Trump's Iran strategy is a 'horrible' failure that threatens endless war, Cato Institute says

Key Points
  • An analyst at the Cato Institute said the assasination of Qasem Soleimani risks turning him into a martyr.
  • Christopher A. Preble added that U.S. strategy on Iran has failed since abandoning the JCPOA in May 2018.
  • The analyst has written that Trump is risking "endless war" in the Middle East.
Can't rule out individual small-scale attacks from Iran, analyst says

President Donald Trump's killing of an Iranian military leader will haunt him and drag the U.S. into an "endless war," according to one analyst at a Libertarian think tank.

The U.S. assassinated Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani late last week with an airstrike on Iraq's Baghdad Airport. Iran retaliated Wednesday by firing missiles at two Iraqi bases where American soldiers are stationed, although no casualties were reported and U.S. forces suggested there had been minimal damage.

"Frankly, everything that's happened with U.S.-Iranian relations since the president left the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and imposed these maximum pressure sanctions, everything since then has failed," Christopher A. Preble, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, told CNBC's "Street Signs" Thursday.

Preble said in an article earlier this week that Trump is "stoking an endless war" in the Middle East for the U.S. and that his attack on Soleimani will "come back to haunt him and us."

Horrible strategy

When pressed on one theory that Trump's targeted killing was part of a strategy to help him win the U.S. election later this year, Preble was dismissive.

"If it is, I think it was a horrible one. I think it is quite clear the American people are already tired of the wars in the greater Middle East and adding another enormous conflict is not in President Trump's political interest, and more importantly it is not in America's strategic interest."

The JCPOA is an international agreement which obligated Iran to give up 98% of its stockpile of enriched uranium, scrap two-thirds of its operating centrifuges and allow U.N. inspections of the country's now limited nuclear operations.

In exchange, international economic sanctions placed on Iran would be removed.

President Trump: The US will impose additional economic sanctions on Iran

Before becoming president, Trump said in 2015 on Twitter that the deal would "lead to catastrophe." In May 2018, the now U.S. leader said he was backing out of the deal and reimposing sanctions on Iran.

Preble said despite the imposition of sanctions Iran complied with the JCPOA for a year. However, from the fall of 2019, Iran began a campaign of what Preble calls "calculated violations" in a bid to resuscitate the deal.

Preble said Thursday that while Soleimani may be reviled in the West, in Iran and the wider the region, he was considered by many as a "heroic figure." The analyst said Trump had "turned him into a martyr" and it would not be surprising if individuals exacted some form of revenge through small-scale attacks.

Just one day after the assassination of Soleimani, Trump defended the killing as revenge for the deaths of U.S. soldiers.

"For years the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its ruthless Quds force under Soleimani's leadership has targeted, injured and murdered hundreds of American civilians and servicemen," he said in his first public remarks after ordering the airstrike.

"What the United States did yesterday should have been done long ago," he added.

CNBC has contacted the White House for comment.