Iran targeted four embassies in its ongoing war against the United States: the U.S. embassies in Baghdad, Kenya, Tanzania, and even an embassy in Washington, D.C., belonging to the U.S.-allied government of Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s most recent embassy attack occurred over the New Year. One of Iran’s paramilitary forces besieged the U.S. embassy in Baghdad for two days. This echoed the 2012 embassy attack in Benghazi, where a terrorist-led mob murdered four Americans, including an ambassador.
Before that, Iran’s deadliest U.S. embassy attacks bombed the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. There, Iran sponsored al Qaeda — the terrorist group that would eventually commit 9/11 — in two embassy bombings that slaughtered hundreds of innocent civilians.
But Iran’s boldest embassy attack would have slain Americans in Washington, D.C. Iran targeted the U.S.-allied embassy of Saudi Arabia in a plot to assassinate the ambassador by bombing the restaurant Café Milano, knowing this would massacre 100–150 civilians in the worst terrorist attack since 9/11, which killed about 3,000 innocents.
Iran’s Islamist revolutionaries have always taken pride in attacking American embassies. Months after overthrowing the monarchy, the Islamic Republic’s founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, invaded the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 98 people hostage. He called this “a revolution bigger than the first revolution.”
President Trump alluded to more such embassy attacks, saying “I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies” when asked whether Iran has “large scale attacks planned for other embassies” besides Baghdad.
Trump can base his belief upon the public record. Iran attacks the United States and its allies far more often than even these four embassy plots suggest. The theory that Iran is not planning more of the same is naïve, and bears the burden of proof against Iran’s demonstrated record of terrorism.
To be sure, the United States may yet produce more specific evidence of planned or executed terrorist attacks by Iran against the United States and its allies. Though interesting, such evidence is nonetheless superfluous to the case for American self-defense against Iran.
The United States rightly killed “two birds with one drone” when Trump simultaneously struck Iranian terrorists Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of the paramilitary force that had attacked the U.S. embassy in Baghdad the previous day.
It does not matter whether additional Iranian attacks were “imminent.” Soleimani already executed a campaign that killed about 600 American soldiers in Iraq and countless civilians around the world. Terminating this behavior is necessary; excusing it is reckless.
Politicians and media bleating for more evidence of Iranian terrorism are willfully ignorant of this publicly-available information. Most likely, they are exploiting voters’ unawareness of Iranian aggression just to score cheap political points against Trump.
They attack Trump for defending the United States. Yet, when Trump appeared disinclined to respond forcefully against Iranian aggression on prior occasions, these same politicians attacked Trump for showing weakness. Some even accused Trump of cowardice during the latest embassy attacks only to then accuse him of escalation one day later when he responded with force.
But a targeted strike against enemy combatants without collateral damage is unobjectionable.
Sometimes it appears Trump’s political opponents would like the United States to get drawn into a land war against Iran. Because this would be deeply unpopular, they could exploit it to the detriment of the president and his party, even though this would jeopardize national security. It is a strategy from the political opposition playbook used under President George W. Bush during the Iraq war.
Failing that, media and politicians seem happy to settle for a different trick from the Bush era: hyping uncertainties in counterterrorism intelligence to insist the president lacks proof of an “imminent” attack, and therefore cannot forcefully defend the country.
Unfortunately, such politicking misleads the public. It leaves the false impression that America can only defend itself when a terrorist plot is underway and the United States possesses “smoking gun” proof of its imminence, scale, and location. Waiting for a “smoking gun” means the bullet has already been fired.
Under this Goldilocks theory of national security, America can only defend itself when the circumstances are just right: acting too soon would be illegal because there is no proof of an imminent attack, and acting after-the-fact would be illegal and “disproportionate” for that same reason.
This approach is a fairy tale. Practically, the United States must tolerate irreducible uncertainty in intelligence gathering and analysis. Legally, the United States is entitled to respond in self-defense to enemy combatants, regardless of how “imminent” their next operation might be.
All that’s guaranteed is that enemies exist and the president is obligated to confront them.
Lew Olowski is an attorney and formerly a clerk to Radovan Karadzic, president of the Bosnian Serb Republic, at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Lew served under Peter Robinson, who is among the world’s premiere international criminal trial lawyers litigating war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. He is a graduate of Georgetown Law School.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.