According to just about everyone, we are either at war with Iran or about to go to war with Iran. The droning of the Iranian general at the Baghdad airport has unleashed a lot of pent up war hysteria, as well as anti-war hysteria. The neocons are dreaming of another pointless war in the Middle East. The paleocons are warning about how the Iranians will enact vengeance. The anti-Zionists are completely off their leash, making the usual claims about who is really behind all of this.
The truth is, we are not at war with Iran, at least not a conventional war. We have been in a cold war with them since the 1970’s. The temperature rises and falls as domestic politics requires, but it never gets too hot. The main reason for that is Iran is run by fairly competent people. Iran is also much more cohesive than the neighboring countries in the region. Persians have a strong sense of identity that transcends the tribal alliances that dominate in the rest of the Middle East.
Of course, the Iranians now have important ties with Russia and China. The Russians are helping them build nuclear capability and the Chinese are providing them with conventional military technology. Both countries are in bed with the Iranians because Iran sits on large oil and gas reserves. China is starving for oil and the Russians are a player in Europe because they control the gas supplies. Those are strong incentives to prevent a US – Iran war.
At the same time, America is in no position to launch another war in the Middle East, at least not a ground war. Trump can call in drone strikes and maybe air strikes from subs and carriers, but that would be very risky. To get a ground force together would require prepping the public and getting Congress to sign off on it. It would also mean talking Trump into something he has opposed. War is always bad politics. In an election year where his prospects are even money at best, that’s a foolish gamble for him.
History is full of examples where countries bluffed themselves into a war that neither side wanted, so it is not completely out of the question. Israel could blow something up and the neocons running the State Department could talk Trump into believing the Iranians did it. Some rogue element in Iran could do something foolish. Then there are the many guerrilla and terrorist groups supported by Iran. One of them could do something provocative and set us on a path to war.
Even so, the odds are very low that this current crisis lasts more than a week, other than some hotly worded tweets from Trump and bellicose rants from Iran. This raises a few questions. One is why the anti-war people have flipped out as if they were just waiting for a reason to get back in the streets. They were not going crazy when Trump lobbed missiles into Syria. They were silent when Venezuela was on the brink. It’s as if someone flipped a switch and reactivated the anti-war people.
The bigger question is why Trump has decided to take this step. It’s clear he has no interest in starting a war. He has been trying to get troops out of the Middle East for three years now. Taking out this general is a high risk move that could lead to terrorist attacks this year. The White House is warning Congress that retaliation in the next weeks is a possibility. Even if a full blown shooting war with Iran is unlikely, it does not mean there will be no fallout from this venture.
One possibility is that Trump is just dumb and he got bamboozled by the neocons into attacking Iran. They cooked up a story about how this general was plotting a terror attack and he fell for it. This is popular with the anti-Zionists. They believe the neocons are like super-villains, able to hypnotize politicians. They have finally figured out how to maneuver Trump into going along with their schemes. It’s possible. The distinguishing feature of Trumps’ time in office has been incompetence.
The trouble with this theory is that Trump has been pretty good at dodging the neocon war plots thus far. This is not the first time they cooked up a plot to attack Iran. He has even joked about guys like John Bolton wanting to bomb the world. He also avoided the various traps they set with Syria. Trump may not be very good at governing, but he seems pretty well aware of how the neocons operate. He has been as good at shining them on as he has the immigration patriots.
Another answer is that Trump saw this as a chance to break the deadlock over nuclear negotiations with Iran. Think back to how he broke all the protocols in order to get the North Koreans to the table. All prior presidents refused to meet with the North Korean leader, but Trump not only agreed to meet, he pushed for it. His erratic and unconventional management style is an extension of his negotiating style. He likes to throw over tables and create chaos as a prelude to deal making.
Evidence of this is his tweet after the droning of the general. In addition to the boiler plate stuff, he made the point that he preferred to negotiate and the Iranians should prefer it too. In other words, this high risk, high stakes gambit is about breaking the stalemate and getting all the various players to rethink their position. Trump is a legendary bluffer and this is basically a big bluff. He’s threatening unconditional drone warfare unless they come to the table.
The other side of this is he gets a boost with his base who love the fact he took out this general with a drone strike. Despite what the anti-Zionists think, this is a winner for him with his core supporters. If nothing comes of it, he will be able to say he has tried to bring the Iranians to the table, but they will not budge. He played the same cards with North Korea. As a political matter, he gets to be both the tough guy, who drones bad guys, and the peacemaker seeking to talk rather than fight.
Finally, there is the possibility that this is tied into the impeachment process that will get going again this month. Senate Republicans like Mitt Romney and Ben Sassy are wholly owned by Jerusalem. In order to get their vote in the impeachment fight, Trump may be forced to give into the forever war crowd. This attack and the subsequent bluster about more attacks may be the real quid pro quo. If anyone thinks this is too conspiratorial, just look at the anti-BDS campaign.
The likelihood of this scenario leading to war, however, is low as the impeachment lever has a clear expiry date on it. There is an election brewing and Washington needs to dispense with the impeachment issue by February at the latest. That’s enough time to do some drone strikes and saber rattling, but not enough time to gin up support for a war with Iran. Instead it will just make negotiating with Iran impossible for the remainder of Trump’s tenure, which may be the real point.
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