Wednesday, January 8, 2020

January 8, 2020


MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey

Another Crisis in the Middle East –
When Will We Ever Learn?

Friends,

Qasem Soleimani is dead, his life snuffed out by missiles shot from American drones which targeted his convoy near Bagdad International Airport. By all accounts this man, in many ways the second most important figure in Iran, was the mastermind of numerous violent actions—we call them “terrorist” acts—throughout the Middle East, and very likely was indirectly (maybe directly) responsible for the deaths of dozens of Americans in the region, at least if we can believe our discredited intelligence agencies (it’s ironic that most of those who rightly indict these agencies for their anti-constitutional attempts to “take out” President Trump, now enthusiastically embrace the assessments of those very same agencies when it comes to Iran).

And now the Iranians have reacted directly by firing ground-to-ground missiles aimed at Iraqi army bases; from reports no Americans, military or civilian, were killed or injured in these attacks. That may or may not indicate a particular strategic calculation on the part of the Iranians. Indeed, if this should be the only major response to Soleimani’s death it may—underline “may”—indicate an implicit desire to lower the level of high stakes hostilities…and a realization that the United States under President Trump is unlike previous American administrations. After all, Soleimani was arguably the most powerful and most significant military leader in Iran; the Iranians, given his death, had to react. As our leaders recognized, that was certain, and the attacks by the Iranians did not come as a surprise.

But now that this is done, multiple questions arise.

Watching “Fox & Friends” this morning there appeared former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and newscaster Brian Kilmeade, all a-twitter—almost in a frenzy—talking about “regime change” in Iran, about a “future strategy” to “take out” the regime in Tehran, about a Middle East strategy of total American involvement which takes hardly any account of the fall of Soviet Russia or the sorry record of repeated American disaster in that region of the world (e.g. Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, etc.).

President Trump ran for office on a platform of strategic disengagement from many areas of the world, the draw-down of American troops, including from the immense and complex quagmire of the Fertile Crescent.

The fall of Communism in late 1991 as a world threat radically altered global politics. Winst0n Churchill once described Soviet Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma"; if that was the case with Communist Russia, it certainly describes tenfold the situation in places like Iraq or Syria. 

Arguably, when we were dependent on Persian Gulf oil and were facing Soviet expansionism—when we feared the emergence of Soviet power as a hegemon in the area—a position of massive involvement was at least intellectually debatable. It is, however, no longer tenable and no longer in the interest of the United States or, a “Make America Great Again” policy.

The major challenge that President Trump confronts is, in fact, that many of the foreign policy advisers he has surrounded himself with are persons—Neoconservatives—with views diametrically opposite to the vision he enunciated during the 2016 campaign and won him the presidency. Those individuals—echoing the sentiments of Gingrich and Kilmeade—are positively giddy over the prospect of a shooting war with Iran. Remember the late unlamented John McCain’s little ditty caught on a microphone: “Bomb, bomb, bomb…bomb, bomb Iran” (set to popular rock tune “Barbara Ann”)? Recall the threats and designs to assert “American suzerainty” over the entire region? And the pink elephant in the room that almost no one talks about: defending Israel’s right flank against Iranian-supported terror attacks, mostly from Hezbollah in Lebanon? (Israel can take care of itself.)

But American interests in this case do not coincide with the interests of either Israel or with the Neocons policy wonks who zealously continue to push what they call “democratic regime change” (at the price of thousands of dead Americans). Since 1991 that has been attempted too many times with horrendous results. It is not in the interest of the United States.

No; we have made our point in Iraq. We need now to find a way to withdraw our troops from that nation whose parliament just asked us to leave (Iraq is, after all, a sovereign nation). Our invasion and toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, while presented as necessary by the G. H. W. Bush administration was a tragic mistake, based on faulty and contrived intelligence. Yes, he was a cruel dictator, but he was a Sunni Muslim (who favored Iraq’s large Christian population) and a staunch opponent of Iran. What we “achieved” by that invasion was rule by a fanatical Shi’a majority, favorable to Iran…just the reverse that those think-tank ensconced Neocon “experts” and advisers promised us. And with dozens of body bags on their way back to American shores.

Let us hope that America will now finally come to its senses. Let us pray that President Trump will honor his campaign promises. We do not seek regime change; we seek to make America great. We don’t have to prove how strong we are—under this president others know it.

Time to lower the volume, time to—through third parties, if possible—once again go to the table, maybe not right away, but within the year. Yes, Iran is a bad negotiating partner. But a first good step would be if we were to announce that we were exiting Syria and Iraq, not with our tails tucked in behind us, but because it does not serve our strategic interest. Not for political reasons—as witness the hysterical (and bogus) response by Democrats—but for national strategic reasons. In other words: to live up to the slogan—“Make America Great Again.”

