The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020


In a detailed analysis of Iran and its intentions, successes and, more recently, failures in the Middle East, Ilan Berman writes:
Quite suddenly, the Islamic Republic finds itself facing serious setbacks in the Middle East. After years of strategic gains fueled by the dividends of its 2015 nuclear deal with the West, Iran’s clerical regime has started to weather significant reversals in the region in recent weeks. These developments — from unrest in Iraq and Lebanon to renewed grassroots protests within the Islamic Republic itself — suggest that, contrary to the public proclamations of its officials, Iran’s geostrategic position is in fact far from secure. These same indicators also suggest that the United States now has a crucial opening to further weaken the regime in Tehran, should the Trump administration choose to seize the opportunity.

Iran’s current troubles are both sudden and unexpected. They follow years of strategic expansion on the part of the Islamic Republic made possible by its 2015 nuclear pact with the “P5+1” nations (formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA). While at its core the JCPOA was tactical in nature, designed only to delay and complicate the Islamic Republic’s path to nuclear status, the way in which the agreement was negotiated by the Obama administration — entailing hundreds of billions of dollars in direct and indirect economic relief to the ailing Iranian economy — succeeded in putting Iran’s clerical regime on a path of sustained expansion ...

The results were dramatic. Years ago, Iranian officials were already boasting that their government had succeeded in capturing and controlling four separate Arab capitals in the Middle East — Damascus, Syria; Baghdad, Iraq; Beirut, Lebanon; and Sana’a, Yemen.[7] The message was clear: Iran had successfully exploited the “post-JCPOA era” to erect an incipient empire of influence and zone of control stretching from Afghanistan in the east to Lebanon in the west.
And then came Donald Trump. No fan of the "Iran Deal," Trump moved to end our participation, apply crushing sanctions, and otherwise isolate Iran. The Democrats, their trained hamsters in the media, and a number of feckless European leaders became hysterical, suggesting that now Iran would build nukes and kill us all. But instead we see pushback against the region's hegemon by Iraqi citizens (lots of them) and by citizens of Iran itself (although you run the risk of death if you protest in Iran).

Berman continues:
This regional ferment serves as the backdrop for fundamental changes in America’s approach toward Iran. On January 3rd, a U.S. airstrike killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, commander of the regime’s feared Qods Force paramilitary arm, in Iraq in what amounts to a dramatic shift in the Trump administration’s approach toward the Islamic Republic. Up until then, the year-and-a-half-old “maximum pressure” campaign waged by the United States had succeeded in imposing heavy economic costs on the Iranian regime,[15] but had done little to diminish its regional presence or curtail its destabilizing influence in the Middle East. The killing of Soleimani, however, was designed to reestablish American deterrence vis-à-vis Tehran after repeated unanswered provocations, as well as to impose real costs upon the Islamic Republic for its regional activities.[16]

In its aftermath, the risks of U.S.-Iranian confrontation have increased dramatically. Iran’s leadership has publicly pledged significant retaliation against the United States for the killing of its top military commander, and has attempted to rally regional allies and domestic opinion to this cause.[17] The contours of that response are likely to take shape in coming weeks, as Iran’s regime carefully calibrates its actions to safeguard its revolutionary credentials while avoiding an overt military conflict with the United States in which it would have a distinct disadvantage.
Is it only me or did Iran's subsequent missile attack seem more like a tantrum intended for the consumption of their supporters throughout the Middle East than an actual kinetic military response? Donald Trump has gotten into the Mullahs' heads. They are now worried that a U.S. President might actually take their continuing war out of the shadows after demonstrating that their murderous actions have consequences. Tantrums are okay, as long as they don't lead to a spanking—and that's what has the Mullahs worried.

Of course, the Democrats want to be sure that Iran can conduct its shadow war without repercussions, so they're working to limit Trump's ability to act against Iran's aggression. The Mullahs can at least smile at that.

UPDATE (1/9/2020):

Virtually every Democrat politician and their trained hamsters in the media told us that after Donald Trump's "reckless" or "impetuous" or "reflexive" or "insane" assassination of the world's leading terror organizer, WWIII was nye. In their hysteria, they told us that the killing of Soleimani was "provocative" and that it could have only been carried out after months and months of "debate" by congressional no-nothings. As usual, the Dems and the hamsters were dead wrong.

Michael Goodwin writes:
If you went to bed early Tuesday, you were surprised to wake up Wednesday and learn that World War III has been delayed. No doubt you were also shocked that Iran blinked, oil prices were tumbling and the stock market was soaring.

Once again, the Chicken Little chorus got everything all wrong. The sky isn’t falling and Donald Trump pulled off a huge victory. Oh, and he’s still president.
The editors of the Wall Street Journal provide additional analysis:
Maybe the Apocalypse isn’t upon us after all. The lesson after Iran’s missile strike on U.S. bases in Iraq early Wednesday is that deterrence seems to be working.

More than a dozen ballistic missiles hit two U.S. bases in northern and western Iraq, but no Americans or Iraqis were killed in the attack. Iraq says Iran gave advance warning, so U.S. and Iraqi troops had time to disperse or seek shelter. Iran has made advances in missile targeting, as we learned in the attack on Saudi oil facilities. Yet this time the missiles seemed not to have been precise.

All of this suggests that Iran tried to make a show of hitting back at the U.S. for the killing of terror chief Qasem Soleimani while trying to avoid killing Americans. The latter seems to be the red line that President Trump has drawn for an American military response, and Iran knows the U.S. could eliminate much of its military and industrial capacity even from a standoff distance.
There are many things you learn when you grow up in a hardscrabble mill-town, and one important lesson is that bullies love capitulation and appeasement and hate, hate, hate it when their adversary pushes back. In fact, the harder the adversary pushes back, the more likely it is for the bully is measure his actions. At some level, Donald Trump recognizes that fact of life and has extrapolated it to geopolitical interaction. Too bad the new Democratic party never learned that lesson.

To repeat, Trump is living rent-free inside the Mullah's heads, and that's a very good thing.