After the recent strike targeting Qassem Soleimani I am wondering why does US performs these attacks so bluntly while nowadays it is quite fashionable to deny involvement.

I assume that in order to able to deny they should rely on less sophisticated strikes which do not immediately connects the attack type to US military technology, but this should reduce the side effects.

Question: Why does US confirm conducting strikes such as the one that targeted Qassem Soleimani? Why not deny it?

  • Might be bordering on the absurd to deny it, perhaps. Jan 8, 2020 at 15:52
  • @PoloHoleSet As far as I know, nobody notices it when something absurd happens anywhere near Trump. (But I think plausible deniability does allow for some level of absurdity, it's not about having a good explanation, it is about having at least one plausible alternative that "could have happened") With that, saying "I did'nt do it" is at least consistent with reality on the logical level. Jan 8, 2020 at 17:41
  • 2
    For the same reason other terrorist organisations claim responsibility for their bombings. To make a statement.
    – Alice
    Jan 8, 2020 at 21:48
  • 2
    The only reason he confirms is because he has an election coming up and he has to look better than Obama for striking Osama Bin Ladin
    – Luke101
    Jan 9, 2020 at 4:37
  • We could Ask the Question: why no state has "confirmed" responsibility for the murder of Iranian physicists or "Stuxnet". Jan 16, 2020 at 5:34

5 Answers 5


The point of publicizing the action is to make it act as a deterrent for others. The modern version of gunboat diplomacy:

The results indicate that the most effective gunboat diplomacy involves a definitive, deterrent display of force undertaken by an assailant who has engaged in war in the victim's region and who is militarily prepared and politically stable compared to the victim.

Statements like the one from the Department of Defence ending with

This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.

make that pretty obvious.

There's also the home US audience to be provided with clear victories/actions in response to the Iranian ones, presented as justice. Trump called Suleimani "the number-one terrorist anywhere in the world", other Republicans called him an "evil bastard who murdered Americans". The US public very much believes in retributive justice and this seems to extend to an international context.

  • 9
    Good answer. I'd describe the second point (called out in the final paragraph) as denunciation. Denunciation is a message for victims of the person being punished, letting them know that something has been done in recognition of the harm they suffered. Jan 7, 2020 at 1:00
  • 6
    @Cris It's too early to say if something like this did or didn't work within a few weeks. Mostly because we can't quantify what a good result looks like. It may be that it leads to war, and Khomeini gets the boot. Or, that it leads to some stability, albeit with cold relations. Or, neighbouring countries received the message intended for Iran. The situation is ongoing. We will know if it worked in about 20 years when memoirs have been published.
    – rath
    Jan 8, 2020 at 13:50

Iran gives a case study in why you would want to do so covertly. First, despite having a few allies, Iran is mostly a pariah in the international community. Most major UN states have complied with various sanctions levied against it. Antagonizing said states by openly engaging in acts of aggression simply provides fodder for further punishments.

America is a superpower, and reacting covertly to what are obviously challenges to its power in Iraq is actually more dangerous than responding decisively. As long as the administration feels that it can justify such attacks to the international community, the benefits outweigh the costs. When America was locked in struggle with the USSR during the Cold War, overt aggression was more costly, so conflict usually occurred via proxy actors (Cuba, Afghanistan, etc.).

For some, escalating conflict with Iran is the point.

  • 8
    Then why does Russia deny many assassinations and outright invasions? They are certainly much more powerful than Iran, and they often design their actions such as it's obvious they did it, but still deny them.
    – vsz
    Jan 7, 2020 at 19:16
  • 4
    @vsz Good observation! But note how it does fit the pattern. They are a former superpower with the self-image and ambition to be one again, but lacking the international clout. Like Iran, they are the subject of widely supported sanctions for activities which violate international norms. At the same time, it behooves them to project an image of power as a deterrent. They are an interesting middle ground between a superpower that can act unilaterally and a rogue state that must be sneaky. Jan 7, 2020 at 21:57
  • 1
    @LawnmowerMan Basically Russia is right in the middle where they neither have to project power nor have to be sneaky. In a way they have to do neither so they can do either.
    – Nelson
    Jan 8, 2020 at 2:28
  • 1
    @Nelson I would say that Putin's personality cult requires him to project an image of Russian force which goes beyond actual Russian military capability. At the same time, he needs to provide nominal diplomatic cover for the few UN allies and trading partners he has left, since the West is generally winning the argument for sanctions. I would thus say Putin has even less discretion than other players, but mostly due to Russia's self-image and insecurity. Jan 9, 2020 at 6:33

The US still conducts deniable operations.

This strike was about sending a message: the US has undergone a fundamental change of doctrine.

They will leverage their supreme technological advantage to target the regime in Iran (and other states), rather than engage in long-running proxy wars. They will target the people directing attacks and threats on Americans and their assets, rather than the foot soldiers.

And the US wants the message sent by the attack to be as loud and clear as possible. Denying involvement would only muffle and confuse the message.

There is also a pragmatic reason too (which you allude to) - only a handful of nations have the technology to target a moving vehicle with such accuracy. A denial would be easily seen for what it was, and the US would look weak (not to mention a liar).

And a different strike method (eg. poisoning, sniper) would have necessarily involved substantially more risk to US assets.


The US is not signatory to the International Criminal Court so it has less concern about war crimes prosecution. See for example Iran has a 'shockingly strong' war-crimes case against Trump over Soleimani's killing — and it could win.


You punch a bully in the face to let the rest of the bullies know you're not going to be bullied. There is a time and place for diplomacy. Responding to an embassy attack that killed an American citizen is neither the time nor the place.

  • Surely, Iranians proxy will punch enough US bullies in Iraq, to let the rest know they're not going to be bullied. As long as Iran rejects conversation, the time for diplomacy is gone. Responding to a murdering of a citizen with diplomatic status (it was really so, and it was diplomatic mission - Iranian general arrived for talks with Iraq government - surprising, isn't it?) is neither the time, nor the place. So, as you see, mirroring your answer also looks logical, isn't it, @Rich Welsh?? Jan 10, 2020 at 10:26
  • Didn't the whole trouble start because the big bully USA overthrew the democratically elected governent of Iran in the 1950's and installed its puppet Shah, who robbed the people of Iran and gave the proceeds to the USA, except what he kept for himself?
    – gnasher729
    Jan 17, 2020 at 17:24

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .