Miscalculation, escalation and the law of unintended consequences.

datePosted on 15:30, January 5th, 2020 by Pablo

Note:

I penned a series of tweets on the consultancy page offering my thoughts on the Soleimani assassination. I have decided to gather them together, add some more material, and edit them into a blogpost. Here it is.

The US drone strike in Baghdad that killed Iranian Quds force commander Gen Qassim Soleimeni, a leader of the Iran-backed Iraqi Shiia militia Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and others is an ominous portent of things to come. This is a major US escalation born of miscalculation because if nothing else, Iran must respond in kind. “In kind” does not mean some form of direct military response. What it means is that the response will be costly for the US and very likely lethal for some of its citizens (not all in uniform).

Iran has to do so or look weak both domestically and in front of regional adversaries. It has direct and indirect means of retaliation against US interests world wide, and it has US allies as potential targets as well. The issue for Tehran is whether it wants to respond in kind or lose face. It cannot afford to lose face.

This is how wars start. By error. Given that miscalculation is at the heart of what is known as the “security dilemma” and a major cause of war, why would the US engage in such brinkmanship? Was it presidential hubris? Could it be a distraction from impeachment? Have all contingencies been gamed by the Pentagon and the costs accepted? What is the end game envisioned by the US? Because global costs in this case are certain, whereas the outcome is not.

Before continuing, let’s first dispense with the arguments about whether Soleimani’s killing was legal or justified. For all the talk about norms, rules and mores in international relations, states ultimately do what they perceive it is in their interests to do and their ability to do so is determined by their relative capabilities vis a vis other states. That includes targeted extra-judicial killings across international borders. But being able to do something, even if the doing is legal, does not mean that it is necessarily appropriate or beneficial. Soleimani may or may not have been a legitimate military target (as the US argues), but his death is a very serious provocation at a minimum and at worst a precipitant to war. It includes Iraq as well as Iran in the equation, and given the posturing by Israel and Saudi Arabia (two of the few states that welcomed the killing), it could involve them down the road as well.

Whatever the case, let’s also rebut the demonization of the Quds force commander and place his history in proper perspective.

Qasem Soleimani was the equivalent of a special forces general in Western military organizations. He commanded the Quds Force, the clandestine, unconventional warfare arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). He was not the only IRGC general but he was primus inter pares amongst them and a revered figure in Iran. Think George Patton, Douglas McArthur and Dwight Eisenhower rolled into one. Having risen through the ranks on the basis of intelligence and bravery in battle, his mission was to fight, via covert, irregular and indirect means, all enemies of the Islamic Republic. To that end he was a loyal servant of his faith and his country, just as many honoured Western military figures have been in their homelands.

Soleimani was tasked with fighting Iran’s enemies and defending its geopolitical interests. Iran’s enemies include the US, Israel and the Sunni Arab oligarchies that are the West’s “friends” in the Middle East. Iran’s interests include consolidating its sphere of influence in places where Shiite populations are significant, to include the Levant (Lebanon and Syria), Afghanistan, Iraq and Gulf states. It has an interest in undermining Israel and the Sunni Arab oligarchies. It has an interest in confronting the US military presence in the Persian Gulf and rest of the Middle East. It aspires to reclaim its place as a major regional power in the face of these adversaries.

To that end Soleimani cultivated proxies across the world, including Hezbollah, Hamas, a number of Shiite militias in Iraq and Yemen, and off-shoots in such distant places as Venezuela and Paraguay. These proxies were tasked with a number of unconventional missions, including support for the Assad regime in Syria, attacks on Sunnis and occupying forces in post-invasion Iraq, and attacks on Israeli interests world-wide. He and his proxies were and are devoted adversaries of Sunni Wahhabist/Salafist al-Qaeda and ISIS, to the point that the US provided air cover for the Iran-backed Shiia militias in Iraq during the war against their common foe. Read that again: at one time the US cooperated in combat with Soleimani’s allies in Iraq in the fight against ISIS.