*****
I pass on a good column by Pat Buchanan which addresses some of these issues.

If Baghdad Wants Us Out, Let's Go!
By Patrick J. Buchanan   Tuesday - January 7, 2019


Fifteen years after the U.S. invaded Iraq to turn Saddam Hussein's dictatorship into a beacon of democracy, Iraq's Parliament, amid shouts of "Death to America!" voted to expel all U.S. troops from the country. Though nonbinding, the expulsion vote came after mobs trashed the U.S. embassy in an assault that recalled Tehran 1979.

What provoked Iraq's Parliament into demanding the ouster of all U.S. troops?

First, the five December U.S. strikes on Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces in retaliation for a dozen Kataib Hezbollah rocket attacks on U.S. bases, which killed a contractor and wounded four U.S. soldiers. Then came President Donald Trump's decision to launch a drone-strike and kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad International Airport. Killed in the same strike was the Shiite Iraqi leader of Kataib Hezbollah.

During his return flight to Washington Sunday, Trump warned Iraq: Follow through on your demand that all U.S. troops get out, and we will insist that Baghdad repay the money we just spent on a major air base.

Moreover, said Trump, if Iraqis expel U.S. troops, then we will impose upon them "sanctions like they've never seen before, ever. It'll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame."

Where do we stand now in Iraq? Though Sunnis and Kurds abstained, the Iraqi parliament has voted to expel all our troops. The State Department has urged U.S. civilians to flee Iraq. 82nd Airborne units have moved into the region to protect the U.S. embassy. U.S. troops fighting ISIS alongside Iraqi troops have separated themselves and stood down. In Iraq, the war on terrorism is on hold.

Across the Middle East, U.S. diplomats, soldiers and civilians are on alert. The acting prime minister of Iraq, in an echo of Tehran and radical Shiites, is demanding that all 5,200 U.S. soldiers in Iraq depart. How can our troops, detested by the PMF militias and their thousands of fighters, unwanted by the Iraqi Parliament majority, the acting prime minister, and much of the Shiite majority, remain safely inside the capital city of Baghdad or the country?

What a difference a presidential decision can make.

Two months ago, crowds were in the streets of Iraq protesting Iran's dominance of their politics. Crowds were in the streets of Iran cursing that regime for squandering the nation's resources on imperial adventures in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen. Things were going America's way.

Now it is the Americans who are the targets of protests.

Over three days, crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands and even millions have packed Iraqi and Iranian streets and squares to pay tribute to Soleimani and to curse the Americans who killed him. As emotions are running high and America's friends in the region are mute, the twin goals of Iran and its militia allies appear clear:

Tehran wants to avoid a war with the United States, but to direct the passions of the moment toward forcing an expulsion of the Americans from the Middle East, beginning with their ouster from Iraq.

Thus, Tehran has signaled that its retaliation, its revenge for the death of Soleimani, a military man, will be proportionate. Tehran is telegraphing an attack on the U.S. military. Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah in Lebanon, has called on his followers not to attack innocent Americans in the region but to zero in on U.S. military targets.

Oddly, what the America-haters of the Middle East seek is what Soleimani wanted, and what Trump promised in his campaign of 2016 — an end to U.S. involvement in the forever wars of the Middle East.

Perhaps, rather than sending troops into Iraq and Kuwait to defend U.S. troops already there, we should accede to the local nationalist demands, start bringing our troops home, and let Iranians, Iraqis, Libyans, Syrians, Yemenis and Afghans settle their quarrels.

Despite the rage in Iran over the killing of Soleimani, the political imperatives that existed before last Friday's drone strike remain. Iran does not want war with the United States. And Trump wants no war with Iran.

But Iran made a mistake in its extrapolation from that truth. Assuming that because Trump did not want war, he would recoil from a fight, Soleimani believed he could kill Americans with impunity, as long as his fingerprints were not on the murder weapon.

Killing Soleimani was just. But what is just is not always wise. Yet, his killing restores Trump's credibility as a Jacksonian who avoids wars but who, wounded, will stab the enemy who cut him.

Trump has a red line. It is not shooting at American drones but shooting at American soldiers, the drawing of American blood.

The message the rulers of Iran should have received?

If they retaliate for Soleimani by killing American soldiers, diplomats or civilians, using either Iranian troops or proxy militias, Trump will retaliate against Iran itself.  Otherwise, "Come Home, America," George McGovern's slogan from the 1972 presidential campaign, has rarely seemed more relevant.

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