This is my personal opinion and in no way reflective or solicited by any organization I am associated with.
Imagine if the head of the DoD, Director of the CIA, and a few other big spots were all rolled into one with the adoration of former Secretary Mattis at the height of his popularity were killed. This is the level of target that was killed the other night. I say this not because I admired or think we shouldn’t have hit Soleimani but to reference the size of the impending second/third order effects. At his command the Quds Force killed and wounded numerous Americans over the years. He was at the head of a terrorist organization and we weren’t the only ones who knew it. The U.N. Security council even had a travel ban in place on him which he frequently ignored in the medias light.
Shortly after landing, his vehicle was struck with ordnance reducing the vehicle and the occupants. I’m ignoring the rest of the BDA because I’m not talking about that in this. Soleimani even allegedly was named in spray paint on the Baghdad Embassy before the outer reception area was burned, as the leader. The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei even tweeted from his English account in response to President Trump –
In the past these actions may have gone without response but sending the leader of your group to the ground was foolish and resulted the same way I would expect. No matter the side of the political spectrum you fall on another Benghazi can never be allowed to happen. The ripples from the event and how it played out no doubt can be seen in the brazen actions leading to the strike. With FAST company Marines in place and the 82nd poised to respond rapidly there can be no question that further provocation will be met with force.
I don't think anyone will wonder why we chose to complete the strike or even come out against it. The man was not a good man and there was no chance of reform. He was a true believer and like all true believers if you fight them you have to kill them. The question that I think most people are formulating/digesting is what comes next.
What happens next?
Traditionally there is a period of mourning for three days before anything will happen. If I was them, I would use this time to scrub signatures and move to more secure means of hiding their intent. When you have been at a heated level with a world power for this long you would be foolish to think they don’t have your number. Contrary to popular belief Iran is very tech savvy and forward leaning. The period could be used by either side to advance target packages in rapid response but the path isn’t clear. A loss of this magnitude is almost unfathomable for Iran and could lead to a lot of position jockeying or intrigue within their forces.
Iran could be surprised that we actually did it and retreat to an asymmetric warfare strategy that would favor them when compared with a force on force brawl. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has come forward with comments that the pentagon knows they are planning additional attacks and have for months. This could force Iran to rethink its strategies and movements if they believe we already know them. I would assess they will take the three-day mourning period as a time to reorganize and plan, veiled as honoring their dead, but likely they have some hard decisions to make. If they indicate that they plan to go forward with attacks Secretary Esper has said the idea of preemptive strikes are firmly on the table.
What do we do next?
If I was moving my pieces, I would reinforce my embassies and protect high ranking military officers. Killing a high-ranking military officer shows that they have the same capability and would be viewed as retaliation of the same level as the piece we removed. I would also take the leash off our asymmetric pieces in the realm of planning and forward staging. Quietly I would slip hunter killer teams in to areas I anticipate movement from Iran. Every time a leader stepped off a plane or boat, I would strike them again. I would wait for them to be out of Iran for sure. This allows me to demonstrate power but highlight my restraint in keeping it defensive. I only strike when you come to strike me.
In the cyber world I would prepare for all out warfare in a manner that I won’t get into here. The enemy is much more likely to attack us where we are more vulnerable.
Where does it end?
Right now, I don’t think we know. What does victory look like? Regime change? Reforms? A quiet Iran? There just isn’t enough information in the public domain for an assessment on where the line will be drawn.