It is true that the Quds Force trains, equips, supplies, technically and tactically aids and funds irregular warfare actors that use terrorism as a tactic. It is true that Iran-backed Shiia Iraqi militias killed occupying US troops via ambushes and IED attacks in order to hasten their departure from that country. It is true that these militias have committed atrocities against civilians, including market bombings in Sunni dominant areas of Iraq and Syria. But it should be remembered that the Sunni Arab world is not above such things, and the US has a sorry history of aiding, equipping and funding rightwing death squads throughout Latin America and elsewhere (anyone remember the “Contras?” They were, after all, an irregular militia attacking the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua). It is also true that the US killed thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan in its self-proclaimed “war on terror” (sic).

It is therefore a bit precious of the Trump administration to talk of Soleimani as if he was Hitler’s twin. He was ruthless, to be sure. But in that regard he was no different than most any other professional special operator, especially when the proxies that he helped organize and equip had and have considerable degrees of operational autonomy in the areas in which they are located (because tactical flexibility is a key to guerrilla warfare success). 

Mention here of the sins of others is not about “whataboutism.” It is about the reality of Soleimani’s profession. So let us return to the circumstances and consequences of his death.

The Pentagon statement that Soleimani was killed “at the president’s direction” implies a desire to distance the military from the decision to strike. Also, Trump falsely claimed that Soleimani was responsible for terrorist attacks “from London to New Delhi.” That is a distortion of the truth.

The vast majority of Islam-inspired attacks over the last three decades were committed by Sunni extremists, not Shiites. Although Iran was behind the bombing of the Israeli Embassy and Jewish Community Centre in Buenos Aires in the 1990s, attempted a revenge attack in San Diego on the captain of the US destroyer that downed an Iranian airliner that same decade and targeted Israelis in places like Thailand in the years that followed, it has been very careful in its operational focus, concentrating primarily on the region in which it is located. In contrast, terrorist attacks in Bali, Spain, London, France, Russia, India, Pakistan and the Philippines, to say nothing of the US, have all been the work of Sunni extremists supported by governments that are ostensibly friends and allies of the West. Given the silence that is directed towards these governments by the likes of the US, the claims that Soleimani and Iran are the greatest sponsors of terrorism in the world is a classic case of selection bias (at best) or rank hypocrisy (at worst). 

In any event, there was something odd about how the US revealed how Soleimani was killed. The Pentagon normally does not refer to POTUS when describing extrajudicial assassinations, even though the president must authorize all strikes against high value targets (an Obama-era order that remains in place). It also does not go into long elaborations justifying why the targeted person was killed. Taken together, this suggests that the move was made out of impulse, not reason. In fact, it seems that the president acted against command advice and that the US military followed orders in spite of reservations, and now the spin is on justifying the strike.

The real test comes when the Iranians respond, which will likely be unconventional, irregular, asymmetrical and prolonged. This is not going be a quick conventional war, as the Iranians understand that the way to defeat the US is to not go toe-to-toe in a conventional force-on-force confrontation. Instead, the best strategy is to employ a “death by a thousand cuts” global low intensity blood-letting campaign that saps not only the resources of the US military but also the will of the US people to support yet another seemingly endless war without victory.

Perhaps Trump’s advisors thought that a decapitation strike on Soleimani would paralyze the Quds Force and IRGC and intimidate Iran into submission. But a public signature strike rather than a covert operation removes plausible deniability and forces Iranian retaliation if it is not intimidated. Iran does not appear to be intimidated.

It is said that resort to war demonstrates the failure of diplomacy. The US “termination” of Gen. Soleimani may be a case of leadership incompetence leading to miscalculation and then war. There were options other than targeted killing by drone strike. There are overt and more subtle kinetic options if really necessary (the imminent threat argument trotted out by the White House and Pentagon is already crumbling under scrutiny). There are indirect means of demonstrating to the Iranians the folly of pursuing any particular course of action. But instead, a blunt instrument was used.

