January 14, 2020
Philip C Johnson
Written from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
It started with an intelligence report that indicated the Iran’s militias were going to attack U.S. embassies abroad. Or did it start with U.S. President Donald Trump taking an opportunity to hit back at the Iranians because of Iranian aggression that killed a U.S. contractor?
When President Trump speaks, it’s often in a “stream-of-consciousness” style – where he can jump from one justification to another in a fairly seamless fashion. But while Trump’s political enemies (and the media) can busy themselves debating the motivation for the U.S. attacks on Iranian positions in Iraq and the killing of their top General, Soleimani, we do know a few things. 1.) Iranian militias were and are a threat to Americans. 2.) Iran was plotting more mayhem in the Middle East and, 3.) General Qassem Soleimani is dead.
Iran’s response to the death of their top general was to launch 22 missiles at two U.S. bases in Iraq. (This number has ranged from 15-22 rockets in the media.) The result? They killed no one. And had one American been killed, then perhaps you would have something close to a World War 3 on your hands. But my cynical side tells me that there was never any intention to kill Americans in the retaliatory strike – but the Iranians had to do “something.” Now, according to the Atlantic, the real response to Soleimani’s killing is still coming.
But at the moment, Iran is dealing with a mistake no one saw coming. After the death of Soleimani, after the symbolic strikes on two U.S. army bases in Iraq, after Trump basically said, “We’re all good,” Iran decided to shoot down a Ukrainian passenger plane killing all 176 people on board that included 82 Iranians.
After much back and forth, and suggestions that the airplane’s “black box” was damaged, the Iranians finally admitted that they had “accidentally” shot down the plane – this admissions was uttered with the obligatory regrets.
“Accidentally?” I have my doubts. It’s not as if there are not a number of safeguards designed to prevent this very kind of thing from happening. Regardless, this was a huge mistake for Iran. It revealed their complete befuddlement at the death of Soleimani, their meaningless retaliation on U.S. army bases and then the killing of a number of their own citizens on a commercial flight.
For just a moment, there was the possibility of Iranians uniting against the U.S. (nothing new) because of Soleimani’s death. That quickly turned into massive protests AGAINST the Iranian government. And while the prerequisite American and Israeli flags have been placed on the ground so that angry protesters can trample them – reports say that protesters have been stepping around them.
President Trump, as he does, tweeted out about the Iranian protests. He sent the tweet in Farsi (the Persian language) as well, expressing his support for the Iranian protesters and calling on the Iranian government not to kill those protesting. According to the Washington Examiner, Trump’s tweet was “the most liked Persian tweet in the history of twitter.”
Trump, for many reasons, is an unorthodox president, frustrating some, gaining the support of others. But he is clear about a few things: If you mess with Americans, you can expect action, not words. Secondly, he’s clear that he’s not interested in regime change in other nations, nor occupying them. In fact, if he had his way, the U.S.would be unentangled from any and all pointless wars. (That’s not to say that the U.S. would withdraw its global influence.)
Global Next’s contacts in Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia have told me that they do not reserve much sympathy for Iran and the loss of Soleimani. They recognize the many deaths at his hands – and while their governments may not be able to take a definitive position on the recent conflict, there is clear sentiment that the world is better without Soleimani.
For now, Iran has to figure out how to deal with is protesters. The go-to excuse is to once again blame the U.S. saying that all of this is the fault of “American Adventurism.” In other words, if the U.S. didn’t start this by protecting Americans against Iranian aggression, then Iran would not have mistakenly shot down an innocent Ukrainian passenger plane. This is the kind of logic that will prompt Iran to pursue more revenge for Soleimani’s death, in order to regain their dignity and the support of their people. But it might be too late for that.
Look forward to a new blog next week from my time in Saudi Arabia. I’m taking a look into the unusual relationships between the U.S., The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the exportation of radical Wahhabism, human rights and the dollars that continue to flow out of America to places that have conflicting views on Western values. Until next time!