Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s key military strategist, killed in a US drone strike, seems to have been a brave man. He was certainly very confident.
Organising a near act of war against the embassy of the most powerful state in the world, located in the heart of a (nominally) allied capital city, was risky. Flying into the scene of this triumph was, with hindsight, foolhardy.
The thing with politics – and other forms of conflict – is that while actors can shape events, they can’t wish away the underlying realities of the situation.
On this count, US President Donald Trump may be showing more nous than his Iranian counterparts.
Media commentary on the lines of ‘dangerous escalation’ misses the broader point – this situation has been escalating since Trump abolished the then-status quo by pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. Iran’s rulers have been responding ever since.
The interesting question is whether their responses are shaping events as intended – or running up against underlying realities.
Iran’s autocratic regime is unable to meet demands for prosperity because of its own economic ineptness, state direction and corruption (with the effects amplified by US-orchestrated sanctions). With popularity and legitimacy ebbing, it has set out on ambitious imperial adventures to create a Middle Eastern power base running more than one thousand miles from the borders of Afghanistan to the shores of the Mediterranean sea. Its enemies are powerful (and some of them think their survival is at stake). Its allies are mostly unreliable and at worst treacherous. Its main prop is the nationalism of Iranians in the face of external threats.
Perhaps the Iranian leadership thinks Trump is a paper tiger and the US can be pushed round in an election year to achieve a loosening of sanctions and a foreign policy win.
If so, they may have let perceptions of Trump get in the way of those irritating realities.
Trump’s Middle Eastern policy has shown an interesting consistency. He has been remarkably single-minded in disclaiming obligations to doubtful allies (read Syrian Kurds, the cliques governing Afghanistan and Iraq, Turkey’s President Erdogan). ISIS apart – he has several times stepped back from overt conflict.
One could of course interpret this as fear of conflict with Iran, inter alia. Or one could see it as minimising commitments that might complicate future conflict.
And an Iranian state escalating conflict with the US may find it harder to convince its subjects that its actions are in defence of their country (as opposed to imperial adventuring).
Meanwhile in America events like this bring forth three groups – cheerers, blamers and fence-sitters. What is a little unusual is that some Democratic presidential candidates, including front runner Joe Biden, seem to have jumped swiftly into the blame camp. Time will tell if the median US voter sees Trump’s action as needless provocation or a response to persistent probing.
3 thoughts on “Ali Khamenei or Donald Trump: who understands the situation better?”
Iran sees itself as leader of the Islamic world. It has proclaimed the goal of destroying Israel and taking Jerusalem for Islam for forty years. While the nuclear deal was in place in spent heavily on developing its proxy forces in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq as well as deploying its revolutionary guards of which Soleimani was the commander. Those who think they can negotiate with a theocracy intent of achieving religious glory are deluded. Trump has done the right thing by acting to contain the threat posed by the Iranian regime. That threat will continue until the regime is overthrown no matter how far deluded westerners seek to indulge it.
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I agree with you Odysseus. Trump cannot win no matter what he does, however I think he has handled the Middle East situation well up to now. Scrapping the nuclear deal was the right thing to do. Trump’s predecessor Obama did the wrong thing giving Iran billions of dollars which they have spent on armaments and terrorism sponsorship. I hope there is not a war because it is the people of Iranian that will suffer most if conflict occurs. Iran will not last long up against the fire power of the U.S. and Israel.
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What a good and sober piece of analysis. This sets aside the “Orange Man bad” calumny we’ve become accustomed to from the legacy media. While not without risk decapitating the IRGC in such a precise omniscient way must have raised the panic levels to near extreme in the upper echelons of the mullahtocracy. Their subsequent reactions show the bewildered panic shown by the truly paranoid.
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