04 January 2020

A few thoughts on the Iran crisis

First, it needs to be said that Qâsem Soleimânî was a high-ranking military officer and thus a legitimate military target under the circumstances (after Iranian-backed groups had attacked the US embassy).  His "assassination" was analogous to the US killing of Admiral Yamamoto during World War II by shooting down his plane.  However, we and Iran wouldn't be in this confrontation in the first place if Trump hadn't unilaterally trashed the nuclear agreement with Iran.  Ultimately the whole situation is his fault.

It's likely that Trump is spooked by impeachment and bad polling in advance of the election, and is trying to whip up a conflict with Iran (not necessarily a war -- he's an isolationist by instinct, not a warmonger -- but increased tensions and violence short of war) in hopes of triggering a rally-round-the-leader reaction here in the US.  The Iran regime is certainly aware of that factor and will take it into account in deciding what to do.

Iran will probably retaliate for the killing of Soleimânî.  Other elements in Iraq might also do so.  The Iranian special forces played a substantial role in defeating Dâ'ish (ISIL) and protecting Iraq's Shiites and Kurds against the murderous Saddamist/Sunni dead-enders and fanatics.  Soleimânî was probably quite popular among the people Iran helped save.  There has already been a mortar attack on the Green Zone in Baghdad which strikes me as too amateurish to be the work of Iran.

I think retaliation within the US is unlikely, at least for now.  That would represent a huge escalation.  Even Trump has not (so far) struck at Iranian forces within Iranian territory.  Assassination of a high-level US commander in Iraq, or attacks on US troops in Iraq or US facilities in Saudi Arabia, seem more likely to me.  The situation where I could see an Iranian attack on US territory as being likely is if Trump attacks Iranian territory first.  If he carries out some attack that kills Iranian civilians on Iranian soil, Iran would feel that the escalation had already taken place and that they should hit back by killing a comparable number of American civilians on American soil.

Would a real war with Iran boost Trump's standing in the US?  Initially it might, but as it dragged on, it would hurt him.  It would be nothing like the Iraq war.  Iran is much larger, more advanced, more unified, and under more intelligent leadership than Iraq was.  An invasion force would have to cross hundreds of miles of either mountains (coming from Iraq) or deserts (coming from Afghanistan) to reach the main population centers.  The government has strong institutions and could not be knocked out by killing just a few key people.  Iraq was a collage of mutually-hostile groups cobbled together into a phony state by the British after World War I, not a real country anybody would fight hard for; Iran’s sense of national identity goes back to Cyrus the Great, 300 years before China became a unified country.

In an all-out war, the US would lose far more troops than it did fighting Iraq.  Iran could wreck the whole Persian Gulf oil industry.  It could wreck the economy of our Saudi client state.  It has sleeper cells in Europe and Latin America ready to go into action against American targets.  There's some risk of cyber-attacks on US infrastructure.  Trump would face the choice of getting deeper and deeper into a bloody meat grinder with no prospect of success, or backing off and accepting defeat at the hands of what most Americans think of as a Third World country.  Either option would hurt his chances in the election.  Let's hope he realizes that.

More on Iran here.


Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

I think Trump is diverting attention from the impeachment proceedings. But it's a dangerous game to play and could seriously backfire if cooler heads do not prevail.

04 January, 2020 12:06  
Blogger Green Eagle said...

The killing of Yamamoto was preceded, I believe, by intense argument in the US government about the legitimacy of such action, and only carried out in the midst of the bloodiest war in history, at a point where the US was not doing at all well. And let me say that, if you regard Suleimani as a legitimate target- a leader of a nation that we are not at war with- then it is grossly unfair to regard his attacks on American troops as terrorism.

04 January, 2020 14:51  
Blogger MarkS said...

Shouldn't have to point this out, but Yamamoto was a flag officer for a country with which we were at war. Hence the legitimacy of his assassination.He was an enemy combatant. Soleimani,despite being inimical to the interests of the US,was a flag officer for a country with which we are not at war.Every general, if he/she is any good. is responsible for the deaths of their opponents and thus no more of a terrorist than Giap.We have just put the lives of all of our flag commanders who oversee special operations at risk by legitimizing their assassination. That's best case: we take one of theirs, they take one of ours; status quo ante. All others are far worse

04 January, 2020 16:12  
Blogger jenny_o said...

It's interesting to hear Trump say how the decision was based on good intelligence, when he hasn't trusted the country's intelligence agency on anything related to his own troubles . . .

04 January, 2020 17:03  
Anonymous AZ Guy said...

As this is viewed as a political event meant to provide cover for impeachment, Lev Parnas evidence and strengthen November results, should we expect Iran to initiate an attack as the October surprise for maximum revenge ?

04 January, 2020 17:08  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Debra. Not only backfire in the sense of undermining Trump's re-election chances, but, of course, getting a lot of people killed.

Green/Mark: I really don't much care about terminology. Soleimânî was an officer in an army which was supporting forces which are fighting Americans. Whether you use the term terrorism, war, undeclared war, or whatever, that made him a legitimate target.

If there was any hand-wringing about killing Yamamoto, it was silly. Nobody made that kind of fuss about killing ordinary Japanese soldiers in battle, including in surprise attacks -- or even killing Japanese civilians in bombing raids. There's no reason killing a higher officer would be any different. If "every general, if he/she is any good, is responsible for the deaths of their opponents", then the same applies to US forces being responsible for the death of Soleimânî.

We have just put the lives of all of our flag commanders who oversee special operations at risk by legitimizing their assassination

Yes, I said that in the post.

Jenny_o: Who knows what this decision was actually based on. He's just trying to say what he thinks will sound good.

AZ: As I noted in the post, the Iranian regime will doubtless take Trump's (probable) political motivation into account in deciding how to retaliate, although I wouldn't care to guess exactly what form that will take. It's like how the Chinese regime and the EU targeted their economic retaliation for Trump's tariffs specifically at red states whose votes Trump and other Republicans count on.

04 January, 2020 18:10  
Blogger Geo. said...

Excellent, calm and cogent comment on a turbulent time. I'm happy to have found your blog via Murr Brewster and will follow by adding you to my blogroll at "Trainride of the Enigmas".

04 January, 2020 18:20  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Thank you!

04 January, 2020 19:05  
Blogger Mike said...

tRUMP is in his own little zero gravity box bouncing off the walls. Who knows what direction he will head after the next wall he hits.

05 January, 2020 00:03  
Blogger Jack said...

I found myself wondering this morning what the U.S. would do if another country killed one of our generals in a similar manner. The fact that we consider this one a terrorist and all-around bad guy probably matters little because I'd have to think that another country might reasonably perceive one or more of our high-ranking military leaders in a similar way.

05 January, 2020 06:33  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mike: Let's hope he eventually lands in a sand trap.

Jack: The word "terrorist" has pretty much become meaningless. People use it to mean "anybody who uses violence for a purpose I disapprove of".

05 January, 2020 07:05  

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