorite barometers of economic performance in the run-up to this year's election.
Early trading saw the major indices falling and oil prices spiking.