Sunday, January 5, 2020

Two Recommended Reads On Iran

There appears to be a growing consensus that Iran finds itself in a difficult position in the wake of President Trump's assassination of Gen'l Soleimani. Paul Mirengoff at Powerline has an excellent post, dialoguing a bit with Thomas Friedman's Was Soleimani overrated? (Here's the link to Friedman.)

Friedman's idea is that Soleimani was the dumbest man in Iran, because he and Iran took Obama's deal and then--instead of simply accepting all the benefits for the good of their country--tried to push the regional expansionist envelope, "freak[ing] out U.S. allies in the Sunni Arab world and Israel." And that led to Soleimani's own assassination.

Mirengoff's response is that that doesn't prove that Soleimani was dumb, just that he's a hardcore ideologue. Which, of course, leads people to do dumb things.

I liked this quote from Friedman that Mirengoff includes (but there's more at the link):

Today’s Iran is the heir to a great civilization and the home of an enormously talented people and significant culture. Wherever Iranians go in the world today, they thrive as scientists, doctors, artists, writers and filmmakers — except in the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose most famous exports are suicide bombing, cyberterrorism and proxy militia leaders. The very fact that Suleimani was probably the most famous Iranian in the region speaks to the utter emptiness of this regime, and how it has wasted the lives of two generations of Iranians by looking for dignity in all the wrong places and in all the wrong ways.

Of course, the reality is that a regime reflects a culture and a society. This is true in Iran as much as it's true in America.

Richard Fernandez has an excellent article at PJ Media that focuses on what a difficult position Iran finds itself in in terms of responding to the Soleimani assassination: The Low Chance of War with Iran. In particular, Fernandez believes the unprecedented nature of Trump's action accomplished a strategic game change. What Trump did, says Ferdandez, was to bring a hidden, 40 year old, undeclared war out into the open. And that means this:

Suddenly Iran can no longer pick and choose when to engage. Suddenly politicians can no longer indefinitely fight this "forever war" without accountability. Pressure will mount in Congress to vote on what to do about it: win, surrender or initiate a negotiated settlement. If nothing else, it will force them to articulate the alternatives. But they can't hide it under the fold anymore.
This puts enormous pressure on Tehran to either open another front against America or negotiate a ceasefire in its secret war against the U.S. As Shadi Hamid of The Atlantic put it, nobody really wants open war, but Iran can stand it least of all.

The choice of whether to side with America or with Iran should be a no-brainer for most of the world.

Fernandez close with this:

That's because the Middle East experts know how thinly the Islamic Republic is stretched. There may have been enough resources to launch covert ops against America, but there is way too little to confront it openly.


  1. I think Trump's outsider perspective may be an underappreciated part of his foreign policy. I was just thinking the same thing about what his decision did--it forces a hidden war into the open.

    The dilemma for Iran is that if it response as it usually does with indirect attacks via terrorism, proxy attacks, and plausible deniability, it diminishes their claim to standing up to American aggression. A public attack like this almost requires public acknowledgement by Iran of their next move against us.

    If instead we just get a dialed up volume of "random attacks" in the Middle East, it will identify Iranian allies as such and give the US more cause to both take them out and attack Iran directly again. For instance, Hezbollah deciding to attack US interests may just make the case to the world that they are nothing but Iranian proxies--we know this already, but a response through intermediaries only strengthens the case that they are only Iranian fronts.

    This is the biggest flaw in the Iranian campaign, and it relied on successive presidents being too afraid of a direct conflict or war. What Trump did was recognize we already have this low level war, so why be secret about it and why not attack it at its source?

  2. Friedman's analysis regarding overseas Iranians is off by a country mile. Those Iranians most able, most ambitious, most affluent, most educated are at an extreme advantage to emigrate over those lacking such characteristics. There is nothing novel about this "brain drain," and it doesn't make overseas Iranians superhumans.

    (IIRC, about a decade ago there was a cable TV docu-series on wealthy Iranian 20-somethings in LA and their extremely decadent lifestyles. Seems rich and spoiled and useless come in all varieties.)

    Friedman's claim of Soleimani being the most famous Iranian in the region is similarly off, as the Ayatollah (and predecessor) surely is leaps and bounds ahead of him--of whom most Americans had never heard.

    Errata: That's Thomas Friedman, up in the first paragraph of the post.

  3. "Friedman's analysis regarding overseas Iranians is off by a country mile."

    If F.'s analysis is "off by a country mile" that should mean that overseas Iranians don't excel. Evidence? You object that the cream of Iranian society emigrate. How does that make F.'s statement any less correct?

    OTOH, F. states that Iranian society in Iran itself doesn't excel at much. I would point out that F. may be selling Iranians short in that regard. Try this search:

    'how good is iran's home grown technology'

    I came up with these top 4 returns:

    Iran's Military Is Making Strides Into Twenty-First Century Technology

    Aug 8, 2019 ... Iran's military industries have not been able to field the robotic and autonomous ... the growing Iranian cyber bureaucracy is well-documented, ...

    Start-up republic: can Iran's booming tech sector thrive? | Financial ...

    Apr 16, 2018 ... Yet most people outside of its home market will not have heard of Snapp. ... We have made Iran's traditional riding [taxi] system more efficient, reduced ... Iran's good [ecommerce] infrastructure and untapped market mean the ...

    Iran's strategic use of drones and missiles rattles Middle East rivals ...

    Sep 16, 2019 ... The attack on Saudi oil installations highlights the evolving threat of Iranian-made weapons, analysts say.

    Science and technology in Iran - Wikipedia

    Iran has made considerable advances in science and technology through education and ... Iran has made great strides in different sectors, including aerospace, nuclear science, medical development, as well as ..... Iranian Space Agency, Iran Electronics Industries or Iran Khodro) have their own in-house R&D capabilities.

    Certainly none of that would be said of any Arab country.

    Friedman says Soleimani was the most famous Iranian in the region. You counter that most Americans had never heard of Soleimani. But America and most Americans is/are not in the region F. is speaking of. Further, in fairness to F., I believe he was speaking of Iranians then living.

    Correction made: Thomas Friedman.

  4. Well, my disdain for Friedman arises from his mastery of the obvious offered as brilliant insight. I'll simply reiterate the idea that overseas Iranians are not superhumans, merely the cream of the crop who are able to emigrate as is the case for most third world and developing countries. In other words, Friedman hasn't identified anything unusual or exceptional. Perhaps my 'country mile' comment was too hyperbolic.

    Reinforcing your point on the science and technology front that Friedman overlooks by denigrating their culture/society, Iran's development of nuclear technology appears sufficiently robust that they're considered a serious threat to regional and global security, in some quarters. That seems like a big deal, and not one to be ignored in ascribing the waste of two generations.

    Friedman is surely free to disagree with Iranian policies, but honest columnists usually put all the relevant facts on the table.

    Surely, as I mentioned, the Ayatollah merits the observation as the most famous Iranian in the region. Additionally, my critique of Friedman's pronouncement to the NYT's chiefly American reading audience while posing as an expert on the region, is his claim of something easily and obviously debunked.

    Is the Ayatollah's regional prominence even debatable? Would Friedman's observations be bolstered by claiming Soleimani as the second most famous Iranian in the region? Why bother? Who in Friedman's American reading audience would know?

    Cheers, and Happy New Year.

  5. The Larry Johnson blog no longer allows comments? I find his content very interesting, but do not spend much time on blogs with no comments. No longer read Taki mag, for example.

    1. I think they kinda go back and forth. But that's Pat Lang's blog, right? So he probably makes the decision.

    2. Yes. pl writes: "The commentariat on SST has degenerated into a bickering, backbiting mess. I have decided to dispense with it." Etc.

    3. If we read only those blogs that permit comments, I believe we miss a lot. The comment sections on many are full of inane to nasty driveby posters and vain bloviators who should have their own blogs. Sometimes evenly divided. CTH has gone that way.

    4. not to make too much into it, but who talks to people with opposing views anymore? These are not normal times. The president cannot have a conversation with anyone he disagrees with. And it is not just his fault. People would rather argue with and marginalize him than steer an exchange into something productive.

    5. Well, I'm trying to work on something productive right now. It's hard, like math.

    6. Steve Richter makes a good point that people do not know how to (respectfully) disagree with one another, any more.

      I think it is largely due to having lost the art of argumentation: facts, assumptions, logical analysis, conclusion.

      Some are often forming their opinions around an emotional appeal which reasoning and logic have little sway. The result is a defense of one's beliefs with name-calling and invective because such take on the rite of ownership which must be defended at all rhetorical cost.

      I find it helps not to have very many opinions as most situations are fluid with changing circumstances. Strong opinions are resistant to new information, making it hard to be open to arriving at another opinion as the circumstances indicate.

      Comment sections that devolve to bickering makes for dreary reading.

  6. "not to make too much into it, but who talks to people with opposing views anymore?"

    I respect this opinion but I also have to say that so many people, including myself, are close-minded. For example, I think the plot to get the President was illegal. Many of the CNN/MSNBC/ABC/CBS/NBC/NYT and WaPo think that I and many of my fellow bloggers here are conspiracy theorists. How do I dialogue with someone coming from this perspective? I realize that this doesn't take in most Americans, just the more conservative and the more liberal wings of our country.

  7. I would comment more on other blogs if commenting didn't require establishing an account and logging in.

    I appreciate comments that are respectful, even if I disagree with them. The commenters here are first class. Mr. Wauck doesn't seem to have to tamp to many people down. (Assuming that he just doesn't tell us if and when he has to reject a comment.)

    Just insulting others, making poorly reasoned comments? Nah, that's not for me to waste my time with. There's enough unpleasantness in the world without looking for it.

    1. Same here. And, no, I've been very fortunate in that I haven't had to delete many comments. I doubt it's more than could be counted on one hand.