On Thursday, a U.S. missile strike killed Qassem Soleimani, a high-ranking official in the Iranian government and the commander of the country’s elite Quds Force. President Donald Trump, who personally signed off on the attack, has now radically escalated tensions between Washington and Tehran. Foreign policy commentators in mainstream media outlets have been warning that the repercussions will be staggering. Slate’s Fred Kaplan described the move as a declaration of war. Indeed, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has promised a “forceful revenge,” which could take the form of terrorist attacks against Americans abroad or in the continental U.S., intensified cyberwarfare, or a surge of missile strikes targeting American military personnel and bases in the Middle East.
Some conservative outlets, in contrast, struck a largely bellicose pose and praised the president for dealing a forceful blow to Iran. Reliable Trump cheerleaders at Breitbart and Gateway Pundit are framing the turn of events as an unalloyed victory for the United States. A Daily Wire editorial from Josh Hammer made no mention of the potential fallout from the commander’s elimination, simply proclaiming that “the Obama Middle East foreign policy legacy is dead” and that the “only travesty here is that Qassem Soleimani was not taken out sooner.” Another, from Ben Shapiro, did acknowledge that there is “a lot to be nervous about,” but said that it was “mythmaking to suggest that Iran was benign until Soleimani’s head was removed from his shoulders.”
Other outlets on the right ran opposing viewpoints on the wisdom of the strike. The Washington Examiner’s editorial board published a piece on Thursday night titled “Iranian malevolence justified Trump’s order to kill Qassem Soleimani,” arguing that Soleimani’s crimes could not go unpunished and that the strike was a shrewd show of strength against Iran’s attempt to overturn U.S. sanctions with aggression. But the Examiner also published two op-eds that were much less confident about the decision. The paper’s commentary editor, Timothy P. Carney, wrote an op-ed in which he rebuts his colleagues: “If we’re better off with him dead, how could killing him be a mistake? There’s an easy answer to that question: Saddam Hussein and Moammar Qadhafi were murderous, oppressive dictators, but when the United States used force to oust them, leading to their deaths, we didn’t make the world better off.” Examiner columnist Daniel DePetris wrote an even more skeptical piece around the same time titled “Killing of Iran’s Qassem Soleimani will bring violent chaos to the Middle East,” predicting that Trump is not in fact prepared to deal with the fallout. Over in the National Review, the publication’s editorial board, which has criticized Trump in the past, wrote that Soleimani deserved to die for his role in “the deaths of hundreds of our servicemen during the Iraq war” and gushed, “Neither George W. Bush or Barack Obama dared to take such a step, and it surely has rocked the Iranian regime to its core.” David French then wrote a rejoinder with the headline, “The Many Downsides of War with Iran,” laying out the possible bloodshed and economic shocks that could result from ratcheting up the conflict.
And on Fox News, a rift between two of the network’s more right-wing hosts emerged. Sean Hannity, who was one of the first people to report the news on air before the Pentagon made the official announcement, called into his own show to rave about the strike even though he had the night off: “This is a huge victory for American intelligence, a huge victory for our military, a huge victory for the State Department, and a huge victory and total leadership by the president.” Former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who was guest-hosting the show, also called the move a “proportional response, not overstepping the line.” Tucker Carlson, however, cautioned on his own primetime program that “America appears to be lumbering towards a new Middle East war.” He noted that Trump was “elected on the promise that he’d avoid war except when absolutely necessary,” and is holding out faith that this is still the case, but worried that the president’s hawkish advisers may be steering him toward foreign conflicts.
While there are differing levels of apprehension about the killing of Soleimani among these conservative commentators, they seem to share at least one sentiment: The reactions from Democrats and the media are silly and impotent. The Washington Examiner ran a list of the “silliest tweets” from mainstream foreign policy experts like former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power, while the Federalist made a mystifying claim that “Democrats hate Trump more than they hate terrorists who kill Americans” in reaction to Democratic candidates’ distress about how this will destabilize the region. The piece reads, “Democratic presidential candidates and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders also bypassed this opportunity to praise Trump for the successful take-out of the world’s most dangerous terrorist, and instead focused only on ginning up concern that Trump has started World War III in Iran.” Neither Sanders nor Warren has brought up World War III, but it is true that they did not “praise Trump” for bringing the U.S. to the brink of war with Iran.