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Why did Donald Trump order the drone strike that killed General Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force? What was the threat? The question of why is exceedingly more important than what. 

Every U.S. president beginning with James Monroe has established a doctrine that defined their foreign policy. For example, President Jimmy Carter had a doctrine of tolerance and weak allies. In his State of the Union speech of January 23, 1980, Mr. Carter vowed that the U.S. would strongly defend national interests in the Persian Gulf. That pledge apparently came too late for 66 men and women. They were taken hostage after the American Embassy in Tehran was stormed. Fourteen were later freed, but 52 were held hostage for the 444 days of Carter’s remaining presidency. No overt military action was taken to stop the travesty.

President Ronald Reagan faced one of Iran’s proxies on October 23, 1983, after Hezbollah bombed the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. I would know; I was there sleeping on the beach a few hundred yards from the building that was targeted. On February 7, 1984, Reagan ordered the Sixth Fleet to evacuate the remaining U.S. troops from Lebanon.

After an attack against the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, on December 31, 2019, Donald Trump had a different response: He made it perfectly clear that he would protect American interests abroad. He did not leave the defense of the compound to a few but ordered an additional 100 Marines to defend the embassy and its inhabitants. What President Trump did was to make it perfectly clear to the largest terrorist regime worldwide that it was a zero-sum game; that Americans would not be besieged on his watch without consequences. Iran is not accustomed to that.

Iran has swept like an Ebola virus throughout the Middle East. It has almost taken complete control of Iraq. It is the reason for the Syrian massacre and has funded Yemeni terrorists in their battle against Saudi Arabia. An Iran with nuclear capabilities would be an existential threat to the world.

President Trump’s decision to remove Soleimani from the equation was a very courageous one. The vast majority of U.S. heroes who lost life and limbs in Iraq did so because of improvised explosive devices—IEDs—with the general’s prints on them.

Yes, Iran was shocked and needed to be; her leaders never calculated a president who would be this strong. Mr. Trump advised the Iranian leadership that if they continued to attack Americans, he had designated 52 Iranian sites (in memory of the 52 hostages) that he would target. Iran has never before had to deal with such moral clarity in a U.S. president. Nor has Iran had to deal with a Secretary of State such as Mike Pompeo who also exhibits moral clarity. In the past, it has too often been the State Department doing battle with the White House.

President Trump explained that he ordered the hit on Soleimani to prevent a war. He is 100 percent correct. However, according to U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the U.S. is prepared to “finish one.” In an interview with CNN, he said:

“The fact of the matter is Soleimani was caught red-handed … one terrorist leader, of a terrorist organization meeting with another terrorist leader to synchronize and plan additional attacks on American diplomats, forces or facilities. I think we took the right action to remove these players from the battlefield.”

The events of 9/11 occurred because the U.S. capitulated with an appeasement policy. If Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were considered a grave threat before that day, I can assure you that today Iran is ten times the threat.