It is now clear that the US was tracking Soleimani for a while and was well aware of his movements and routine, to include trips to Syria and elsewhere. His planes were monitored. His convoys were tracked. His temporary quarters while traveling where known. His communications appear to have been monitored. There has been plenty of occasion to kill him and plenty of other places and means in which to do so without having to resort to a public display of force in the middle of Baghdad. He could have even received blunt warning–say by thermal gun sight imagery of his vehicle or abode–that he was in cross hairs. If it came to that, any attack on him that was not immediately attributable to the US would provide plausible deniability and tactical cover even if Iranians knew who did it, therefore making it harder for them to retaliate even if the message–whatever it is supposed to be–was received. Now, regardless of message, the Iranians know precisely who to blame.

Whatever the more nuanced options, Trump needed a showcase for his hubris, so a drone strike it was. In fact, this appears to be yet another act of bully-boy intimidation rather than a measured response grounded in a larger strategy. Even if the US had warned Iran about not having its proxies storm US diplomatic installations, specifically referencing the US embassy seizure in Tehran in 1979 and the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya before the storming of the US embassy in Baghdad last week, there were other ways of getting the message across without running the risk of escalation into war.

There is irony to the immediate sequels of the attack on the Quds Force commander. Follow-up US airstrikes on PMF militias may be designed to degrade their capabilities but are too little and late. The PMF is well-established and in fact is a para-military arm of the Iraqi government. Yes, you read that right. The PMF, which is mostly Shiia in composition but which includes some Sunni elements, acts as an armed agent of the Iraqi state. It is comparable to the colectivos in Venezuela and Turbas Divinas in Nicaragua– armed mobs that are used for domestic repression as much as for sectarian or anti-foreign violence. The signature drone strike was therefore an attack on an Iraqi government ally on Iraqi soil without its consent (or even forewarning, for obvious reasons). All of which is to say: If the Iraqi government now orders US out of Iraq in the wake of Soleimani’s murder because it violated the Status of Forces (SOF) agreement between the two countries, then the drone strike backfired.

That is because Iran then has an open field in which to exercise its influence in Iraq without a US counter-presence. Or, the US will be forced into another armed quagmire in a country where it is hated by Sunni and Shiia alike. It is therefore time for someone in Washington to get real about the consequences beyond Iranian retaliation.

As for Iranian retaliation, Trump threatens to have 52 pre-selected targets in Iran, including “cultural sites,” ready to be struck if Tehran does anything that results in US deaths (striking at cultural sites with no military significance is a violation of the laws of war and a possible war crime). But what if Iran strikes at allies? What if Russia sends troops to safeguard some of those target sites (Russia is a military ally of Iran and Russian troops fight alongside IRGC troops in Syria)? What if China (a supplier of weapons to Iran that has a base and warships in the region) also sides with Iran in the events things escalate? What happens if non-attributed but seemingly related attacks happen in the US but cannot be directly linked to Iran? The range of possible sequels makes all bluster about follow up strikes on Iran both reckless and hollow. Unless, of course, Trump has finally lost all sense of reason and no one in his entourage or the US security community has the courage to stop continuing his madness.

That brings up the calculus, such as it is, behind Trump’s order to kill. Perhaps he thinks that this will stave off the impeachment hearings while Congress argues about whether he should invoke the Wars Powers Act (WPA). He does not have to immediately request a WPA resolution but already Democrats have obliged him by arguing about not being consulted before the strike and about how he needs to justify it in order to get congressional approval. There is bound to be some dickering over the legal status of the drone strike but ultimately what is done is done and no post-facto amount of arguing will change the facts on the ground. Be that as it may, the impeachment process might be delayed but will proceed.

