A spade is a spade, unanswered military aggression is weakness, weakness is defeat
When somebody spits in your face, you can pretend that it’s rain, but it doesn’t make it so. America can tell itself that it hasn’t suffered a major tactical and possibly strategic setback in the Persian Gulf and really around the globe, but it most assuredly has. Iran destroyed a major American military asset, an unmanned aircraft worth more than one hundred and eighty million dollars with one old Soviet missile, likely of 70’s or 80’s vintage, which was fully depreciated and cost nothing. With that act, an act of war by any standard, if the American asset was operating, as president Trump has stated, well outside of Iran’s borders, Iran has achieved three major objectives.
First, Iran demonstrated that it is not deterred by America’s military might; that it judges all the American bluster from the president all the way down to the lowest talking head on the Fox News Channel to be nothing but empty blather by an empire on its last legs that can no longer defend its vital interests. They made it clear that when it comes to America they believe Nancy Pelosi when she says that “America has no stomach for war” and no one else. An America that has no stomach for war is akin to a gated community of million dollar homes located a stone’s throw away from a homeless encampment opening its gates and firing its security guards. As this situation exists in many places in today’s rapidly decaying America, we can all imagine what happens next. Iran has called Trump’s bluff, made him show his hand, and he came up empty.
Second, Iran has turned the tables on America. Showing itself undeterred, it has established a credible deterrence of its own. In fact, it has established a no-fly zone against America in something like 20 nautical mile buffer around its borders. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself if any American asset, naval or airborne can now enter this zone without express approval from the White House. The answer is unequivocal: no, it cannot. Doing so would invite another shoot down and force the president’s hand. What this means in reality, is that field and theater commanders have lost a huge chunk of their capability to dispose of the forces under their command in a way that would allow them to carry out their missions of gathering intelligence and guaranteeing the freedom of shipping through the Straits of Hormuz.
Third, Iran has demonstrated to both Moscow and Beijing that it is a highly valuable ally in their efforts to knock America down from its post-WWII pedestal as the world’s premier superpower. Unless Trump retaliates against Iran with force, something that he has so far showed himself unwilling or unable to do, he will show up to his meetings with Xi and with Putin on the margins of the G20 as the leader of a defeated country that is incapable of protecting its interests. Do not expect Xi to offer him any progress on the trade talks. Why should he, when with patience he can have it all?
A person whose opinion I value remarked to me last night that it is laughable to expect the US to defend its interests abroad against a well-armed and determined enemy, when it is utterly incapable of defending its own borders against an influx of unarmed civilians and lightly armed criminal gangs. This comment was, as is usual for her, an astute one. American weakness starts at home. Strength comes from unity, not from a bloated defense budget. The deep divisions within America go to the core of the question whether America should even exist or has the right to do so. Many if not most of the people currently residing within America’s borders do not believe that America as it is today should continue. This does not a winning country make.
These divisions do not stop at the thresholds of the State Department or the Pentagon. I suspect that the military options reluctantly presented to Trump by feckless American generals were so watered down, or on the contrary, overblown, as to offer an unbearably poor risk vs. reward calculus. This was not an oversight; it was intentional. Unwilling to openly disobey their so-called “Commander in Chief” by refusing an order to present military options, they simply sabotaged him by presenting unpalatable ones. This is the story of Trump’s presidency. In today’s America, he is no “Commander in Chief”, he is “Commander in Name Only”, a tragic figure straight out of Sophocles, a leader who has come to power with all the best intentions when it was already far too late.
Don’t think for a moment that Trump’s comments about the plane being unmanned having a restraining effect on him are true. They are the pitiful bluffing of a poker player who knows that the hand he is currently holding gives him no path to victory. Trump understands power and he knows a power play when he sees one. He knows that manned or unmanned, Iranian action shifted the balance of power very significantly in their favor and unless countered will lead to a cascading loss and eventually complete rout for American interests in the Middle East and elsewhere. Trump is not one to mistake spit for rain. He is bluffing not because he can sell it to the Iranians, he knows that they know, he is bluffing because that’s all he’s got left.
As I am writing these lines, Trump is tweeting that he has canceled the strikes because they would cause a large number of casualties on the Iranian side. Sorry, I do not buy that. He canceled it because he knew that Iran would strike back and that would mean war against an enemy who is determined to win while America is determined to lose. These are not odds that any leader would take and Trump was smart in pulling back. Now he is faced with what a senior Iranian official said this morning: if America wants to avoid war, it must pull back the sanctions it had imposed on Iran. Of course doing so would be admitting defeat, but look for Trump to do it nonetheless though, of course, he will explain this action in a Twitter thread that many of his followers will buy into. Here is the deal, my friends: weakness is weakness, and weakness is not winning, not when it comes to Iran, not when it comes to Russia, not when it comes to China, and certainly not when it comes to 2020.
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