More Than Just Landscaping

Late Wednesday morning a lot of people cautiously breathed a sigh of relief. Tuesday night, after taking a page out of Trump’s own book, Iran gave President Trump an off ramp exiting what appeared to be a highway to war and it looks like he took it. Let’s explore.

In April of 2018 Trump ordered a missile attack on a Syrian airbase. While much was made of it, basically all that was damaged were a few old buildings and some landscaping. Since these weapons are very accurate and sophisticated I have to imagine they omitted hitting anything of real value on purpose.

By assassinating Qasem Soleimani last week Trump put the Iranian government in a position where to placate their people they had to do something in retaliation. Tuesday night they launched two missile attacks on Iraqi military bases that housed American forces. When Wednesday’s sun rose the damage appeared to be confined to old buildings and landscaping.

Late Wednesday morning Trump took to the microphones and announced (while claiming victory – it’s Trump after all) no further American military adventures. He also used the occasion to announce unspecified further economic sanctions against Iran. He called out our strongest European allies to join in on the sanctions. Those actions are both highly unlikely and in violation of their treaty agreements. (Unlike Trump’s America, our European allies tend to honor their international agreements.)

While the worst case scenario appears to have been at least temporarily avoided all is far from well.

Whether you are a fan of the American military presence in the Middle East or not you must admit that it has been at the least a challenge for ISIS. Its future is very much in doubt. If American troops withdraw (as asked for by the Iranian Parliament) the troops of our allies will certainly not remain. In fact, three allies have already moved their troops out of Iraq. How soon before they leave the region? I know we are only a few days into 2020 and it’s difficult to achieve back-to-back awards but Trump has to have a huge leg up on being the 2020 ISIS Recruiter of the Year. (Trump won in 2019 for freeing over 10,000 ISIS captives.)

While far from a panacea, the Iran Nuclear Deal was at least temporarily preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power. This episode completely destroyed it and Iran is now free to move full speed ahead on becoming one.

Normally before a strike like the assassination of Soleimani the United States would notify its key allies, many of whom also have troops in the region. Trump did not do so. Yet in his Wednesday address he was quick to call on them to support his “mystery” sanctions. Iran is already very heavily sanctioned and any additional sanctions will probably be ineffective. Any unilateral economic sanctions are very weak at best. In order to be crippling all sources for any given product, market or service must be simultaneously cut off. If the last widget store in your area leaves it is a problem. If a new one moves in the problem is over.

If you want to view Iran as a varmint, (and I’m not a cheerleader for Iran), then what do you expect them to do if cornered? Do you expect them to submit? I expect them to attack.

The landscape attacks were both largely made-for-TV fireworks events meant to placate the public. The biggest potential long-term winner in all this is Vladimir Putin. Any vacuum in the Middle East will be filled by Russia. More than some broken shrubs and burned grass are at stake here.

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