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Aftermath: The Iran War After the Soleimani Assassination

Photograph Source: Anthony Crider – CC BY 2.0

“Praise be to God, who made our enemies fools.”

Ayatollah Khamenei

The Killing

I’ve been writing and speaking for months about the looming danger of war with Iran, often to considerable skepticism.

In June, in an essay entitled “Eve of Destruction: Iran Strikes Back,” after the U.S. initiated its “maximum pressure” blockade of Iranian oil exports, I pointed out that “Iran considers that it is already at war,” and that the downing of the U.S. drone was a sign that “Iran is calling the U.S. bluff on escalation dominance.”

In an October essay, I pointed out that Trump’s last-minute calling off of the U.S. attack on Iran in June, his demurral again after the Houthi attack on Saudi oil facilities, and his announced withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria were seen as “catastrophic” and “a big win for Iran” by the Iran hawks in Israel and America whose efforts New York Times (NYT) detailed in an important article, “The Secret History of the Push to Strike Iran.” I said, with emphasis, “It always goes to Iran,” and underlined that Trump’s restraint was particularly galling to hard-line zionist Republican Senators, and might have opened a path to impeachment. I cited the reported statement of a “veteran political consultant” that “The price of [Lindsey] Graham’s support… would be an eventual military strike on Iran.”

And in the middle of December, I went way out on a limb, in an essay suggesting a possible relation between preparations for war in Iran and the impeachment process. I pointed out that the strategic balance of forces between Israel and Iran had reached the point where Israel thinks it’s “necessary to take Iran down now,” in “the next six months,” before the Iranian-supported Axis of Resistance accrues even more power. I speculated that the need to have a more reliable and internationally-respected U.S. President fronting a conflict with Iran might be the unseen reason—behind the flimsy Articles of Impeachment—that explains why Pelosi and Schumer “find it so urgent to replace Trump before the election and why they think they can succeed in doing that.”

So, I was the guy chicken-littling about impending war with Iran.

But even I was flabbergasted by what Trump did. Absolutely gobsmacked. Killing Qassem Soleimani, Iranian general, leader of the Quds forces, and the most respected military leader in the Middle East? And Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, Iraqi commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) unit, Kataib Hezbollah? Did not see that coming. Rage. Fear. Sadness. Anxiety. A few days just to register that it really happened. To see the millions of people bearing witness to it. Yes, that happened.

Then there was the anxious anticipation about the Iranian response, which came surprisingly quickly, and with admirable military and political precision, avoiding a large-scale war in the region, for the moment.

That was the week that was.

But, as the man said: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” And it ain’t over. Recognizing the radical uncertainty of the world we now live in, and recognizing that its future will be determined by actors and actions far away from the American leftist commentariat, here’s what I need to say about the war we are now in.

The first thing, the thing that is so sad and so infuriating and so centrally symptomatic of everything wrong with American political culture, is that, with painfully few exceptions, Americans have no idea of what their government has done. They have no idea who Qassem Soleimani was, what he has accomplished, the web of relationships, action, and respect he has built, what his assassination means and will bring. The last person who has any clue about this, of course, is Donald Trump, who called Soleimani “a total monster.” His act of killing Soleimani is the apotheosis of the abysmal, arrogant ignorance of U.S. political culture.

It’s virtually impossible to explain to Americans because there is no one of comparable stature in the U.S. or in the West today. As Iran cleric Shahab Mohadi said, when talking about what a “proportional response” might be: ”[W]ho should we consider to take out in the context of America? ‘Think about it. Are we supposed to take out Spider-Man and SpongeBob?… ‘All of their heroes are cartoon characters — they’re all fictional.” Trump? Lebanese Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah said what many throughout the world familiar with both of them would agree with: “the shoe of Qassem Soleimani is worth the head of Trump and all American leaders.”

To understand the respect Soleimani has earned, not only in Iran (where his popularity was around 80%) but throughout the region and across political and sectarian lines, you have to know how he led and organized the forces that helped save Christians, Kurds, Yazidis and others from being slaughtered by ISIS, while Barack Obama and John Kerry were still “watching” ISIS advance and using it as a tool to “manage” their war against Assad.