Trump undoubtably feels that this action will make him look decisive, bold and tough and that it will will shore up his MAGA base while attracting patriotic citizens to his war-mongering cause in an election year. The trouble is that the elections are 10 months away and the US military is exhausted from two decades of endless wars. Sending more ground troops to the Middle East only depletes them further. The US public is also disenchanted with wars with no resolution, much less victory, in places that are far away and which are not seen as the threat Washington makes them out to be.

If the US could orchestrate an air-sea battle with Iran that settled their differences, that would be another story. But that is not going to happen and is why the US is already sending land forces into theatre. This will be a multi-tiered low intensity conflict without defined borders or rules of engagement.

Iran knows all of this and will play an indirect long game. It will look to fight a war of attrition in which the will of the US public will be targeted more so than the capability of its military. It will endeavour to exact a death by a thousand cuts on the American psyche and its desire for war.

That makes Trumps bully boy assassination strike a triple miscalculation: a) it will not necessarily save him from the impeachment process and further adverse legal proceedings; b) it will not guarantee his re-election; and c) it will escalate the confrontation with Iran in unforeseen directions, with unexpected but surely negative consequences for US interests in general and for himself personally. The law of unintended consequences will prevail.

Perhaps there is a silver lining after all.

31 Responses to “Miscalculation, escalation and the law of unintended consequences.”

  1. James Green on January 5th, 2020 at 17:28

    My guess is that Trump didn’t have anything to do with this. He is very easy to manipulate on things outside his core interests (which seem to include only his reputation and his money) and I think military commanders put this to him.

    I just think it’s very hard to underestimate Trump’s intelligence. As for the military’s motivation, well they must be happy to get revenge against this guy who’s been killing their soldiers and think they can handle the fallout.

  2. Pablo on January 5th, 2020 at 17:32

    Sorry James,

    But I have to disagree. There are already reports that the military was aghast that of all options presented to him, he chose the harshest and most publicly visible option. Professional militaries may exact revenge, but when they do they try to do so intelligently given that the shadow of the future weighs heavily on current decision-making. This was not a smart move.

  3. Phil S on January 5th, 2020 at 22:09

    Utter drivel. So many errors I am not sure where to start. Your animus towards President Trump has corrupted your analytical skills.

    Trump chose to kill Soleimani from a number of options. There are 52 targets for counter retaliation. One for each hostage from 1979. But they are minor. You compare the State backed proxy terrorist group leader who has lead the actions of Iran as a terrorist state over 40 years to non state Sunni actors and to revered American generals. Insulting crap.
    Iran is unique in the way it has been able to act with impunity.
    Finally we have a US President with the gates to retaliate against the instigator not the proxy symptom. Or even worse to lie and wring hands like Obama and Clinton. Iran was given confidence to act with impunity by never being faced with direct attack despite killing hundreds of thousands of people through proxy terror. Iran used the billions released to it by Obama to fund an empire of terrorism and misery so he could get the adulation of bien pensants. What a terrible deal for innocent people.
    The choice for Iran is this. Do they gamble that another Benghazi attack will pass without retaliation. Or do they understand that their best military leader was taken out because of the proxy murder of a contractor and threatened attacks on US embassies. Obama did nothing when a US ambassador was killed but lie and blame it on a video. They get no such weakness from Trump. Their best option would be to abandon their approach and ccease to be a state sponsor of terrorism.
    The world is a vastly better place today and your equivocation belittles you.

  4. James Green on January 5th, 2020 at 23:07

    That’s not very smart of them then. Why present Trump with something they don’t want him to pick? It’s not that hard to predict that he would pick the option that most bolsters his image as a “strong man” ruler.

    Maybe the majority of generals are aghast but someone made sure that was one of the options presented.

  5. Gilbert Donovan on January 6th, 2020 at 00:27

    This was all Trump. Sadly it may improve his re election chances – it makes him look strong to his supporters and the less informed voters and distracts from impeachment and his lawlessness. The voters currently in doubt may now lean more towards no change, and constant messaging that the economy is strong and benefitting them will influence or “justify” their vote. We have to overcome the communication advantage Trump and Republicans have in the US over Democrats and get the truth out, it is like pushing a snowball uphill, but that is where the battle will be won to end the Trump administration.

