For all the current furor over the death of Qasem Soleimani, it is Iran, not the U.S. and the Trump administration, that is in a dilemma. Given the death and destruction wrought by Soleimani, and his agendas to come, he will not be missed. Tehran has misjudged the U.S. administration’s doctrine of strategic realism rather than vice versa. The theocracy apparently calculated that prior U.S. patience and restraint in the face of its aggression was proof of an unwillingness or inability to respond. More likely, the administration was earlier prepping for a possible more dramatic, deadly, and politically justifiable response when and if Iran soon overreached. To retain domestic and foreign credibility, Iran would now like to escalate in hopes of creating some sort of U.S. quagmire comparable to Afghanistan, or, more germanely, to a long Serbian-like bombing campaign mess, or the ennui that eventually overtook the endless no-fly zones over Iraq, or the creepy misadventure in Libya, or even something like an enervating 1979-80 hostage situation. The history of the strategies of our Middle East opponents has always been to lure us into situations that have no strategic endgame, do not play to U.S. strengths in firepower, are costly without a time limit, and create Vietnam War–like tensions at home. But those wished-for landscapes are not what Iranian has got itself into. Trump, after showing patience and restraint to prior Iranian escalations, can respond to Iranian tit-for-tat without getting near Iran, without commitments to any formal campaign, and without seeming to be a provocateur itching for war, but in theory doing a lot more damage to an already damaged Iranian economy either through drones, missiles, and bombing, or even more sanctions and boycotts to come. If Iran turns to terrorism and cyber-attacks, it would likely only lose more political support and risk airborne responses to its infrastructure at home. Iran deeply erred in thinking that Trump’s restraint was permanent, that his impeachment meant he had lost political viability, that he would go dormant in an election year, that the stature of his left-wing opponents would surge in such tensions, and that his base would abandon him if he dared to use military force. There are several Iranian choices, but they are apparently deemed unattractive by the regime. In a logical world, Iran could agree to revisit non-proliferation talks. But that for now would be too humiliating for the regime, a huge letdown after its prior bonanza of the Iran Deal. Any future negotiations would require snap inspections over the entire country, 100 percent transparency, and provisions about missiles and terrorism that would not lead to a deliverable Iranian bomb and therefore would seem an intolerable regression after the American giveaway of 2015. Iran might go quiet for a while, and then revert to its past less dramatic provocations. But the clock was already ticking from the sanctions. Tehran at least felt that the status quo was synonymous with its eventual disintegration and so in desperation hoped to trigger something or other that could lead to Trump’s political emasculation and a political reprieve. We are now in an election year. Iran yearns for a return of the U.S. foreign policy of John Kerry, Ben Rhodes, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power, the naïveté that had proved so lucrative and advantageous to Iran prior to 2017. Yet it is hard to see how Trump, if he is careful and selective in his responses to future Iranian escalations, will be damaged politically.
Thanks to historian Dr. Victor Davis Hanson for that spot-on analysis. For more, click on the text above. Excellent!! 😉