It’s easy to start conflict over there, and hard to get out.

 

THE QUESTION, similar to years ago when the despot Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, is not whether Iran’s top general Qasem Soleimani is a bad man the world is better off without.

The answer, as with Saddam, is, yes, Soleimani was a bad man few will miss, at least on this side of the Middle East conflict.

But the pressing question, today, is this: What’s next?

 

AT ITS BASE, here’s what happened. The United States targeted a foreign leader for killing, and did it on the sovereign soil of another nation without that country’s knowledge or approval. It is at least an escalation, at worst an act of war.

Certainly, Iran also has been provocative, and Soleimani has been linked to Iran-sponsored attacks by proxy forces all across the Mideast in the past and, most recently, alarming acts against Americans in Iraq. So it’s not as if the United States launched an unprovoked attack.

It would be foolishly naive, though, to look at the targeted killing of Soleimani as a one-off that will leave a chastened Iran in back-down mode. The Iranians’ vow to take “harsh retaliation” is unlikely to be an idle threat. The Iranians have many options, both immediate and longer range. The radical country’s history suggests America and other nations across the region and wider world should take the threat seriously.

It may also be worth remembering a sobering reality: Iran recently completed joint naval exercises with Russia and China.

 

THIS KIND OF talk is also not helpful: “To the Iranian government: if you want more, you will get more,” tweeted South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Politicians beating their chest, from the comfort of a plush office, could get Americans killed over there.

It is much easier to get into a war than to get out of one. In 2003, with America still in justifiable bloodlust from the attacks of September 11, there scarcely was any debate in going after Saddam and Iraq — though neither was involved in 9-11 and it was proven later there were no weapons of mass destruction. Today, America is still mired in the aftermath of that decision and polls show most people see the whole thing as a mistake.

It’s easier to set the Middle East on fire than it is to extinguish the blaze and get back home. Be careful.