Iran’s impeachment miscalculation

Special to

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — A lethal lightning bolt pierced the Baghdad sky, as an American drone strike killed the terrorist Qasem Soleimani in an instant.

The feared general of Iran’s infamous Revolutionary Guards external operations Quds force, was vaporized by the U.S. in retaliation for the unsuccessful attack on the American Embassy in Baghdad and for planning wider hits on American diplomatic targets.

Ayatollah Khamenei and Qasem Soleimani in 2015. / CC by 4.0

The following thunderclap from President Donald Trump’s focused targeting of Soleimani, has nonetheless sent the American media into overdrive under the assumption that the Israeli-style hit on the terrorist target will inevitably trigger a war with Iran.

The Mideast sits on edge.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for leaders to exercise “maximum restraint,” adding “The world cannot afford another war in the Gulf.”

For more than forty years the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran have been at political loggerheads following the Islamic Revolution in 1979 which toppled the Shah and installed a radical theocratic regime.

Over the years Iran has served as a force for regional destabilization, the promotion of terrorism abroad in places ranging from France to Argentina and serving as an active player in the ongoing Syrian civil war.

The Revolutionary Guards Quds force play a decisive role in destabilizing missions outside Iran’s borders. Not to be forgotten was Soleimani’s role in perfecting IED bomb technology which killed over 600 American soldiers during the Iraq war and frightfully maimed thousands of others.  Soleimani had bloody hands and richly deserved his fate.

As recently as November, Revolutionary Guards units carried out their usual thuggery and violence against their own people when they killed more than 1,500 pro-democracy protesters.

Naturally Iran’s longtime nuclear weapons program focused global attention.  Iran’s nuclear program has triggered serious UN and US economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

But let’s return to the recent Baghdad embassy attack as a catalyst to the current crisis.

Teheran’s 1979 U.S. embassy attack and humiliating hostage crisis likely triggered subconscious memories by Trump and anyone “of a certain age” who remember this outrage.  Trump wasn’t going to let this happen on his watch.

Qasem Soleimani was the living patron saint of international terrorism; Even Bin Laden was a spent force when the Obama Administration targeted and killed him in his Pakistani sanctuary.

Many media pundits are scornfully gushing that Trump seeks a war with Iran war to boost his own electoral chances in November.  The logic is flawed; last year on a number of occasions, the same mainstream media was wondering out loud last Summer why the Administration didn’t  hit back at Iran after it shot down an American drone, or after Iranian-backed Yemeni proxies attacked and damaged the Saudi oil fields in September.

Trump waited and deferred. Here no American lives were lost.

Now it’s different. The killing of an American civilian contractor sparked retaliation against an Iranian proxy Kataib Hizbullah militia. Then came the Embassy attack.

Teheran may have miscalculated that Trump’s impeachment had weakened American resolve.

Trump ran as a candidate against widening the American military footprint in the Middle East never mind engaging in new regional conflicts. After defeating Islamic State, the President has reduced the U.S. military presence in Syria, Iraq, and plans to do it in Afghanistan.

He doesn’t  appear to seek that against which he has often railed: the fact that both Democrat and Republican presidents have become mired in endless Mideast wars.

The Donald does not want to “own” a major war with Islamic Iran and very rightly so.

So what’s next?

Iran’s political propaganda road show will likely visit the United Nations to play its sham victimhood card at a Security Council session.

Iranian forces or more likely proxy terrorists will attack some targets overseas.  The U.S. Navy presence in the Persian Gulf poses a tempting target.  Should they cross a threshold and carry out an attack on American soil, they will face a massive military response from President Trump.

The USA will send more troops to the region and will stare down Iran with sheer force.  The Saudis and other Arabs are happy.  Meantime the Iranian people are weakened by UN economic sanctions.  Their once massive petroleum exports have dramatically declined.

Even the Islamic regime does not really want a war, knowing its likely outcome, but at the same time must show its usual bravado and rhetorical stance for domestic consumption.

The real danger remains unintended miscalculation by either side; Iran or the U.S. and its allies.    Nonetheless a Pandora’s Box has without question been unwittingly opened.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]