Dangerous start to 2020

(Note 1: Originally wrote this in the early hours of 3 January, but it’s never good to write and then post when your brain is calling for sleep. It might seem to go back and forth between 2 January and 3 January.

Note 2: Another cross-post from Substack. I know I said the last one was the last one. The smart thing is probably to try and maintain a regular presence there, but I’m not that kind of writer. For example, I don’t anticipate writing regularly on topics like the following one. There’s just no point to it.)

My extended family met for dinner tonight (now last night) in Phoenix at Aunt Chilada’s. I’d never been. The place is huge. My parents and I arrived early. We sat in the bar area with a few of the other early arrivers. We had a large group, so the restaurant kindly opened up a room to accommodate us.

As we were moving to the table, I saw a notification on my phone about the killing of Soleimani. I did a double take. Seriously, no exaggeration. I looked at the phone, looked away, and thought, wait, did that say Soleimani. Sure enough. I read a little more and saw that the notification indicated he was killed in a rocket attack. I was relieved. I associate rocket attacks with militias. I assumed the United States wasn’t involved, and that it might have been a Sunni group. I read more later and saw that the Pentagon claimed responsibility. This is a frightening development or escalation.

The news dumbs things down. To our detriment, the hastily written articles I saw were already rolling out the clichés and simplified language. It’s like reading the sports page, but that’s unfair to the sports writers. The President sent a signalThe President means businessThe ball’s in Iran’s court nowThe world is safer with this enemy of America removed. So forth and so on. Here’s the main page at Fox News online:

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I wish people would stop watching Fox, MSNBC, and CNN. That won’t happen, though, so I’ll stop mentioning it.

I’m not an expert on Soleimani, the IRGC, the Quds Force’s role in the IRGC, or the strength of the evidence tying Soleimani to the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. I did spend some time in Iraq with the USG, though, and it’s safe to say that the USG’s assessment is that Iran and Soleimani were linked to attacks on U.S. soldiers and U.S. facilities.

I agree with that conclusion. Even without any evidence, it’s the logical presumption. Let’s go back to say 2007-2008. The world’s strongest superpower is waging wars in countries bordering Iran. The neocons are salivating at the prospect of invading Iran. Iran remembers what it was like to fight a long, costly, bloody war with Iraq under a despotic Sunni leader. Iran remembers that the United States overthrew the democratically elected leader of Iran in 1953 to install the Shah.

It makes sense that Iran would try to shape developments in Iraq to suit its interests. Now, if you like your news as sports clichés, this is where you’ll grab your cozy heated blanket and curl up to thoughts of blames America first, apologist. Still here? There’s a difference between championing or defending actions and seeking to understand actions. Iranian covert support for military actions in Iraq against the U.S. presence makes logical sense to me. I was on the receiving end of rocket and mortar attacks in Baghdad; I’m not defending those attacks.

Maybe you disagree with all of the above. But it’s important that we strive for some precision here. You might disagree with the conclusion that Iran was behind or supporting attacks against U.S personnel in Iraq. But we should be able to agree that was the USG’s prevailing conclusion or assessment. It’s important context for thinking about the situation in Iraq today and our conflict with Iran.

During and after dinner I got into some text discussions with friends about the likely implications. One of my friends suggested that it would be a huge blow to Iran. Iran will feel the loss, but like us, Iran has people who can step into the role. My friend equated it to the famous and never-ending rotation of al-Qaeda #3 guys. I disagreed. Iran’s military isn’t a network of informally trained terrorists adept at enduring hardship and austere conditions. Iran will replace Soleimani with a trained, senior officer. I was trying to think of a good analogy. The best one I could think of was if someone had killed Stan McChrystal in Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s not a perfect analogy. The point is that a competent, trained leader would have been able to take over immediately. A quote often attributed to DeGaulle also works.

The world’s cemeteries are filled with indispensable men.

I can’t imagine a scenario in which Iran doesn’t respond with violence. The Pentagon’s press release mentioned that one of the attack’s goals was to deter future attacks. Again, I just don’t see how that’s possible. This guarantees future attacks. There’s zero possibility that Iran will conclude that our attack was a justifiable response to an attack last week by Kataib Hezbollah that killed a U.S. contractor and injured four U.S. soldiers. (I couldn’t remember the numbers, so I looked it up. My wording is similar enough to Libby Nelson’s Vox article that I should link to it.)

The neocons and anyone else who view Iran as our mortal enemy are probably celebrating tonight. They’re a step closer to getting their long sought after conflict with Iran. I hope it doesn’t come to that.

I don’t have any easy suggestions for sorting out our Iraq mess. We’ve been in Iraq for close to 17 years. 17 years of repeated claims about progress being made. There aren’t any easy solutions, especially at 0245. I gave up long ago on withdrawing – the political will just isn’t there, and it’s an after-thought for most Americans. If you think there’s a cohesive plan, one that doesn’t rely on vague goals, I’d love to hear it. I’d go into it thinking you’re delusional, but I’d listen. Explain to me how this is somehow different than the Afghanistan Papers.

* When you read the news coming out of Iraq, look at the inconsistent use of “Iran-backed” vs. “Iranian-backed”, even within the same article. I’ve never been able to remember if there’s a grammar rule for that. Don’t worry, I’m not one of those grammar people…but I do like thinking about writing and grammar.

** A lot of people must be scratching their heads with the different spellings of Soleimani, Sulamani, etc. Lots of different transliteration methods for Arabic and Farsi to English.