In an informative interview with Aaron Maté, Former Marine Intelligence Officer and weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, explains how Soleimani is honored in Iraq for organizing the resistance that saved Baghdad from being overrun by ISIS—and the same could be said of Syria, Damascus, or Ebril:

He’s a legend in Iran, in Iraq, and in Syria. And anywhere where, frankly speaking, he’s operated, the people he’s worked with view him as one of the greatest leaders, thinkers, most humane men of all time. I know in America we demonize him as a terrorist but the fact is he wasn’t, and neither is Mr. Mohandes.

When ISIS [was] driving down on the city of Baghdad,…the U.S. armed and trained Iraqi Army had literally thrown down their weapons and ran away, and there was nothing standing between ISIS and Baghdad…

[Soleimani] came in from Iran and led the creation of the PMF [Popular Mobilization Forces] as a viable fighting force and then motivated them to confront Isis in ferocious hand-to-hand combat in villages and towns outside of Baghdad, driving Isis back and stabilizing the situation that allowed the United States to come in and get involved in the Isis fight. But if it weren’t for Qassem Soleimani and Mohandes and Kataib Hezbollah, Baghdad might have had the black flag of ISIS flying over it. So the Iraqi people haven’t forgotten who stood up and defended Baghdad from the scourge of ISIS.

So, to understand Soleimani in Western terms, you’d have to evoke someone like World War II Eisenhower (or Marshall Zhukov, but that gets another blank stare from Americans.) Think I’m exaggerating? Take it from the family of the Shah:

Beyond his leadership of the fight against ISIS, you also have to understand Soleimani’s strategic acumen in building the Axis of Resistance—the network of armed local groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as the PMF in Iraq, that Soleimani helped organize and provide with growing military capability. Soleimani meant standing up; he helped people throughout the region stand up to the shit the Americans, Israelis, and Saudis were constantly dumping on them

More apt than Eisenhower and De Gaulle, in world-historical terms, try something like Saladin meets Che. What a tragedy, and travesty, it is that legend-in-his-own-mind Donald Trump killed this man.

Dressed to Kill

But it is not just Trump, and not just the assassination of Soleimani, that we should focus on. These are actors and events within an ongoing conflict with Iran, which was ratcheted up when the U.S. renounced the nuclear deal (JCPOA – Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and instituted a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic and financial sanctions on Iran and third countries, designed to drive Iran’s oil exports to zero.

The purpose of this blockade is to create enough social misery to force Iran into compliance, or provoke Iran into military action that would elicit a “justifiable” full-scale, regime-change—actually state-destroying—military attack on the country.

From its inception, Iran has correctly understood this blockade as an act of war, and has rightfully expressed its determination to fight back. Though it does not want a wider war, and has so far carefully calibrated its actions to avoid making it necessary, Iran will fight back however it deems necessary.

The powers-that-be in Iran and the U.S. know they are at war, and that the Soleimani assassination ratcheted that state of war up another significant notch; only Panglossian American pundits think the “w” state is yet to be avoided. Sorry, but the United States drone-bombed an Iranian state official accompanied by an Iraqi state official, in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi Prime Minister, on a conflict-resolution mission requested by Donald Trump himself. In anybody’s book, that is an act of war—and extraordinary treachery, even in wartime, the equivalent of shooting someone who came to parley under a white flag.

Indeed, we now know that the assassination of Soleimani was only one of two known assassination attempts against senior Iranian officers that day. There was also an unsuccessful strike targeting Abdul Reza Shahlai, another key commander in Iran’s Quds Force who has been active in Yemen. According to the Washington Post, this marked a “departure for the Pentagon’s mission in Yemen, which has sought to avoid direct involvement” or make “any publicly acknowledged attacks on Houthi or Iranian leaders in Yemen.”

