It is a time-honoured tactic for dictators everywhere facing internal challenges to divert attention by launching external crusades.
Such considerations, probably, were key to the United States killing of Gen Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force.
US President Donald Trump might have conveniently shifted attention from his impeachment woes to the threat of a major war.
The US has been at odds with Iran for quite a while, but the targeting of such a key Iranian military leader represents a dramatic escalation in what has essentially been a low-level conflict.
One sure thing is that Iran will retaliate. It can do so by either directly attacking American soldiers and military installations in the Middle East theatre and beyond, or using its various proxy forces around the world to hit whatever US targets are available.
This is an escalation that will affect not just the US but also its allies, which Tehran or Islamist terrorist groups would designate as fair targets.
In that regard, the weekend attack by Somalia-based Al-Shabaab terrorists on a Kenyan military base, also used by US forces, would qualify as an early piece of retaliation, even if not directly sponsored by Iran.
There is no doubt that Iran presents a major threat to peace in the Middle East. Its nuclear weapons capability presents a clear and present danger to American ally Israel and other US client-states in the region, like Saudi Arabia.
Iran has been stirring up trouble in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and further afield in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The US, on its part, has been actively countering violent Islamist extremist groups, which has brought it in direct conflict with Iran and its proxies.
It is one thing, however, to target and kill an individual terrorist commander and quite another to deliberately take out a senior leader of a sovereign country.
In that regard, the killing of Soleimani amounts to a declaration of war. Worse, it reduces the US to the ranks of rogue states.
Under the pretext of defending the concept of global peace and security, the US has crossed the line and is making the world a more dangerous place.
He may, indeed, have been a bad guy serving a regime implicated in many atrocities around the world, including terrorist attacks in Kenya.
However, it is difficult to see what killing Soleimani at this stage achieves other than feed the oversized ego of an American president who clearly suffers an obsessive need to prove his manhood.
The end result will not be just worsening tensions between two countries, but anger and outrage against the US across the Muslim world.
While talk of a full-scale US-Iran war or a World War III may be far-fetched, the hard reality is that Washington has, by its actions, incited a likely upsurge of terrorist attacks around the world.
One can be sure that US allies in the Arab world will be under great pressure to sever relations with the superpower.
It is instructive that some of the sparks for the escalation of the US-Iran feud were ignited in Iraq, an American client that a government in Baghdad imposed after Saddam Hassan was deposed following the US invasion in 2003.
There are now demands for the ejection of American troops from the country.
Just this week, the US soccer team cancelled a training trip to Qatar, a moderate and stable pro-Western Gulf country, in the uncertainties of the Soleimani assassination. Qatar is the host of the 2022 Fifa World Cup!
But while the Soleimani killing shows that President Trump is just the US equivalent of crazy despots elsewhere, it also illustrates the continuation of confused Middle East policies that have mostly done more harm than good.
The toppling of Saddam in 2003 and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya in 2011 served to only remove secular strongmen who held their countries together and kept Islamist militants at bay.
The vacuums were filled by extremist outfits such as ISIS and al Qaeda.
More recently, in Syria, the US has been supporting rebels against President Bashar al-Assad while also fighting the ISIS extremists who are also trying to overthrow the secular regime.
The flare-up has already excited some of the loony Christian right-wingers, who foolishly see an opportunity for ‘regime change’ in Iran.
I really don’t care much for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other extremist mullahs who run Iran, but everybody should be concerned about what would fill the void in case of his forced removal.
It’s apparent that the American evangelical extremists, who coalesce around President Trump, are no better than their Iranian counterparts.
gaith[email protected]; @MachariaGaitho