Quote of the Day: “It’s hard to envision how this ends short of war.” - Susan Rice.
Washington Posts columnist Max Boot asks the prime question following Trump’s killing of a Iranian general: Trump just upped the ante in the Middle East. Is he ready for what comes next?
One would hope that at this moment of peril the United States would be led by sober, experienced leaders presiding over a well-oiled national security decision-making process. But that is clearly not what we have. Many experts have long feared how Trump would react in a genuine, no-kidding crisis. We are now about to find out.
It is a near certainty that we will not like the answer.
The Dire Consequences of Trump’s Suleimani Decision are spelled out by Susan E. Rice, a contributing opinion writer for the NY Times and the national security adviser from 2013 to 2017. She tells us that One thing is clear after the killing of Iran’s second most important official: Americans are not safer. (And thanks to our roving reporter Sherry for the tip.)
Americans would be wise to brace for war with Iran.
Full-scale conflict is not a certainty, but the probability is higher than at any point in decades. …
[Read more of Rice’s thinking after the break below.]
In the face of Iranian reprisals, it will be difficult for the United States to de-escalate tensions and avoid a larger conflict. Iran gets the next move. The United States has failed to deter Tehran thus far, even with the deployment of 14,000 additional American troops to the Gulf region since May. The announcement this week that the Pentagon was sending 3,500 more soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division seems unlikely to change things.
When Iran does respond, its response will likely be multifaceted and occur at unpredictable times and in multiple places. President Trump will then face what may yet be the most consequential national security decision of his presidency. If he reacts with additional force, the risk is great that the confrontation will spiral into a wider military conflict. If he fails to react in kind, he will likely invite escalating Iranian aggression.
It’s hard to envision how this ends short of war.
… Despite President Trump’s oft-professed desire to avoid war with Iran and withdraw from military entanglements in the Middle East, his decision to order the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s second most important official, as well as Iraqi leaders of an Iranian-backed militia, now locks our two countries in a dangerous escalatory cycle that will likely lead to wider warfare.
How did we get here? What are the consequences of these targeted killings? Can we avoid a worse-case scenario?
The escalatory cycle began in May 2018, when President Trump recklessly ignored the advice of his national security team and the opposition of our allies in unilaterally withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal — despite Iran’s full adherence to its terms and its efficacy in rolling back Iran’s nuclear program. Since then, the Trump administration has had no coherent strategy to constrain Iran’s program or to counter other aspects of its nefarious behavior.
Mr. Trump’s “maximum pressure campaign” to impose ever more debilitating economic sanctions did not force Iran to capitulate; instead, predictably, it induced Tehran to lash out with a series of increasingly bold military provocations against Sunni Arab and Western targets while restarting important aspects of its nuclear program. Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, notably in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, have only intensified. At the same time, it has conducted a brutal crackdown on its civilian population. None of the Trump administration’s stated objectives have been met; if anything, the United States’ security and strategic positions in the region have weakened.
In deciding to eliminate General Suleimani, Mr. Trump and his team argue they were acting in self-defense to thwart imminent attacks on Americans in Iraq and the region. This may be true, as General Suleimani was a ruthless murderer and terrorist with much American blood on his hands. Unfortunately, it’s hard to place confidence in the representations of an administration that lies almost daily about matters large and small and, even in this critical instance, failed to brief, much less consult, bipartisan leaders in Congress.
Second, even if the killing of General Suleimani is justified by self-defense, it doesn’t make it strategically wise. Given the demonstrably haphazard and shortsighted nature of the Trump administration’s national security decision-making process (including calling off strikes against Iran 10 minutes before impact, inviting the Taliban to Camp David and abandoning the Kurds), it’s doubtful the administration spent much time gaming out the second and third order consequences of their action or preparing to protect American military and diplomatic personnel in the region.
To assess the fallout of killing General Suleimani, we must understand that the Iranian regime cannot survive internal dissent or sustain its powerful position in the region if it backs down from this provocation. For Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a strong response is essential. For the United States, the question is: What form will it take and how quickly will it come? One thing is clear: Americans are not safer, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argued on Fox News the morning after. Rather, American citizens are at greater risk of attack across a far wider battlefield than before. That is why the State Department has urged all Americans to depart not only Iraq but also Pakistan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
In Iraq, Iranian-backed militias have attacked United States and allied installations, and can continue to do so around the country. The government in Baghdad has declared the killing a violation of the terms of the American military presence in Iraq. We will face mounting pressure to withdraw our military and diplomatic personnel from the country. If we leave, the United States will suffer a major strategic defeat: Iran will justifiably claim victory, and the gains of the fight against ISIS will be lost as the terrorist group rebuilds.
There is no hope now to revive, much less strengthen, the Iran nuclear deal, and we must expect Iran will accelerate its efforts to revive its nuclear program without constraint.
The global economy is imperiled, as the Gulf States’ energy infrastructure faces the risk of an Iranian attack, and commercial shipping through the Strait of Hormuz and the larger Gulf region is threatened.
United States military, diplomatic and commercial operations as well as civilian targets throughout the Middle East are in range of both Iranian missiles and terrorist cells. From Afghanistan and Europe to Africa and Latin America, Iranian proxies — once latent — can stage asymmetric attacks against American and allied targets without warning. Even in the United States, we have reason to fear that terrorist sleeper cells could be activated. Worse, we face these threats now substantially alone, as the Trump administration apparently neglected to consult or even warn our key allies and partners about the impending risks to their interests that result from killing General Suleimani.