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Monday, January 6, 2020

More Pondering On The Current Crisis In The Middle East

Since the assassination of Gen'l Soleimani I've been of two minds. I was initially strongly opposed to this action, seeing in it a Deep State ploy to deepen US involvement in the region--up to and including open war on Iran. I said at the time, and still believe, that America has so many problems here at home that we'd be well advised to abjure foreign adventuring.

OTOH, the world isn't about to stand still while the US tries to get its house in order. Dubya and Obama made a hash of our foreign policy and put "the current crisis in the Middle East" on steroids. It's near impossible for Trump to undo that mess, which has strengthened the hands of regional powers with strong expansionist and anti Western tendencies: Turkey and Iran. Was it possible, I wondered, that Trump's extreme action--assassinating an official of foreign power A on the soil of foreign power B against the wishes of both A & B--could have clarified the current situation.

From that standpoint I can see the need to secure the flow of oil to allied nations from the Persian Gulf. However, I think history has pretty much proven conclusively that America as a nation--for a variety of reasons--is unable to confine itself to that circumscribed role. That's partly our own fault, but also the fault of others and beyond our control.

I won't pretend to have a solution--if there is one. Overall, I have for many years subscribed to Samuel Huntington's theory of the Clash of Civilizations. The complicating factor, of course, is that our own civilization is involved in its own civil war--its own "clash of civilizations," if you will. This intra civilizational civil war makes it virtually impossible to have a coherent policy vis a vis other world civilizations with which we sometimes cooperate and at other times come into conflict. Further, our own intra civilizational civil war has to a great extent led to the destabilization of other civilization with which we have come into close contact.

My concern is that the hope that Trump could lead America back to something resembling greatness in a civilizational sense could become a casualty of any expanded involvement in "the current crisis in the Middle East."


So, for today, I'll simply review comments of others, and especially those of Pat Lang and Larry Johnson, who regard Trump's action as a foolish caving to Neocon/Globalist war mongering.

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Yesterday I referenced Paul Mirengoff's blog in which Mirengoff cited Thomas Friedman's views--which aroused the wrath of commenter Forbes. Friedman's point was that Iran was foolish for pursuing such aggressive expansion of its influence when US policy has basically given Iran everything it could ask for--if only it were patient. Certainly Dubya handed Iraq into the Iranian sphere of influence, and Obama and his gang did the same for Syria. Friedman sees Iran's pushing of the envelope as foolish overreaching.

Mirengoff's response is that Friedman fails to understand Iran as ideologically driven--their ideology takes precedence over economic growth or essentially any other consideration:

America is a revolutionary force whose regime aspires, above all, to spread its influence and, in the case of at least some US leaders, to promote its Secular Humanist, "progressive" orthodoxy throughout the world, while destroying all vestiges of traditional Christian or common "Western" civilization and even traditional non-Western ways of life, making life miserable for all dissidents. Accomplishing these things takes precedence over domestic growth in the economy and all other considerations.

Woops!

What Mirengoff actually wrote was:

Friedman is missing the same point Obama missed. Iran is a revolutionary force whose regime aspires, above all, to spread its influence and, in the case of at some Iranian leaders, promote its religious orthodoxy throughout the Middle East, while destroying Israel and making life miserable for the U.S. Accomplishing these things takes precedence over 12 percent domestic growth in the economy.

But I hope you see my point. If we're to find some viable solution it might be best to take a good look at ourselves first.

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Since the assassination there have been four blogs at Sic Semper Tyrannis that are well worth reading and pondering. Here I'll just excerpt a bit from each with the object of provoking reflection. As I mentioned above, these blogs are all critical of Trump's action, although in measured terms. I have edited these blogs for my own purposes, sometimes in ways that the authors might not agree with.

First, on January 3, 2019, Larry Johnson wrote: Did Donald Trump Light the Fuse on a New Middle East War? We can see in this echoes of the Friedman - Mirengoff disagreement, but with a perhaps unwelcome application to the US as well. Who is the rational actor in all this? Is there a rational actor, or is this a Greek tragedy of sorts?