  6. Pablo on January 6th, 2020 at 10:28

    Gilbert:

    Let’s hope that my scenario prevails. But for that to happen the Dems need to coalesce around a consensus candidate, unify the progressive and centrist wings, and attack Trump ferociously on every front. I am not sure that they are up to the task.

  7. James Green on January 7th, 2020 at 16:27

    Ah, so that’s how it went down then. That makes the generals’ error a bit more understandable. But, still, I hope they can learn from this and don’t offer any more “far-out” options.

  8. Rodrigo Álvarez V on January 8th, 2020 at 07:08

    Hi Paul., thanks for the analysis. I have a couple of thinking-questions: (1) Whatever Trump´s aims (a, b or c) and beyond the next US president came to White House, it is possible to assume that after this military action (beyond if the US military were or were not agree) USA will be still able to keep a real participation and action at the region?. (2) Why you did not consider the participation -as a variable to be added, of China and Russia at your analysis? Could they also becoming actors to be considered at Iranian regional expansion?
    All the best, Rodrigo.

  9. Pablo on January 8th, 2020 at 08:51

    Hola Rodrigo,

    And thanks for dropping in. Good to have your views added into the commentary mix.

    Allow me to answer your questions in reverse order. If you scroll down towards the end of the post you will see that I do mention Russian and China in a series of questions about what the US factored into the equation. I kept it to the level of simple questions, but in truth in various media interviews the last few days I have pointed out the the PRC has a base and warships in the region and is a military partner of Iran, and that Russia is also a military ally of Iran that supplies it with weaponry while its troops fight alongside IRGC troops and Hezbollah irregulars in Syria. I have made the point that if the Russian send troops into Iran to safeguard nuclear sites and other critical military infrastructure and/or if the PRC does the same or sends its ships to guard Iranian naval facilities, then the US bluff will be called. This may or may to happen given the calculus going on in Moscow and Beijing, but that should have been included in US contingency planning.

    That brings up your first question. The US is a diminished power in the Middle East. With its actions in Syria, Russia has emerged as the new dominant extra-regional power in the Levant, with growing influence–decisive influence some might say–in places like Libya where its mercenaries and irregulars are backing the strongman Haftar’s forces in the quest to overthrow the UN-backed central government in Tripoli (and Haftar’s forces have just gained control of the port town of Sirte). Aided by Erdogan’s foreign policy, Russia is curtailing US influence in that country, and even the Arab oil oligarchies are warming ties with it. Egypt and Iraq have long standing military ties with Russia that date back to the Cold War and which were never abandoned in favour of the US, and even Israel is increasing its dialogue with the Kremlin on matters of regional import. All of this is set to continue if not increase.

    Although less so, the PRC also has been increasing its presence in the ME. Its base in Djibouti, which is located on the strait that connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden, is not huge (400 personnel) but has deep water berthing facilities that allow the PLAN to permanently rotate warships there. It is a major commercial and increasingly military partner of Iran, and is very active in anti-piracy operations in the northwestern Indian Ocean. It has commercial ties everywhere, including operation and land lease control of several major ports. So even if nowhere close to the US military presence as of yet, the PRC has laid the groundwork for a continuing and larger presence in the region.

    Most of all, though, it is the US itself that has brought about its regional decline. Besides the US’s tail wagging the dog relationship with Israel on regional matters, the Obama administration’s failure to invite the Russians into a joint approach to the Syrian civil war when Assad was weak and its failure to help topple Assad before the Russians eventually stepped in to do the exact opposite (Assad was on the ropes before the Russians got involved and yet the US was timid about supporting the non-Isis resistance even when Damascus was encircled and under siege in its suburbs) started the downturn. That “line in the sand” bluff by Obama was seen for what it was, and from then on the script of the civil war was written in Cyrillic.

