Wow. Thus Donald, having just given one of his characteristically stilted teleprompter speeches claiming that the strike upon Qassam Soleimani was carried out “to stop a war, not start a war”, now threatens war, lots and lots of war, you betcha.
Let’s not mince words. This latest Tweetstorm is the incontinent raving of an impulsive idiot utterly oblivious to the gravity of his position, the meaning of his own ill-considered words, and the consequences of his actions. It is also, on its face, a threat to commit war crimes, which is nothing new for Donald (recall all his rhetoric during and after the 2016 campaign about seizing conquered nations’ natural resources, murdering the families of terrorists, and torturing prisoners). By threatening to attack targets of cultural significance, and declaring that a symbolic total of 52 targets has been selected (implying that military requirements are not the governing factor), Trump is stating flatly that America will violate all manner of international laws to which it’s party, among them the Geneva Conventions and UN Security Council Resolution 2347, the second of which was drafted in 2017 in response to the destruction by ISIS of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Iraq and Syria, the text of which you can find here:
Think on it: Trump is now vowing action that could violate UN Resolutions drafted to criminalize the behaviour of the world’s most reprehensible terrorists. No leader of a liberal democracy has any business uttering such threats in any forum, even via diplomatic back channels, let alone over Twitter, for the love of God. Even if you leave the crass, craven immorality aside, it’s geopolitically reckless in the extreme to paint yourself into this sort of corner – by declaring that you absolutely will react with a spasmodic military tantrum of epic proportions at the first American hair that gets mussed, you leave yourself with a great big ugly-assed dilemma when the hair-mussing does, indeed, occur: either, as promised, you do something batshit crazy and likely criminal, which will only escalate things further and risk setting off a chain reaction that sets the entire Middle East on fire, or you fail to follow through on your vitriolic threats and lose face, thus squandering all credibility. This is just exactly what we were taught that one never, ever does in a crisis of this nature, back when I was studying international relations and geopolitical brinksmanship during my graduate student years.
Put it this way: if either Kennedy or Khruschev had spouted threats in this manner during the Cuban Missile Crisis, well, you wouldn’t be here to read this thing that I wasn’t here to write.
Donald isn’t worried though. After all, he has so very much brute force at his disposal, doesn’t he? Hasn’t he seen to it? He’s funded so many weapons programs, you see, huge weapons, the best weapons, and, never content to stop at mere vicious threats when he can slather a five gallon bucket of liquid chest-thump on top, he also directed this exultant tweet at a presumably quavering Ayatollah:
Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair! This is, of course, pure bullshit redolent of Trump’s incapacity to understand anything even a little bit complicated. He seems to be conflating the combined total of the last three years’ worth of defence budgets – which does, incredibly, come to over two trillion dollars – with the much smaller amount spent during that period purely to purchase new equipment. Defence budgets, of course, are largely consumed by operational expenses (have you even seen what smart bombs and jet fuel costs these days?), and despite all that spending the US military remains relatively worn out after years of combat all over the world, and in serious need of recapitalization. Fat Donny seems actually to believe that he’s managed to entirely replace the complete US inventory of warships, combat aircraft and armoured vehicles during his brief tenure as president, an effort that would take decades – but hey, it’s no fun to imagine that the US armed forces aren’t really as mighty as so many would like to let on, but stretched a little thin, worn down, morally and materially exhausted, and struggling to plan future expenditures in a budget environment of constraints bound to be imposed by trillions of dollars’ worth of GOP tax cuts. No! WE ARE THE BEST!!! WE ARE THE BIGGEST!!! USA!!! USA!!!
Not that this moron is the first US policymaker to vastly overestimate the true power of his military, and its ability to terrify enemies into submission.
Thus far events on the ground, sadly, betray no particular lack of resolve in the face of US power. While Secretary of State Pompeo declares that the purpose of the drone strike on Soleimani was deterrence, his State Department is ordering all US citizens to flee the region immediately in anticipation of a decidedly undeterred and presumably inevitable Iranian response. US and Coalition forces in the region have stopped what were still ongoing operations against ISIS throughout the theatre in order to hunker down in defensive positions, awaiting attack from Iran’s many militias (so chalk one up for ISIS, at least for the time being). The Iraqi Parliament, perhaps spurred on by the promise of Kata’ib Hezbollah to publicize the names of any of its members who voted differently (a death threat, essentially), has resolved to expel all US forces from the country – whether this is the final word on the matter is doubtful, but remains to be seen. Meanwhile, in Iran, a funeral procession numbering what seems to be literally in the millions snakes its way from town to town in mourning of their assassinated military leader (as they see it), predictably elevated to beloved martyr status by his death at the hands of the Great Satan, while everywhere Iranians rally ’round their flag just as all populations do in the face of perceived foreign aggression.
The tone of the commentary in the clip embedded above, taken from Chinese network CGTN, and giving the Iranian perspective, sheds remarkable light on how both sides in these disputes tend to view each other in exactly the same terms.
This all puts the kibosh on my happy scheme to hold the line, keep calm, pursue a long term containment strategy, and wait for Iran’s overwhelmingly youthful demographic to render the Islamo-fascist rule of the Mullahs increasingly untenable.
Oh, and here’s a possible extra kicker: in urging his parliamentarians to vote to expel US forces from the country, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, claimed that Soleimani was in Baghdad at his own invitation as part of a peace initiative between Iran and the Saudis. Jaded and cynical as I am, even I doubt this could be true (for various reasons that I won’t bore you with he’s not the most reliable source), but God help us, what if it is, and the Americans knew it? God help us.
In any case, the whole affair casts into high relief the festering problem of the abdication by Congress over the past two decades of its sole constitutional authority to decide when America goes to war. Trump and Pompeo may be able to coerce farcical opinions out of one or another of their internal lawyers that Donald’s proposed attacks on Iran are authorized by either or both of the Authorizations for the Use of Military Force that were passed first in the wake of 9/11, and then to authorize the 2003 war in Iraq, but this is ludicrous. Ludicrous. A properly motivated Congress, cognizant of its constitutional responsibilities and sane enough to be horrified at where many years of executive overreach have led them, would repeal all outstanding AUMFs and cut off funding for any unauthorized, large scale military action in the region. This goes without saying, but don’t hold your breath waiting for Mitch McConnell to sign on to any such thing in the Senate. Even House Democrats may waver, as they so often do, fearing to appear weak on national security.
As it stands, nobody’s holding the reins on Donald, and God only knows where this goes next.
I don’t know whether any of the worst case scenarios feared today by a large swath of the commentariat will come to pass. Nobody does. We could wind up with America ejected from Iraq, Iran filling the power vacuum and solidifying its de facto control over the whole country (a sorry denouement to the never ending debacle of Operation Iraqi Freedom), ISIS resurgent as all US effort needs to be directed elsewhere, Iran resuming and accelerating its nuclear program, and a wider war involving America’s other allies raging in the region to boot. Or, as so often seems to happen with this awful administration, Trump could benefit from a lucky bounce, and it could all end up as just one more mess that didn’t turn into the complete disaster it bid fair to be. The problem is that with Donald and his remaining crew of incompetents at the helm, whether we emerge relatively unscathed seems always to come down not to planning at any level, but pure dumb luck.