Which Way Goes Tehran?

Is Tehran willing to play brinksmanship with President Trump?  We’re about to find out.  It’s a relatively complicated calculation for me.  The Iranian people are extremely disgruntled against their theocratic regime due to economic problems associated with the American embargo.  Recently the government’s suppression of protest was responsible for the death of hundreds of anti-regime partisans.  Will that make the mullahs less likely to hazard a war or do they think it will distract the people who will instead concentrate on an outside aggressor.  And what are the leaders guessing about the temperament and intentions of President Trump?  Do they think he’ll be cautious about engaging in a shooting war during an election year or do they think he will be forced to save face if they kill American soldiers?

With regard to the second question, Tehran may be basing their estimation of the President’s response on their experiences with George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  Obama was entirely unwilling to deny Iran anything they asked for.  His deal with the Iranians included $150 billion dollars in tribute including over a billion dollars in one hundred-dollar bills packed onto pallets for ease of shipment.  There was the ideal American President from an Iranian perspective.  With Bush they had a man who earlier on needed to be avoided due to his campaign of Middle Eastern military reduction.  But once he allowed himself to become immobilized in the quagmire of the Iraq occupation, he was a fantastic victim for the Iraqi Shiite surrogates that Iran controlled.  He was too weakened by the damage he had done to the American military and his own constituency to see that holding Iran responsible for the Shiite resistance should have been part of his larger campaign.  Also, he never ended Iran’s nuclear program when he easily could have.

Getting back to the point, if the Iranians judge that President Trump will be either too pacifistic like Obama or too strategically naïve like Bush, they may be in for a nasty shock.  If they manage to kill a large number of American soldiers in this revenge campaign it’s entirely possible that President Trump may elect to escalate the conflict with a very extensive series of missile and aerial strikes against the most important assets of the Iranian military forces.  If a series of strikes to take out Iran’s ballistic missile stockpiles, the nuclear production facilities and the jet fighter and naval vessels were to occur it might not be easy for the mullahs to continue their war.

A further thought occurs that if human intelligence allowed targeting of “Supreme Leader” Ali Khamenei and his clerical kitchen cabinet that might put an end to the Iranian regime altogether.

Now these are enormous escalations based on where we are right now but anyone who has followed the Middle East knows that just to engage in tit for tat low level violence is to play to their strengths.  It is even possible that the missile strikes that the Iranians have fired may be a minor incident that won’t require a strong response.  We’ll know soon.  By morning the damage reports will begin to appear.

It seems to me that Tehran will elect to use proxies to harass Americans anywhere they have a chance.  That is more their style.  But if they decide to get in a shooting war with President Trump, I predict they will get more than they bargained for.

First al Baghdadi, Now Soleimani

President Trump seems to understand effective use of military assets.  Apparently, he is leveraging intelligence capabilities, possibly Israeli, to surgically remove key actors that pose the greatest threat to our interests in the Middle East.  Qasem Soleimani was known to be the operational brains behind the Iranian proxy strategy that allowed them to sow chaos and control large swaths of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq without the necessity of sending significant numbers of Iranian fighters into those areas.

Knowing precisely where and when to send a drone weapon requires real time eyes on the target.  I would be surprised if it was an American agent that provided this intel.  Maybe it was an Iranian or an Iraqi but it is surprising to think we have that network in place there.

Regardless of the source of the intel.  President Trump has demonstrated that, militarily, he is very careful about engaging in military operations but he isn’t averse to using them when the reward is extremely valuable.  Killing fifty or even several hundred street fighters in Baghdad or Syria is relatively counterproductive.  The reduction in the number of hostile gunmen is negligible and the ill will it produces significant.  But killing Soleimani represents a force multiplier of several orders of magnitude above killing even a few hundred gunmen.  His strategic and tactical value is hard to overemphasize.  Soleimani’s network of personal connections and his power within the Iranian regime will not be quickly replaced.  While some other agent will be placed in his spot it is not likely that the same level of effectiveness will be realized soon or even over the long haul.  Good generals are relatively rare and ones who can work cooperatively with far-flung and dissimilar groups even less common.  Good.

This willingness to use military capability is surprising to me.  There are so many possibilities for disaster that I am surprised that President Trump has ventured to perform these missions.  But maybe I underestimate just how critical was the need to eliminate Soleimani.  We still have untold thousands of servicemen in the Mid-East.  It’s possible that the Iranians have been ramping up the violence of their proxies in order to embarrass President Trump who has proven to be much tougher on them than the groveling Obama.  Or maybe I have underestimated President Trump’s military abilities.  I won’t anymore.

It is painful to think that if someone like President Trump had been in the White House after 9/11 that the United States might have achieved all the strategic aims called for by that tragedy without the disastrous cost in American lives and the other unanticipated consequences of George W. Bush’s inept wartime command.  Handled differently, all the weapons programs of Iraq and Iran might have been confiscated and all the middle eastern immigrants that now clog Europe and America might still be where the belonged at home.  And all of this could have been achieved without any significant cost in military lives.  Well, that’s in the past now.

There is a certain amount of doubt about the fallout from an action such as this.  It may be that the Iranians will do something large and disturbing.  There is always that outside possibility.  But based on the shaky domestic situation in Iran itself, with the population openly hostile to the regime, I don’t think there will be much downside.  In fact, maybe this will give the Iranians pause and bring them to the negotiating table.  Time will tell.  My guess is that this elimination will end up improving the overall middle eastern condition both for us and our allies.  Good work, President Trump.