What is the end game with Iran? That is the question that Donald Trump and his advisors should have answered before giving the green light to kill ... Qassem Soleimani ... 
Let's be clear about what we just did--we assassinated two key military and political leaders on the sovereign territory of Iraq without the permission of the Iraqi Government. We justify this attack because of prior Shia terrorist attacks during the 2003-2008 period in Iraq that killed U.S. troops. ... there is a lot of whooping and celebrating the death of Soleimani as a decisive blow against terrorism. Boy we showed those Iranians who is boss. But that is not how the Iranians see it and that is not how a significant portion of the Iraqi Shia population see it. From their perspective this is the equivalent of the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. It is an unjustified act of war. I am not arguing that they are right. I am simply pointing [out] how the Iranian leadership likely views this act. 
...  
The Trump Administration's decision to carry out this attack is going to elicit a reaction from Iran that is likely to involve Saudi Arabia, Israel and U.S. military, diplomatic and economic targets. I do not rule out the possibility that Iran will content itself with filing protests and opting for a policy of restraint. But I think that is the least likely option.
... 
If Iran retaliates then the pressure will build on Donald Trump for more decisive action. Trump has the ability to say no and de-escalate, but that goes against his nature and would open him to savage political attacks for being weak on terrorism.  
Which leaves us on the brink of something potentially devastating and costly.
To the extent that Iran carries out massive, deadly attacks that kill Americans, there is likely to be a short term boost to Trump's political standing. But as the smoke clears and we become bogged down in a new, very expensive war in the Middle East, the entire foundation of Trump's "get us out of foreign wars" will be blown up.
... 
I pray I am wrong. There is no joy or satisfaction in being proved right if things go horribly wrong.

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Next up, Pat Lang. Lang's focus is on the modern American tendency to demonize those who oppose us, while giving a pass to even patently evil men who--for their own interests--side with us. Contrast this attitude with attitudes after our Civil War. It's probably no coincidence that ~150 years later one side in our current (un)civil war is engaged in a very similar demonization, utilizing those events to target persons who had nothing to do with events of the past. It's not constructive, but more to the point: It's not intended to be constructive but destructive. Something has changed.

OTOH, is Lang's hoped for solution simplistic?

Will Trump welcome the ejection of the US from Iraq? - He should.

After first ridiculing this demonization of opponents, Lang goes on:

We created the present government of Iraq through the farcical "purple thumb" elections.  That government holds a seat in the UN General Assembly and is a sovereign entity in international law in spite of Trump's tweet today that said among other things that we have "paid" Iraq billions of US dollars.  To the Arabs, this statement that brands them as hirelings of the US is close to the ultimate in insult.
Somehow the Ziocons around Trump have forgotten that the present state of Iraq refused to yield to Obama's demands for a SOFA and in effect expelled the US from the country.
... 
Let us leave if invited to go.  Let the oh, so clever locals deal with their own hatreds and rivalries.  pl

Unfortunately for this proposed resolution of "the current crisis in the Middle East", the rest of the world--including China, Russia, India, and Japan--are unlikely to be happy with it. All manner of bad things could result.

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The next blog--The threat of General Soleimani--is by an anonymous author: TTG. For our purposes, TTG points out the Deep State world view behind the assassination. This alone should give us pause. If the Deep State was for this, could this possibly be good for Trump, much less America? That was CTH's initial reaction, with which I basically agreed. TTG first quotes a Reuters story:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States had “clear, unambiguous” intelligence that a top Iranian general was planning a significant campaign of violence against the United States when it decided to strike him, the top U.S. general said on Friday, warning Soleimani’s plots “might still happen.” 
Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a small group of reporters “we fully comprehend the strategic consequences” associated with the strike against Qassem Soleimani, Tehran’s most prominent military commander. 
But he said the risk of inaction exceeded the risk that killing him might dramatically escalate tensions with Tehran. “Is there risk? Damn right, there’s risk. But we’re working to mitigate it,” Milley said from his Pentagon office. (Reuters)
—————
This is pretty much in line with Trump’s pronouncement that our assassination of Soleimani along with Iraqi General Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was carried out to prevent a war not start one. Whatever information was presented to Trump painted a picture of imminent danger in his mind. What did the Pentagon see that was so imminent?  
Well first let’s look at the mindset of the Pentagon concerning our presence in Iraq and Syria. These two recent quotes from Brett McGurk sums up that mindset.  
     "If we leave Iraq, that will just increase further the running room for Iran and Shia militia groups and also the vacuum that will see groups like ISIS fill and we'll be right back to where we were. So that would be a disaster." 
     "It's always been Soleimani's strategic game... to get us out of the Middle East. He wants to see us leave Syria, he wants to see us leave Iraq... I think if we leave Iraq after this, that would just be a real disastrous outcome..." 
McGurk played a visible role in US policy in Iraq and Syria under Bush, Obama and Trump. Now he’s an NBC talking head and a lecturer at Stanford. He could be the poster boy for what many see as a neocon deep state. He’s definitely not alone in thinking this way.

