Iranian general's assassination will likely backfire on Trump - expert

A Kiwi international security expert says Donald Trump's decision to carry out a highly public assassination of a top Iranian general demonstrates his "incompetence".

Paul Buchanan, a former defense policy analyst and academic, says "presidential hubris" could plunge the US into another war it cannot win.

Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran's elite Quds Force, was killed in a US drone strike near Baghdad International Airport on January 3. Tensions between the US and Iran have dramatically risen since, with Iran vowing revenge and the US ramping up the rhetoric, even accusing Iran of assisting in the 9/11 attacks of 2001, despite evidence suggesting the opposite.

Trump was offered a range of options for dealing with Iran, but stunned advisors when he went for the "most extreme", the New York Times reported.

Dr Buchanan said the bold move will likely backfire on Trump, who is expected to face trial in the Senate soon after being impeached in December.

"In this particular instance it seems like the incompetence of the US leadership has led to a miscalculation that could lead to war," Dr Buchanan told Newshub.

"I say that because if in fact General Soleimani was as bad a threat to US interests as he's being made out to be, there are other ways to eliminate him without this public display of what appears to be presidential hubris."

The US has long been aware of Soleimani's movements, Dr Buchanan said. The New York Times reported previous Presidents Barack Obama and George W Bush - who led the US into two wars in the region - both decided against targeting Soleimani, fearing the consequences.

"There were more subtle, more covert ways of removing this problem, rather than... a public display of so-called US military might," said Dr Buchanan. "So it's my view that the military command in the United States probably advised the President not to engage in a public demonstration in his ability to kill people... and the President overruled that, and they are constitutionally bound to obey his orders."

Paul Buchanan.
Paul Buchanan. Photo credit: The AM Show

Iran doesn't have the military might to match the US, so will likely carry out a war of attrition, says Dr Buchanan, fearing a significant reprisal could plunge the entire region into war.

"The Iranians don't want that, but they could make life so uncomfortable for the US and its allies in the Middle East and do a war of attrition, a death by a thousand cuts, where you slowly bleed the enemy until he loses his will to keep on fighting. 

"That's exactly what could occur in the United States, where the public once they see there's no victory in sight and Iran is not going anywhere, may start to lose faith in the presidency."

Trump didn't think this far ahead, Dr Buchanan suggests, not realising the US cannot feasibly win a war against Iran, no matter how much stronger they are militarily. And despite the conventional wisdom that Americans don't like to vote out a wartime President, Dr Buchanan doubts a conflict with Iran will help Trump - who once suggested Obama would start a war with Iran to ensure reelection - at all. 

"November is a long time away, and between now and then it's very clear that very unpleasant things are going to happen to US interests... This whole thing may backfire on him in a very bad way because the Americans are exhausted of war. They've been fighting wars continuously for two decades and they haven't won a single one. Iraq was a temporary victory, but it led to the creation of [Islamic State]." 

If Iran does hit back, Trump has threatened to strike another 52 Iranian sites, including some of cultural importance. Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif - tweeting in English to ensure the message was received - said that would amount to a war crime.

"A reminder to those hallucinating about emulating [Islamic State] war crimes by targeting our cultural heritage: Through MILLENNIA of history, barbarians have come and ravaged our cities, razed our monuments and burnt our libraries. Where are they now? We're still here, & standing tall."

In response, Trump threatened the US would "fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner." 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told ABC's This Week the US would act according to international law, but refused to disavow Trump's online threats.