In an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt last week, Donald Trump could not answer a question that many foreign-policy observers considered fairly basic:
“Are you familiar with General Soleimani?”
As Hewitt put it, Soleimani was “to terrorism sort of what Trump is to real estate.”
And he’s someone Trump – and other high-ranking officials who have been apparently unaware of him – should get to know.
“He is a uniformed Osama bin Laden,” Michael Pregent, a former US Army intelligence expert who is the director of the group Veterans Against the Deal, told Business Insider.
“And even some senators I’ve spoken to, who are due to vote for the Iran deal, don’t know who he is.”
Qassem Soleimani, a major general in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), commands the powerful Quds force, a division of the IRGC that conducts special operations outside Iran.
Soleimani’s influence has extended well across the Middle East for decades – from Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and Bahrain. A close ally of his, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, commands the Shia militias that are fighting the Islamic State in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Iran – under Soleimani’s purview – is using those militias to expand its influence in Iraq and fight alongside the regime of President Bashar Assad in neighboring Syria.
In June, Soleimani traveled to Syria to “organize the entry of Iranian officials to supervise and aid” Iranian proxy forces in coastal Syria, according to Now Lebanon.
“Qassem Soleimani is the one who has been exporting malign activities throughout the Middle East for some time now,” Gen. Ray Odierno, the US Army chief of staff, told Fox News. “He’s absolutely responsible for killing many Americans [during the Iraq War]. In fact, I would say the last two years I was there the majority of our casualties came from his surrogates, not Sunni or Al Qaeda.”
Pregent said he met with three Democratic senators individually last Thursday, who he says all were unfamiliar with Soleimani. One of those senators has since backed the Iran nuclear deal, he said, while two have come out against it.
Pregent also said one of the Democratic senators was involved in the development of legislation to beef up sanctions on Soleimani and the Quds force.
If you don't know who Soleimani is you cannot vote for the Iran deal – If you know who he is you won't pic.twitter.com/m6iKQAzWA5
— Michael P Pregent (@MPPregent) September 6, 2015
The US imposed sanctions on Soleimani in 2011, after officials uncovered a plot he was allegedly involved in to kill a Saudi official in Washington. Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), however, Soleimani (and, eventually, the entire Quds force) will receive full sanctions relief after eight years – not by the US, but by the UN and Europe.
US Secretary of State John Kerry did not seem aware, at least initially, that Soleimani would receive sanctions relief under the deal, erroneously stating at a news conference in July that it was a “different Soleimani” who was listed.
Everyone mocking Trump also thinks Kerry is a world-class dope for overlooking Soleimani on the sanctions-removal list, right???
— Phil Kerpen (@kerpen) September 4, 2015
Later, he assured the press that Soleimani would not be delisted by the US.
But firms linked to the IRGC, of which Soleimani’s Quds force is an entity, are slated for sanctions relief under the JCPOA.
“The Achilles’ heel of this deal is that individuals were selectively taken off sanctions lists,” Pregent said. “The deal is so weak that if any sanctions on these individuals are doubled or increased, Iran will consider it a breach of the terms.”
In August, Soleimani reportedly violated a travel ban and flew to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and defense minister Sergei Shoigu. A State Department official told The Daily Beast in July that it was “aware and concerned” that some of the sanctions relief could be used by Iran to fund “destabilizing actions.”
But Pregent said post-deal concern wasn’t enough.
“If the intelligence community had been given the names of those being delisted from sanctions early on, we would have been able to vet them,” Pregent said. “As it is now, the deal rewards the individuals who were responsible for killing Americans.”