    With their military victories the Russians have grown in stature and confidence when it comes to projecting force in the Levant, and now, with an erratic sociopathic narcissist in the White House who is grossly ignorant of foreign affairs and who clearly is the object of blackmail (if not some form of outright control) by Vladimir Putin, the US slide is inevitable.

    The loss of US influence may or may not be reversible but it will continue under Trump and will accelerate if Iran plays its cards right and does not allow the US to use its military might against it in ways that could permanently undermine Iran’s geopolitical position (and Russia and the PR will not allow that). The US departure from Iraq will force a re-jigging of security relations given that ISIS is re-grouping in Anbar Province (where it originated), and NATO allies and NATO partners like NZ are not going to stay around once the US leaves. So the combination of past mistakes and the presence of a genuine dotard in the Oval Office, coupled with the emergence of other extra-regional players as power-brokers, set against a backdrop of shifting constellations of alliances and intrigue between local authorities, all spell diminution of US influence for the foreseeable future.

    Once Trump is gone, perhaps the US will try to reassert its position in the region. But that may a case of being too late to arrest the decline, especially if he is re-elected. The long term question is whether or not that is a good thing.

  10. Di Trower on January 8th, 2020 at 13:07

    Hello Pablo, Thanks for that very informative opinion. I’ve been a regular reader of your blog for a while now and look to it to get a clearheaded view of happenings. Your reply to Rodrigo below is illuminative, too. These are extremely worrying times and I do not think any country – not even little old us – can feel complacent that we won’t be impacted in some awful way due to Trump’s idiocy. I fail to see how this will not escalate into something pretty dreadful. Just looking at the Politico website just now, there is a headline that says this: “Trump unfurls a new attack for 2020: Dems as Iran sympathizers”. Crikey.

  11. Gorkem on January 8th, 2020 at 16:31

    Small correction Pablo, Egypt did actually cut its military relationship with Russia under Sadat – from the early 80s until the 2010s the Egyptian military was supplied almost exclusively by the West. If we look at the inventory of the Egyptian airforce, the newest Soviet made aircraft are Mig-23s made in the 1960s (and they are in reserve!). The frontline aircraft are all French Mirages and American F-16s. Of course that may well change, as you say, but if Egypt does forge close military ties with Russia they will be beginning anew, not maintaining the Nasser-era relationship which was conclusively ended when Sadat expelled Soviet military advisors.

    More generally the decline of US influence in the Middle East is nothing to mourn in and of itself – whatever the potential for America to democratcise and liberalise the region, has never been achieved in 70+ years of American hegemony, so I think hope that it will change is naive. But it seems that American influence is being replaced by Russian influence, so it is really a no-score draw from the point of view of human rights globally. Russia would never have balked at doing a Soleimani-style assassination; they wouldn’t have targetted Soleimani himself, but they absolutely would have (and may yet) target an equivalent actor, in equivalent circumstances, who was not aligned with their interests the way Soleimani was.

  12. Phil S on January 9th, 2020 at 11:33

    You people are blind to reality. Iran has been shown up as the Emperor with no clothes. President Trump has scored a strategic bullseye. The influence pissed away by Obama has been restored with sanctions and the latest bold move to take out a terrorist backed by a state acting with impunity
    Read a sensible article.
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2020/01/08/trump-right-time-bankrupt-iran-has-reached-end-road-needs-grand/

  13. James Green on January 9th, 2020 at 17:27

    Phil S why would you want the US to be influential? Iran are the good guys here.

  14. Edward Main on January 9th, 2020 at 17:37

    Sage:

    If that is your definition of a sensible article then
    what do you call stupid?

    More like… manufacturing consent for a dumbed down public

    One death and ” Iran’s clerical regime has been defeated by the massive financial power of the US ”

    Geez!

  15. Gorkem on January 10th, 2020 at 03:38

    @Phil: Iran just attacked two American bases and Trump said he intends not to retaliate. This means he is sending the message to other countries that they can attack America with impunity. Is this the action of a strong leader?

