It was not just any assassination. When an American drone fired missiles at a convoy leaving Baghdad International Airport, it was the death of one of the most consequential figures in the Middle East. The killing of Iranian commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani is already impacting nuclear security, the deployment of U.S. troops and the prospects of ISIS.
As this geopolitical incident continues to unfold, there’s perhaps no academic institution more suited to thinking through the complexities than the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Consider that the school offers the world’s only graduate degree dedicated to nuclear proliferation and terrorism studies.
“Some other programs may focus on nonproliferation and some may focus on terrorism,” says MIIS professor Jason Blazakis, who arrived at MIIS in 2018 after serving as a top terrorism official in the U.S. State Department. “It’s unique to have a program where you have the two worlds merge.”
Destabilizing events like the Soleimani assassination, Blazakis adds, tend to drive interest in his field. “If you look back 18 years ago, after 9/11, lots of young people wanted to be part of the structure that tries to understand terrorists and how to counter them. We might be at another seminal point.”
What newcomers would find at MIIS today are students and faculty parsing statements coming out of Washington and Tehran, and analyzing the shifting balance of power in the Middle East and the U.S..
Methodical thinking leads to questions like: Soleimani was dangerous, but was it strategically smart to kill him now? How will Iran react beyond already withdrawing from its nuclear commitment? Political assassinations are only legal if justified by an immediate threat—what intelligence did the White House have and will Congress accept it?
One thing the professors generally agree on: the president could have consulted more expertise. As MIIS’ nuclear expert Avner Cohen puts it: “While no one is mourning Soleimani, the killing was a reckless, thoughtless, ignorant and impulsive kind of decision.”