To what extent do you trust the motives of FBI and DoJ leadership (pre-Barr, of course)(pre-Barr, of course)? Well then, how about the Joint Chiefs? Do you trust them to have the long term interests of America at heart--as you understand those long term interests? I don't. For example, McGurk doesn't mention anything about the role that the US played in the rise of ISIS in the first place. Mentioning that inconvenient fact is what earned Michael Flynn the undying enmity of his former comrades in arms.

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To wrap this up, here's Larry Johnson again: There Will Be Blood. Johnson first recites the history of the "cycle of violence" in the Middle East--"the current crisis in the Middle East." Then, after arguing that our involvement and interventions cannot be shown to have lowered the level of killing, he concludes:

Since the terrorist attacks of 9-11, the United States has done a lot of killing of terrorists, real and imagined. Yet, the threat of terrorism has not been erased. 
Before we get too excited about the effectiveness of assassination, it would be useful to recall the dismal record of this method during the last 38 years. It has not made the world safer or more stable. 
The killing of Suleimani is likely to put Iran back in the business of attacking our embassies and military installations. I also believe kidnapping of Americans will be back in vogue. And these actions, as in the past, will be met with further U.S. retaliation and the cycle of violence will continue to spin furiously. 
There is another effect now that the United States has openly embraced the "Jamal Khashoggi solution." The Saudis decreed Khashoggi a "bad" man and a terrorist threat. To their way of thinking that gave them the excuse to chop him up on the sovereign soil of another country. In this case, Turkey. We have now basically done the very thing that we condemned the Saudis for. Yes, I know, Khashoggi was a journalist and Soleimani was a "terrorist." But the Saudis saw a terrorist. Consider this as a corollary to the saying, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." 
We justify/excuse our act because Suleimani was really, really bad. Of course, we have trouble precisely defining the line that someone must cross in order to be "really, really bad." There are many instances in our history where we embraced really, really bad people (Joseph Stalin comes to mind) in order to pursue a goal important to us. Kim Jong Un, who also is responsible for the death of at least one innocent American, is another suspected bad guy who has gotten the pass to sit with President Trump rather than take a Hell Fire up the caboose. 
This latest strike is likely to come back to haunt us. We should not be surprised in the future if other countries, such as Russia and China, embrace our new doctrine of assassinating people we say are "imminent" threats. I used to believe that our moral authority counted for something. I no longer believe that to be true. I remain eager to be proven wrong, but if history is any guide, we have not learned the lessons we need to in order to create a better future.

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I offer the above not as gospel, but for the sake of reflection on our current crisis.

8 comments:

  1. To say “assassination” when we return fire on an officer of an enemy fighting force who just attacked our embassy, is silly. He wasn’t at home. He wasn’t in a field hospital. He was strutting around on the battlefield of his own creation.

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    1. "return fire on an officer of an enemy fighting force"

      Did the Iraqi demonstrators actually "fire on" the embassy? My understanding is that the Marine guards did not feel compelled to "return fire" at the time. The "return fire" occurred at the Baghdad Airport, which didn't appear to be a "battlefield" at the time of the assassination. To designate a mob--even one under the direction of a military officer--as "an enemy fighting force" subject to deadly military attack seems to place us well down a very slippery slope.