  16. Phil S on January 10th, 2020 at 05:23

    Pablo
    A partial apology is in order. I reread your piece and there is some sound analysis but I disagree with many of the conclusions. For my unnecessarily aggressive tone I apologise. I still think your conclusions are badly corrupted by your animus towards Trump.

    James Green – If you honestly believe that Iran are the good guys rather than simply making a joke which went over my head I pity you.

    Edward Main – If you believe that the FBI, political and mainstream media establishment treatment of H Clinton and Trump has been equivalent then you are a clear victim of dumbed down media. USA has vastly superior escalation dominance across both Finance and military spheres.

    Gorkem – Now you are just trolling. ;) Iran did the classic firing $10m missiles into the desert to hit a goat in the butt. They clearly chose late night and unoccupied areas to do their “retaliation”.

    But in a darkly black humour event it appears Iran promptly shot down their own civilian aircraft with Canadian Iranian passengers on board.

    Iran has acted with impunity for 40 years and finally it has been called out directly with a highly fitting execution. Soleimani was directly responsible for the execution of 1500 Iranian internal protesters fairly recently. Death becomes him. I would like any of you to rebut the impunity statement and also explain why USA should be scared of retaliation. How would we know the difference between Iran state terrorist actions before and after?
    Pablo says “Instead, the best strategy is to employ a “death by a thousand cuts” global low intensity blood-letting campaign that saps not only the resources of the US military but also the will of the US people to support yet another seemingly endless war without victory” – Which is to fundamentally misunderstand the new approach. US will not put soldiers on the ground. That approach failed in 2003. Nor will it react to every cut Gorkem. But when Iran has stepped over an invisible line it will be smacked down again by the US if Trump continues to lead after Nov 2020 which is highly likely now.

  17. Gorkem on January 10th, 2020 at 16:04

    That’s the same excuse Obama made – that Iranian attacks were not really attacks so it doesn’t matter. Dress it up how you want, they were eye to eye and Trump blinked. Of course Trump won’t admit it, but he left an attack unanswered, he saw missiles targeting Americans and his response was a conciliatory press conference. He has put a target over every American contractor or serviceman in the Middle East and told Iran “shoot missiles at them, my response will just be to talk in a vaguely disapproving way”. Sad!

  18. Phil S on January 11th, 2020 at 09:18

    Gorkem. You are right really. Sad. Still you can hope Russian influence grows. After all “But it seems that American influence is being replaced by Russian influence, so it is really a no-score draw from the point of view of human rights globally. ”. At least Iran can look forward to the kind of human rights and prosperity that communism brought to the former USSR rather than the poverty despair and corruption of post WWII Germany and Japan. A “Draw” surely?

  19. Gorkem on January 12th, 2020 at 23:56

    Both Russia and the USA are exploitative resource grabbers who cynically exacerbate regional conflicts in order to increase their leverage. The USA may have a better internal order but that is not relevant, neither the USA nor Russia are in the Middle East in order to push their internal arrangements (the USA doesnt try to spread democracy to Saudi Arabia, while Russia is happy to collaborate with democracies like Israel). Sure, I would rather live in the USA than in Russia (although Russia is nowhere near as oppressive as it was under the USSR – Putin is an autocrat, but he is degrees better than Stalin or even Brezhnev), but that isnt relevant to the question of who I want to have hegemony in the Middle East.

    But really, if you think Russia is so godawful and its influence in international affairs is so toxic, why are you such a fan of Trump, probably the most pro-Russian President in US history since Teddy Roosevelt got Russia s soft peace deal during the Russo-Japanese war

  20. Phil S on January 13th, 2020 at 09:19

    “The USA may have a better internal order but that is not relevant, ”
    And I thought earlier you were attempting parody. Instead it seems you are seriously channeling Monty Pythons Black Knight.
    Trumps strategy is vastly more effective than Obama and vastly less pro Russian. Which president sold arms to Ukraine was which was caught on mic saying he would be more obedient after the election.

