President Trump was elected on a platform that included “no more dumb wars.” Whether our recent conflicts have been dumb may not answer a more pressing question – how to get out of the quagmire known as the Middle East. His recent tweets, threatening the Iranian regime, do not suggest that we are near the end of America’s involvement in that part of the world.
There is no question that Trump campaigned on, and his supporters agreed with, bringing home US troops from the Middle East. Afghanistan, Iraq … ”America First” meant getting out of other people’s fights.
But are they “other people’s” fights? The US has allies in the region … America has a vested interest in the free flow of oil from the region … America is the only power that stands with Israel – a Western styled democracy in the middle of a region of authoritarians and royalty … markets rise and fall on the price of oil, meaning our money is impacted by the oil trade … terrorism is born and metastasized in the Middle Eastern countries … this region is not just “other people’s” problems. America is fully invested in the matters of state within the Middle East.
Unlike North Korea, Iran does not have the same leverage. Despite daily news coverage of the regime, in concert with Russia, flaunting American interests and international norms, Iran could be playing a losing hand:
Top 3 Reasons Trump is Right to Threaten Iran:
- “Their strategic depth is limited in the region”: Unlike North Korea, which has Cold War ties to Russia, a benign patron in China, and an opponent in South Korea that does not want war, Iran is primarily on its own. Russia is a partner on a transactional basis and does not have the capital or soft power benefits to give to Iran. US forces are next door in Iraq but also next door in Afghanistan. The US 5th Fleet patrols the Persian Gulf. The Saudis and most Sunni tribes oppose Iran on religious grounds, and Israel is a military hegemon for the region with strategic strength. Bottom line, Iran is much more isolated than other US enemies.
- “Their economy is in free-fall, with more US sanctions on the way”: Sanctions have wrecked the Iranian economy. Even as Europeans wish to stay in the now defunct JCPOA agreement, their home-grown corporations are running for the hills. When given a choice – do business with America or Iran – that’s not really a choice. Oil is, for the time being, traded in dollars. When you attempt to go outside dollars in the oil trade, you impose taxes on yourself, which is exactly what Iran has done. Their currency is in freefall this year. On every economic measurable, their economy is collapsing … and more US sanctions are on the way.
- “Iranian citizens oppose conflict and are in many respects pro-Western”: Iran’s youthful population is by no means pro-American, but the great victory of Pax Americana is that you can buy a Coke and some Nike shoes in every corner of the globe. The Iranian public’s desire for freedom from their Muslim overlords was apparent during the Green Revolution in 2009 and the most recent protests against the government. Trump’s tweets provide a public stance against the regime and can give confidence to aspiring pro-Democracy groups within the country.
Top 3 Reasons Trump is Wrong to Threaten Iran:
- “Another Middle East war would be catastrophic”: It is hard to describe all of the potential bad outcomes of another war in the Middle East involving US troops. While the initial assault may have the support of Israel and Arab allies, the conflict would most likely spread and in ways we could not contain: missile strikes from Hezbollah into Israel … terror strikes in Riyahd … terror strikes on the US homeland … the potential of Russia getting involved … counter-moves in other regions by China … oil prices skyrocket and impact the global economy in much more damaging ways than we could imagine……don’t confuse our ability to win a war and the capacity of US soldiers to win any engagement with the political decisions that will most likely cause the most harm. America, if willing to fight to the end, cannot be defeated. But today’s political leaders usually don’t have the stomach for Dresden and Tokyo-styled “total war.”
- “Follow through will be hard”: Trump was elected while campaigning against “stupid” wars and specifically the Bush invasion of Iraq. This is the second major party candidate to win an election based upon an anti-war stance (Obama ‘08). The public no longer trusts its leaders to tell the truth about why we go to war, and to properly execute the war once we are in it. Much of that is the public misconstrues much of how the US global order is maintained, but it doesn’t change the fact that (A) voters have soured on sending our soldiers abroad; (B) Trump promised to stop getting into such conflicts; and, (C) there is no public support for another military engagement in the Middle East.
- “If we do go in, it won’t be a walk in the park”: Iraq was flat terrain and just a few major population centers in a country of 25 million. We controlled 30% of the airspace for over a decade since the first Gulf War. We had infiltrated the entire Iraqi government with spies and hacked their networks. And yet we saw how well that expedition went. Iran has a population of 70+ million. The terrain is a combination of all forms of warfare – mountainous, desert, and urban. Its population is spread out over a land mass double in size. Its nuclear weapons facilities are hardened and spread out throughout the country. It has a global terror network which can create asymmetrical conflict in a moment’s notice. The American military would not lose a fight, but if we are not willing to exert total war on an enemy, the costs of this fight will be unimaginable, and would not have public support.
After the tweetstorm exchange, Trump has signaled his willingness to “deal” with Iran. We have entered a new era of nuclear proliferation. Unless the US is willing to enforce non-proliferation with force, then we have little that can stop countries from developing these types of weapons. It is not the 80s or 90s anymore – and maybe this volatility is reason that your money should be in safer places as well.
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