      Further, the presence of our military in Syria--but also in Iraq--is problematic under international law.

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  2. I'm no foreign policy genius and am hesitant to even weigh in. I agree with the America First policy. I'm certainly not eager to see our boys killed or maimed. On the other hand, we "broke" Iraq, as a previous commenter stated. We removed an effective counterweight to Iran. As pro USA as I am, we don't have clean hands all the time. When I read writers with more expertise than I, they point out mistakes we make, times that we bully others, we cut and run, don't live up to our word, vacillate.

    It's simplistic to say that we won't ever function as the world's policeman. Sometimes the slaughter is just so atrocious. I'm especially concerned about persecuted Christians, as well as Jews, Muslims, etc.

    We can't make the world perfect and stop all evil. Sometimes we do have interests that we need to support. I read the article that you linked from an ambassador regarding China. I'm hesitant to just walk away and let China be the world's best friend and be too isolationist.

    If it seems as though I am talking out of both sides of my mouth, I am. I'm afraid that I just don't have any good answers.

    As you and others have stated, the President seems to be pretty good at this stuff. Try to negotiate, identify our national interests, be unpredictable, don't be swiftly pulled into traps, speak softly and carry a big stick.

    I'm glad that it's not my job.

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    1. I can agree with all of that.

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    2. I love this blog, been reading for over a year. I finally felt called to weigh in on a thread. You are all so very smart, so it is intimidating.

      Since 9/11 all presidents have used drones to kill terrorists and congress wasn’t notified until after in most cases, trust me, they do not want to know. One kill was even a US citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki. He was given no due process rights, given by God and codified in our constitution. You would think the press would care… Senator Paul did... Probably the same reason why it is no big deal to deny DJT’s due process. BHO made that call…both times, kill Anwar al-Awlaki and spy on DJT…so both are very good.

      Congress does not want to know about anything. No notification gives swamp dwellers plausible deniability, so they could wait a couple of news cycles then “patriot up” or “condemn”, get on message.

      We are being treated to another democratic buzzword message, focus group approved, Rachel Maddow guarantees it will bring DJT down, “assassination”.

      WE all know assassination is against the law. They are talking about Executive Order 12333 issued by President Regan in 81 (only “law”, that is not really a law, I know), summed up, the US cannot assassinate. I have come across the EO before, as a US Marine (20 years) and a current DOD employee (21 years). What the morons do not mention is the Regan EO was amended by W in 2008, so the Director of National Intelligence could assassinate if certain things are declared. Soleimani was so described. But what we will hear, is DJT assassinated Soleimani, that is against the law and impeachment part 3. The second EO will be lost in the FACTS. That is going to be the story.

      Don’t get me wrong, as the press has said, Marines are baby killers, so I have not shed one moment of regret that Soleimani was terminated. But it sure makes War clean and that can bring many paths. Abortion is now clean, so it doesn't seem bad to a large group of this country. Who is the next drone going to hit?

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    3. Right. This is what I've been saying--Congress doesn't want authority because that would confer responsibility. They only want to use these issues for political purposes.

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  3. Deep State Fifth Columnists within the SoS have been quietly assuring the Iranian Mullahs that Trump has been seriously weakened by the ongoing coup and impeachment initiatives. As a result, Soleimani was tasked with turning up the heat in the ME in hopes of luring Trump into a foreign policy debacle (Bengazi Redux).

    But Trump has responded as a businessman rather than a politician. IOW, he solved a security problem quickly and efficiently using direct action because he wants it known that that's the way he rolls. And it's a two-fer. He now has the political cover to reduce the military footprint in Iraq and then bill Iraq for past and future security assistance. Trump really does not like getting screwed via the bad deal that Bush/Obama left him with, i.e. US taxpayers footing the bill for Iraq's security.

    And Trump is simply going to force the mullahs to rein in the crazies or get the Soleimani treatment. That $80 million bounty on his head means he won't hesitate to play that card. China is about to pull Iran's chain because they cannot afford to lose their crude supply for any length of time.

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    1. If the US were to pull out of Iraq, most of the actors most hostile to us would find themselves in a real pickle overnight. It's possible that's what the leaked letter was about.

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