Of course, because it’s known as “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” the Pentagon wants to avoid “publicly” bloodying its hands in the Saudi war in Yemen. Through two presidential administrations, it has been trying to minimize attention to its indispensable support of, and presence in, Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen with drone strikes, special forces operations, refueling of aircraft, and intelligence and targeting. It’s such a nasty business that even the U.S. Congress passed a bipartisan resolution to end U.S. military involvement in that war, which was vetoed by Trump.

According to the ethic and logic of American exceptionalism, Iran is forbidden from helping the Houthis, but the U.S. is allowed to assassinate their advisors and help the Saudis bomb the crap out of them.

So, the Trump administration is clearly engaged in an organized campaign to take out senior Iranian leaders, part of what it considers a war against Iran. In this war, the Trump administration no longer pretends to give a damn about any fig leaf of law or ethics. Nobody takes seriously the phony “imminence” excuse for killing Soleimani, which even Trump says “doesn’t matter,” or the “bloody hands” justification, which could apply to any military commander. And let’s not forget: Soleimani was “talking about bad stuff.”

The U.S. is demonstrating outright contempt for any framework of respectful international relations, let alone international law. National sovereignty? Democracy? Whatever their elected governments say, we’ll will keep our army in Syria to “take the oil,” and in Iraq to…well, to do whatever the hell we want. “Rules-based international order”? Sure, we make the rules and you follow our orders.

The U.S.’s determination to stay in Iraq, in defiance of the explicit, unequivocal demand of the friendly democratic government that the U.S. itself supposedly invaded the country to install, is particularly significant. It draws the circle nicely. It demonstrates that the Iraq war isn’t over. Because it, and the wars in Libya and Syria, and the war that’s ratcheting up against Iran are all the same war that the U.S. has been waging in the Middle East since 2003. In the end is the beginning, and all that.

We’re now in the endgame of the serial offensive that Wesley Clark described in 2007, starting with Iraq and “finishing off” with Iran. Since the U.S. has attacked, weakened, divided, or destroyed every other un-coopted polity in the region (Iraq, Syria, Libya) that could pose any serious resistance to the predations of U.S. imperialism and Israel colonialism, it has fallen to Iran to be the last and best source of material and military support which allows that resistance to persist.

And Iran has taken up the task, through the work of the Quds Force under leaders like Soleimani and Shahlai, the work of building a new Axis of Resistance with the capacity to resist the dictates of Israel and the U.S. throughout the region. It’s work that is part of a war and will result in casualties among U.S. and U.S.-allied forces and damage to their “interests.”

What the U.S. (and its wards, Israel and Saudi Arabia) fears most is precisely the kind of material, technical, and combat support and training that allows the Houthis to beat back the Saudis and Americans in Yemen, and retaliate with stunningly accurate blows on crucial oil facilities in Saudi Arabia itself. The same kind of help that Soleimani gave to the armed forces of Syria and the PMF in Iraq to prevent those countries from being overrun and torn apart by the U.S. army and its sponsored jihadis, and to Hezbollah in Lebanon to deter Israel from demolishing and dividing that country at will.

It’s that one big “endless” war that’s been waged by every president since 2003, which American politicians and pundits have been scratching their heads and squeezing their brains to figure out how to explain, justify (if it’s their party’s President in charge), denounce (if it’s the other party’s POTUS), or just bemoan as “senseless.” But to the neocons who are driving it and their victims—it makes perfect sense and is understood to have been largely a success. Only the befuddled U.S. media and the deliberately-deceived U.S. public think it’s “senseless,” and remain enmired in the cock-up theory of U.S. foreign policy, which is a blindfold we had better shed before being led to the next very big slaughter.

The one big war makes perfect sense when one understands that the United States has thoroughly internalized Israel’s interests as its own. That this conflation has been successfully driven by a particular neocon faction, and that it is excessive, unnecessary and perhaps disruptive to other effective U.S. imperial possibilities, is demonstrated precisely by the constant plaint from non-neocon, including imperialist, quarters that it’s all so “senseless.”

The result is that the primary object of U.S. policy (its internalized zionist imperative) in this war is to enforce that Israel must be able, without any threat of serious retaliation, to carry out any military attack on any country in the region at any time, to seize any territory and resources (especially water) it needs, and, of course, to impose any level of colonial violence against Palestinians—from home demolitions, to siege and sniper killings (Gaza), to de jure as well as de facto apartheid and eventual further mass expulsions, if deems necessary.

