Opinion - Politics

Op-Ed: America just took out a man many consider the world's No. 1 bad guy

Key Points
  • The killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani doesn't have the emotional power of the takedown of Osama bin Laden, but taking him out means much more in terms of saving current lives, writes opinion columnist Jake Novak.
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Iran's supreme leader vows revenge after US kills top general in airstrike

So, just who is this top Iranian general the U.S. just eliminated?

For many of us who watch and analyze news out of the Middle East daily, he was the world's number one bad guy.

Qasem Soleimani has been in control of Iran's Quds Force for more than 20 years. His current greatest hits include helping Bashar al Assad slaughter hundreds of thousands of his own people in the Syrian civil war, stoking the Houthis in Yemen's civil war, and overseeing the killing of hundreds of Iraqi protesters recently demonstrating against Iranian influence in their country.

But most importantly for Americans, Soleimani was behind the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers during the Iraq War. Last year, the U.S. State Department put the number of Americans killed by Iranian proxies in Iraq at 608 since 2003.

The killing of Soleimani doesn't have the emotional power of the takedown of Osama bin Laden, and he wasn't even as well-known to Americans as ISIS founder Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. But in many ways, taking him out means much more in terms of saving current lives. Remember that bin Laden and al Baghdadi were mostly out of business and in hiding at the time of their deaths. Solemani was busier than ever, directing mayhem all over the Middle East and beyond.

Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani (C) attends Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's (not seen) meeting with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in Tehran, Iran on September 18, 2016.
Pool | Press Office of Iranian Supreme Leader | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

For example, these last few days have made it clear to the whole world just how much Iran controlled just about all of Iraq and Iraq's Shia population. It appears Solemeini not only felt justified in being the likely mastermind behind Tuesday's attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, he also was comfortable enough to travel to Iraq personally to oversee it. But this time, he got too comfortable.

We're already hearing from a number of critics that this move will likely backfire against the U.S. and will provoke Iran to retaliate even more forcibly against American and its allies. To those people making those warnings, there's really only one thing to say: "Welcome to the party, pal!"

That's because Iran has really been at war with the U.S. since 1979. The killing of hundreds of our troops in Iraq, the constant terrorism it sponsors and supplies against Israel, and even the recent provocations against oil traffic in the Persian Gulf are all acts of war from which there really is no retreat without severe consequences. For the Trump administration, it would appear the embassy attack was the last straw. It was also one that provided the ultimate opportunity to eliminate Soleimani as he foolishly left his home country and made himself more physically and legally vulnerable.

Another thing to remember is that Soleimani and his foreign escapades may have been the delight of the ruling mullahs in Tehran. But the people in the streets abandoned him long ago, if they ever really supported him in the first place.

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US killing of Qasem Soleimani leads to questions about US policy toward Iran

Soleimani clearly came to personify the increasingly unpopular spending on proxy wars and terrorism. With Iran's economy faltering, the chanting in the streets during that nation's recent protests included: "no money, no gas, screw Palestine." That was probably the best proof that the Iranian people are keenly aware of the resources being sent abroad that could be used to improve the domestic economy and not pay for rockets in Gaza or wars in Syria and Yemen.

In fact, Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad tweeted almost immediately after Soleimani's death was reported that the Quds commander was also hated by ordinary Iranians for his long history of brutality against his own people. That includes a bloody crackdown on university students in Iran in the 1990s:

In the coming hours and days the debate over the decision to kill Soleimani will unfortunately be dominated by partisan politicians looking to score points for or against President Trump. Perhaps Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut has taken the top partisanship buffoonery prize already by scolding President Trump for the action just two days after publicly decrying America's lack of action against the Baghdad embassy attack:

But that's just politics. It will also just be politics when President Trump takes a victory lap on Twitter or at a future rally over this killing.

What isn't just politics is the fact that Soleimani was a very effective and deadly leader of the world's most active and pervasive terrorist army. The knee-jerk assumptions we will hear from those who say that someone else will simply take his place and be just as effective and deadly probably come from people who truly don't know how powerful and effective Soleimani was. He's going to be a very hard act to follow.

For now, Soleimani's death is justice for the thousands of deaths he caused all over the world and to his own people. It may have seemed like swift justice Friday morning, but it was actually a long time coming.

Jake Novak is a political and economic analyst at Jake Novak News and former CNBC TV producer. You can follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

Clarification: This headline has been updated to reflect that this is an opinion column.