“A strange game, the only winning move is not to play” – Joshua, War Games
Less than a week after Qasem Soleimani was killed in an American drone attack in Baghdad, the Iranian regime’s military has responded with a dozen-plus missile attacks on two American bases. Thankfully, as of early this morning, there appear to be no American or Iraqi casualties.
That the Khomeinist regime in Tehran is hostile to the United States is not news – and no, said hostility did not start in January 2017. Tehran has been subverting Iraq’s democracy for over a decade. It has played a critical role in Bashar Assad’s bloody repression of the popular uprising in Syria – spearheaded by Soleimani himself before he met his own well-deserved demise. It has continually, and successfully, waylaid attempts by the Lebanese people to escape its influence.
All of these have been swept under the rug by the projectile exchange – including a burgeoning anti-Tehran movement among Iraqi Shiites, as I noted last week . Tehran’s attempt to change the subject worked beautifully. Now, they’re hoping to reap the benefits by relying on outrage at “the Great Satan” to isolated domestic opponents and keep any of the aforementioned anti-Tehran movements from getting more oxygen.
At this moment, Trump can continue military action, or he can move to defeat Tehran in the region. Note, I said or, not and. America can (and should) deliver serious geopolitical defeats to Tehran, but they won’t be delivered via direct military force. What would it entail? As it happens, I provided some of that answer last week:
A broader strategy would have recognized and reached out to the Iraqi protestors (and their counterparts in Iran) and challenged the mullahcracy across all fronts – including Syria and Lebanon. It would go beyond the ridiculous yet stubborn false choice of nothing or full military force. It would work with regional and global allies to press the case for true democracy and the stability that comes with it. It would make clear that the Tehran regime itself is the problem, and that we recognize its behavior is but a feature of its tyranny and the anxiety that always comes from a lack of popular legitimacy.
Contrary to what Tehran would like us to believe, opposition to their influence in Iraq hasn’t gone away. Even as the Shiite parties in the Iraqi parliament voted to demand U.S. troops leave Iraq, the Sunni, Kurdish, and other non-sectarian Shiite parties refused to show up for the vote (Washington Post ). Had six more Shiite MPs been unable to attend, the parliament would have lacked a quorum and been unable to vote on anything.
The largest of the parties that did vote for the demand that is led by Muqtada al-Sadr, whose anger at the U.S. is at least matched by his fury at Tehran’s influence in his country. The current Prime Minister there is already on his way out because of the anger of the anti-Tehran Shiite movement. An American president who understood the nuances of the situation would realize we could seriously damage Iran geopolitically without firing a shot.
Meanwhile, we do still have a military presence in eastern Syria, and thus still have an opportunity to build and support Syrians who reject the false choice of Assad or Wahhabism . Of course, that first requires a president who recognizes that to be a false choice. Again, a Syria without Assad would strike a major blow against the Khomeinist regime.
Finally, there is the matter of the dissidents within Iran itself. For all of Trump’s supposed toughness, he has repeatedly insisted he is not looking for regime change in Iran (CNBC ). This continues to send the wrong message to the Iranian people – the regime’s first and longest suffering group of victims. Lest we forget, Ronald Reagan gave the Polish Communists fits by supporting the Solidarity movement with words, funds, and communications materials. The Communist regime fell in 1989 without a shot being fired.
The first two objectives, if achieved, would badly defeat the Khomeinist regime; the third would help the Iranian people end it entirely. The problems are these: direct military action against Iran is more likely to damage than to benefit efforts for all three, and Donald Trump has never shown an interest in any of them in the first place.
That is why I have been so critical of his policies in the region. That is why I came up short of three full cheers for the successful dispatching of Soleimani. That butcher’s death would have been very helpful at least regarding the Syria and Iraq objectives, but without said objectives, all we got was a president with a goosed-up ego and the business end of roughly a dozen missiles. That said, it’s not too late to shift gears and “go long” with the aforementioned objectives to actually defeat the Khomeinist regime.