That has required, above all, removing—by co-option, regime change, or chaotogenic sectarian warfare and state destruction—any strong central governments that have provided political, diplomatic, financial, material, and military support for the Palestinian resistance to Israeli colonialism. Iran is the last of those, has been growing in strength and influence, and is therefore the next mandatory target.

For all the talk of “Iranian proxies,” I’d say, if anything, that the U.S., with its internalized zionist imperative, is effectively acting as Israel’s proxy.

It’s also important, I think, to clarify the role of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in this policy. KSA is absolutely a very important player in this project, which has been consistent with its interests. But its (and its oil’s) influence on the U.S. is subsidiary to Israel’s, and depends entirely on KSA’s complicity with the Israeli agenda. The U.S. political establishment is not overwhelmingly committed to Saudi/Wahhabi policy imperatives—as a matter, they think, of virtue—as they are to Israeli/Zionist ones. It is inconceivable that a U.S. Vice-President would declare “I am a Wahhabi,” or a U.S. President say “I would personally grab a rifle, get in a ditch, and fight and die” for Saudi Arabia—with nobody even noticing. The U.S. will turn on a dime against KSA if Israel wants it; the reverse would never happen. We have to confront the primary driver of this policy if we are to defeat it, and too many otherwise superb analysts, like Craig Murray, are mistaken and diversionary, I think, in saying things like the assassination of Soleimani and the drive for war on Iran represent the U.S. “doubling down on its Saudi allegiance.” So, sure, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Batman and Robin.

Iran has quite clearly seen and understood what’s unfolding, and has prepared itself for the finale that is coming its way.

The final offensive against Iran was supposed to follow the definitive destruction of the Syrian Baathist state, but that project was interrupted (though not yet abandoned) by the intervention of Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran—the latter precisely via the work of Soleimani and the Quds Force.

Current radical actions like the two assassination strikes against Iranian Quds Force commanders signal the Trump administration jumping right to the endgame, as that neocon hawks have been “agitating for.” The idea—borrowed, perhaps from Israel’s campaign of assassinating Iranian scientists—is that killing off the key leaders who have supplied and trained the Iranian-allied networks of resistance throughout the region will hobble any strike from those networks if/when the direct attack on Iran comes.

Per Patrick Lawrence, the Soleimani assassination “was neither defensive nor retaliatory: It reflected the planning of the administration’s Iran hawks, who were merely awaiting the right occasion to take their next, most daring step toward dragging the U.S. into war with Iran.” It means that war is on and it will get worse fast.

It is crucial to understand that Iran is not going to passively submit to any such bullying. It will not be scared off by some “bloody nose” strike, followed by chest-thumping from Trump, Netanyahu, or Hillary about how they will “obliterate” Iran. Iran knows all that. It also knows, as I’ve said before, how little damage—especially in terms of casualties—Israel and the U.S. can take. It will strike back. In ways that will be calibrated as much as possible to avoid a larger war, but it will strike back.

Iran’s strike on Ain al-Asad base in Iraq was a case in point. It was preceded by a warning through Iraq that did not specify the target but allowed U.S. personnel in the country to hunker down. It also demonstrated deadly precision and determination, hitting specific buildings where U.S. troops work, and, we now know, causing at least eleven acknowledged casualties.

Those casualties were minor, but you can bet they would have been the excuse for a large-scale attack, if the U.S. had been entirely unafraid of the response. In fact, Trump did launch that attack over the downing of a single unmanned drone—and Pompeo and the neocon crew, including Republican Senators, were ”stunned” that he called it off in literally the last ten minutes. It’s to the eternal shame of what’s called the “left” in this country that we may have Tucker Carlson to thank for Trump’s bouts of restraint.

There Will Be Blood

But this is going to get worse, Pompeo is now threatening Iran’s leaders that “any attacks by them, or their proxies of any identity, that harm Americans, our allies, or our interests will be answered with a decisive U.S. response.” Since Iran has ties of some kind with most armed groups in the region and the U.S. decides what “proxy” and “interests” means, that means that any act of resistance to the U.S., Israel, or other “ally” by anybody—including, for example, the Iraqi PMF forces who are likely to retaliate against the U.S. for killing their leader—will be an excuse for attacking Iran. Any anything. Call it an omnibus threat.

The groundwork for a final aggressive push against Iran began back in June, 2017, when, under then-Director Pompeo, the CIA set up a stand-alone Iran Mission Center. That Center replaced a group of “Iran specialists who had no special focus on regime change in Iran,” because “Trump’s people wanted a much more focused and belligerent group.” The purpose of this—as of any—Mission Center was to “elevate” the country as a target and “bring to bear the range of the agency’s capabilities, including covert action” against Iran. This one is especially concerned with Iran’s “increased capacity to deliver missile systems” to Hezbollah or the Houthis that could be used against Israel or Saudi Arabia, and Iran’s increased strength among the Shia militia forces in Iraq. The Mission Center is headed by Michael D’Andrea, who is perceived as having an “aggressive stance toward Iran.” D’Andrea, known as “the undertaker” and “Ayatollah Mike,” is himself a convert to Islam, and notorious for his “central role in the agency’s torture and targeted killing programs.”

This was followed in December, 2017, by the signing of a pact with Israel “to take on Iran,” which took place, according to Israeli television, at a “secret” meeting at the White House. This pact was designed to coordinate “steps on the ground” against “Tehran and its proxies.” The biggest threats: “Iran’s ballistic missile program and its efforts to build accurate missile systems in Syria and Lebanon,” and its activity in Syria and support for Hezbollah. The Israelis considered that these secret “dramatic understandings” would have “far greater impact” on Israel than Trump’s more public and notorious recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli’s capital.

The Iran Mission Center is a war room. The pact with Israel is a war pact.

The U.S. and Israeli governments are out to “take on” Iran. Their major concerns, repeated everywhere, are Iran’s growing military power, which underlies its growing political influence—specifically its precision ballistic missile and drone capabilities, which it is sharing with its allies throughout the region, and its organization of those armed resistance allies, which is labelled “Iranian aggression.”

These developments must be stopped because they provide Iran and other actors the ability to inflict serious damage on Israel. They create the unacceptable situation where Israel cannot attack anything it wants without fear of retaliation. For some time, Israel has been reluctant to take on Hezbollah in Lebanon, having already been driven back by them once because the Israelis couldn’t take the casualties in the field. Now Israel has to worry about an even more battle-hardened Hezbollah, other well-trained and supplied armed groups, and those damn precision missiles. One cannot overstress how important those are, and how adamant the U.S. and Israel are that Iran get rid of them. As another Revolutionary Guard commander says: “Iran has encircled Israel from all four sides…if only one missile hits the occupied lands, Israeli airports will be filled with people trying to run away from the country.”

This campaign is overseen in the U.S. by the likes of “praying for war with Iran” Christian Zionists Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence, who together “urged” Trump to approve the killing of Soleimani. Pence, whom the Democrats are trying to make President, is associated with Christians United For Israel (CUFI), which paid for his and his wife’s pilgrimage to Israel in 2014, and is run by lunatic televangelist John Hagee, whom even John McCain couldn’t stomach. Pompeo, characterized as the “brainchild” of the assassination, thinks Trump was sent by God to save Israel from Iran. (Patrick Lawrence argues the not-implausible case that Pompeo and Defense Secretary Esper ordered the assassination and stuck Trump with it.) No Zionists are more fanatical than Christian Zionists. These guys are not going to stop.

And Iran is not going to surrender. Iran is no longer afraid of the escalation dominance game. Do not be fooled by peace-loving illusions—propagated mainly now by mealy-mouthed European and Democratic politicians—that Iran will return to what’s described as “unconditional” negotiations, which really means negotiating under the absolutely unacceptable condition of economic blockade, until the U.S. gets what it wants. Not gonna happen. Iran’s absolutely correct condition for any negotiation with the U.S. is that the U.S. return to the JCPOA and lift all sanctions.

Also not gonna happen, though any real peace-loving Democratic candidate would specifically and unequivocally commit to doing just that if elected. The phony peace-loving poodles of Britain, France, and Germany (the EU3) have already cast their lot with the aggressive American policy, triggering a dispute mechanism that will almost certainly result in a “snapback” of full UN sanctions on Iran within 65 days, and destroy the JCPOA once and for all. Because, they, too, know Iran’s nuclear weapons program is a fake issue and have “always searched for ways to put more restrictions on Iran, especially on its ballistic missile program.” Israel can have all the nuclear weapons it wants, but Iran must give up those conventional ballistic missiles. Cannot overstate their importance.

Iran is not going to submit to any of this. The only way Iran is going to part with its ballistic missiles is by using them. The EU3 maneuver will not only end the JCPOA, it may drive Iran out of the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). As Moon of Alabama says, the EU3 gambit is “not designed to reach an agreement but to lead to a deeper conflict” and ratchet the war up yet another notch. The Trump administration and its European allies are—as FDR did to Japan—imposing a complete economic blockade that Iran will have to find a way to break out of. It’s deliberately provocative, and makes the outbreak of a regional/world war more likely. Which is its purpose.

This certainly marks the Trump administration as having crossed a war threshold the Obama administration avoided. Credit due to Obama for forging ahead with the JCPOA in the face of fierce resistance from Netanyahu and his Republican and Democratic acolytes, like Chuck Schumer. But that deal itself was built upon false premises and extraordinary conditions and procedures that—as the current actions of the EU3 demonstrate—made it a trap for Iran.

With his Iran policy, as with Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, what Trump is doing—and can easily demonstrate—is taking to its logical and deadly conclusion the entire imperialist-zionist conception of the Middle East, which all major U.S. politicians and media have embraced and promulgated over decades, and cannot abandon.

With the Soleimani assassination, Trump both allayed some of the fears of Iran war hawks in Israel and the U.S. about his “reluctance to flex U.S. military muscle” and re-stoked all their fears about his impulsiveness, unreliability, ignorance, and crassness. As the the Christian Science Monitor reports, Israel leaders are both “quick to praise” his action and “having a crisis of confidence” over Trump’s ability to “manage” a conflict with Iran—an ambivalence echoed in every U.S. politician’s “Soleimani was a terrorist, but…” statement.

Trump does exactly what the narrative they all promote demands, but he makes it look and sound all thuggish and scary. They want someone whose rhetorical finesse will talk us into war on Iran as a humanitarian and liberating project. But we should be scared and repelled by it. The problem isn’t the discrepancy in Trump between actions and attitudes, but the duplicity in the fundamental imperialist-zionist narrative. There is no “good”—non-thuggish, non-repellent way—way to do the catastrophic violence it demands. Too many people discover that only after it’s done.

Trump, in other words, has just started a war that the U.S. political elite constantly brought us to the brink of, and some now seem desperate to avoid, under Trump’s leadership. But not a one will abandon the zionist and American-exceptionalist premises that make it inevitable—about, you know, dictating what weapons which countries can “never” have. Hoisted on their own petard. As are we all.

To be clear: Iran will try its best to avoid all-out war. The U.S. will not. This is the war that, as the NYT reports, “Hawks in Israel and America have spent more than a decade agitating for.” It will start, upon some pretext, with a full-scale U.S. air attack on Iran, followed by Iranian and allied attacks on U.S. forces and allies in the region, including Israel, and then an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran—which they think will end it. It is an incomprehensible disaster. And it’s becoming almost impossible to avoid.

The best prospect for stopping it would be for Iran and Russia to enter into a mutual defense treaty right now. But that’s not going to happen. Neither Russia nor China is going to fight for Iran. Why would they? They will sit back and watch the war destroy Iran, Israel, and the United States.

Happy New Year.

 

Jim Kavanagh edits The Polemicist. Follow him on Twitter @ThePolemicist_.

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