Friday, January 03, 2020
The Only Way This Ends Well
It was an easy-peasy take out. A designated target travels to an airport. You have a drone overhead. The target gets into a car. Once clear of the terminal you take him out with a Hellfire missile. Easy-peasy. You've been doing this for years. You're the Pros from Dover.
The only thing that sets this apart from the run-of-the-mill drone strike was the target, Iran's top general, Qassem Suleimani. When you take out a guy of his stature that becomes in anyone's parlance an act of war.
Of course this was done at the command of America's barely sentient and wildly impulsive Commander-in-Chief, DJ Trump, the Mango Mussolini.
There are plenty who are already heralding this as a great thing. Suleimani was a bad actor, a devil, stirring up Shiite terrorists to attack Gringos, that sort of thing. He was a bad actor, no argument there. But that's not the point. There is no shortage of bad actors deserving to be bumped off in the Middle East - on both sides. Eliminating one is hardly a game changer.
Since George H.W. Bush threw Saddam out of Kuwait and then decided that his army should hang around a while, the United States has been tied down in the Middle East. That revitalized Sunni fundamentalists angry at the defilement of their Holy Land. It led to the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001. That begat the unfinished invasion of Afghanistan, the troubled conquest of Iraq and, eventually, even dragged a reluctant Pentagon into the Syrian civil conflict.
Bear in mind that all of these events were the handiwork of the Sunnis - the Saudis, Kuwaitis, Yemenis, Afghans and Iraqis. al Qaeda, Boko Haram, al Shebaab, ISIS, all of them Sunni. All of this has been instigated or supported by the princes, emirs and sheiks of the Sunni persuasion. Not Iran. Then again, see one Arab, seen 'em all. See one Persian, seen 'em all.
Iran is a majority Shiite country. So too is Iraq. Syria is majority Sunni but controlled by the Alawite minority that cleaves to Shiite Islam. Likewise, Hezbollah is a Shiite terrorist group. The Houthis of Yemen are also backed by Iran.
So what are we to make of the assassination of Suleimani? Buggered if I know. He was, but is no longer, the leader of Iran's elite Qud force. That means that someone will step up to replace him. Ismail Ghani. Whether that successor can fill Suleimani's shoes is another matter.
Iran can plainly consider this an act of war. It was the doing of a state actor, America, against another state, Iran. In the context of a war with the US, that makes most Americans in Iraq - diplomats, soldiers, contractors - legitimate military targets. Given that Iraq is majority Shiite the populace could turn resentful of an ongoing American presence in their country. Baghdad has a limited number of options. Colluding with the US against Iran isn't one of them. Ordering American forces and personnel out is one of them.
America is running out of friends in the Middle East. Even the Saudis have been cozying up to Russia. Syria is allowing Russia to establish a naval base and hosts Russian ground and air forces. Turkey, meanwhile, in defiance of American and NATO demands, is equipping its forces with Russia's S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries. Russia made a show of refusing Iran the S-400, fearing it might destabilize the region but now, who knows? China has a military base up and running in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. It's positioned right next to an American military installation. A week ago China, Russia and Iran staged a joint naval exercise in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman.
The point is American hegemony in the Middle East/South Asia is not what it once was. There are new players, regional challengers, and Trump's assassination of Suleimani may eventually play into America's rival's hands.
China may be the big winner from this assassination. Today Trump ordered more American troops to Iraq. Another US war in the Middle East could derail the Pentagon's plans of shifting focus (and forces) to East Asia and Asia Pacific. Whatever ties them down in the Middle East buys time and opportunities for China.
There is one way that the killing of Suleimani could end well. That's if the Ayatollahs and Mullahs in Tehran throw in the towel, raise the white flag and seek terms of surrender. Do let me know when that happens.