  21. Gorkem on January 14th, 2020 at 09:18

    “Which president sold arms to Ukraine was which was caught on mic saying he would be more obedient after the election.”

    I am doubly confused. Partly because I don’t understand why we have gone from talking about the Middle East to Ukraine, but partly because I literally don’t understand what you wrote in this sentence.

  22. Gorkem on January 14th, 2020 at 09:23

    I will say this, though. Let us imagine that if the US’ influence retreats, and Russia increases its influence over Saudi and Iran, and uses that influence to push these countries towards a Russian-style system of government. This would be good! Russia is obviously not a democracy but it is closer to a democracy than either Iran or Saudi Arabia, and Russia’s citizens enjoy more freedoms than either country. Again, not saying Russia is a democracy, but I would definitely much rather live in Russia than either Iran or Saudi Arabia (particularly if I was a woman or a queer person).

    Just for the record, as I already said, I don’t actually think Russia has any interest in getting other countries to mimic its internal political order. But if it did, in the Middle East, this would largely be a good thing (as opposed to Europe).

  23. Phil S on January 15th, 2020 at 02:38

    Slight typo. Not was which but and which. Answer to questions being Trump the latter with military arms aid and Obama the one telling medvedev on mike he would help after the election.
    Just for the record I don’t believe that Russia has a net positive foreign policy for non Russians. Meaning Saudi and Iran will come to a better long term outcome with less internal disruption and pain with less relative Russian influence and more internal or Western influence. You seem to believe Russia has a positive external influence. I don’t. Afghanistan and Syria are too strong relatively recent examples. Without Iran and Russia syria and the Assad regime would have fallen to rebels in their civil war. Instead the horror continues. Motive matters and since the end of the Cold War American foreign policy motives are much more justifiable. Even in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan.

  24. Edward Main on January 15th, 2020 at 16:24

    Knowledge of the historical background is required
    To give context to current events

    Following books available from the Auckland public library

    Christopher Catherwood “ Winston’s folly “
    Examines Churchill during the 1920’s when he was
    Colonial Secretary – Creation of the Iraqi state, compliant regimes and how the world is still paying for his actions 100 years later.

    Sandra Mackey “ The Iranians “. Discusses the effect
    Of political reform in Iran from 1905 onwards to become a secular democratic state

    Also Stephen Kinzer “ All the Shah’s men “ also worth a read. How the British went crying to the US ( my words ) when Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh nationalized the assets of the Anglo Persian Oil Company. The 1953 coup resulted from this.

    So I say in hindsight … if only… The US had not intervened!

    They may have chosen Iran over KSA as a regional ally!

  25. Gorkem on January 15th, 2020 at 17:46

    ” You seem to believe Russia has a positive external influence.”

    I said Russia was an “exploitative resource (grabber) who cynically exacerbate regional conflicts in order to increase their leverage”

    Does that sound like I have a positive view of Russian influence?

  26. Gorkem on January 15th, 2020 at 17:47

    The USA did choose Iran as its preferred regional ally. Unfortunately that plan fell apart in 1979.

  27. peterlepaysan on January 15th, 2020 at 19:10

    I admire your optimism.
    Cheers.

  28. Edward Main on January 25th, 2020 at 21:08

    I have just seen the following

    SITREP: Iraq’s million-man march against US occupation, and Pentagon admits to 34 injuries from Iran strike

    I wonder what the US reaction will be to the Iran injuries ?

  29. […] It will escalate into an accidental large-scale war Over at Kiwipolitico, former CIA analyst Paul Buchanan makes this point: […]

  30. […] terms of the wider war against the US, Paul Buchanan at Kiwi Politico argues that the Iranian strategy against the USA is to cause death by a thousand cuts. But the US is […]

Leave a Reply

Name: (required)
Email: (required) (will not be published)
Website:
Comment: