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article imageOp-Ed: Misreading Iran — Trump’s hubris could be big trouble for himself

By Paul Wallis     Jan 3, 2020 in World
Washington - Iran has prestige and credibility on the line after the killing of one of its top generals. President Trump has taken personal credit for this attack, and publicized his role personally. This can backfire for him and United States interests.
The killing of senior Iranian general Qassem Soleimani has drastically raised the stakes in an already tense situation. The US and Iran have multiple issues dating back to 1979, from the anti-nuclearization issue to Iran’s role in Iraq and more. Iran is a backer of a lot of groups in the Middle East, notably Hezbollah, and extremely hostile to American ally Saudi Arabia.
This isn’t the same thing as shooting up IS and Taliban operatives. The general tone of Trump’s message was that it was a premeditated strike on an Iranian official. That could be called an act of war. The killing was supposedly ordered in response to the death of an American contractor, but Iran didn’t claim credit for that killing, and it seems to have been done at arm’s length.
Key dates in the escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran since Washington's d...
Key dates in the escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran since Washington's departure from the Iranian nuclear deal
Iran has sworn to respond to the killing, and it has the capacity to do so. Iran has global reach, and it can make attacks on US interests worldwide. That’s no minor security issue. Trump’s very erratic policies, like removing troops from Syria, then altering operational parameters, etc. already have US security scrambling to meet new threats and dispositions.
More open-ended commitments would be required if the situation in Iraq deteriorates further. Americans have been told to leave Iraq by the State Department. Meanwhile, Iraq now officially wants US troops out of the country. That would make Iraq a no-go zone for the US if hostilities with Iran escalate, and allow free passage of Iranian fighters through the region.
War? Depends what you call it
There’s no question of Iran fighting a conventional war with the US. That would be ridiculous, and also unnecessary. Iran is the regional expert in maintaining conflicts for decades. Much more likely is a long-term approach, with a few PR exercises in the form of attacks on US interests. This could be Afghanistan cubed, in terms of Iran’s capacity to stage external attacks.
The US, in contrast, has far fewer options. An attack on Iran would be incredibly expensive, use up enormous resources, and not necessarily worth the effort. The standard methods that worked in Iraq won’t work in Iran. You can knock out any number of targets, but Iran won’t be put off. Iran’s incredibly savage war with Iraq proved if nothing else that casualties and losses aren’t an issue for them.
A fanatical core of fighters, backed up by roughly C class assets by Western standards, can do significant damage worldwide. American interests in the region are a smorgasbord of targets, civilian, commercial, and military. Security for this very diverse range of interests can only be difficult to maintain.
This is where “hubris”, aka over-confidence, comes in. Exactly why the US didn’t simply say nothing is open to debate. A strike followed by total silence would have been a serious threat.
Trump’s taking personal credit for the strike, however, is a step way too far. Telling them not to retaliate has made it absolutely certain they will. He’s now put himself in the line of fire, and he and his global interests are easy targets for a highly effective enemy. That’s over-confidence in anyone’s dictionary, and it could be murderously expensive for Trump.
Even the Israelis don’t consider Iran an easy target anywhere in the region. They also don’t go around mindlessly blazing away at Iranian interests despite much more serious issues than an occasional death, either. Trump is taking the risks far too lightly. The Iranians may lack some technical capacity, but they can strike anywhere in the Middle East when they feel like it.
In theory, they can also strike on US soil. This is a favourite theme of most of America’s enemies, but Iran can actually do it. Even a direct attack on the White House, successful or otherwise, isn’t impossible. A scaled-down 911 v2.0, in fact, would be a good PR exercise.
Attacks on Trump’s personal assets are even more likely, in fact almost certain. Trump has written himself into the script, and getting out of the line of fire, even after leaving office, isn’t an option. Middle East wars don’t just stop. They go on forever.
That there will be an Iranian response, or multiple responses, isn’t in question, either. The most likely scenario for an Iranian response is a very high profile target. The other likely scenario is that Iran will spread the risk to American allies. The logic here is that American actions mean consequences for them. That may not sit too well with governments already coping with a virtual war zone around them.
Nor is Iran “cut off”, despite sanctions, in practice. Iran can also call on direct or indirect Chinese and Russian help with its needs. Upgrading Iranian special forces and their strike capabilities is a no-brainer. Intelligence access may also be available, through unofficial channels.
None of this looks like a good move for the US, and Trump has made the entire issue about him. Targeting Trump personally may win him more unquestioning support from his base, but in the big picture, it could be a good move for Iran. Trump’s habit of antagonizing allies and blustering his way around the world stage hasn’t made him many friends. There won’t be much sympathy in this case if Iran comes back to bite him.
That has more than a few practical ramifications, too. If he’s put under direct pressure by being personally targeted, what can he do? Can he declare war on Iran to avenge an attack on one of his golf courses? Can he deal with a decade or so of personal risk on this scale?
This situation was already bad. Now, it’s even trickier, with a big easy target for the opposition to shoot at. Not all of those shots can, or will, miss.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Qassem Soleimani death, Iran US relations, Trump takes credit for missile strike, Iran US war, Iraq orders out US troops
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