With the strikes from Iran on our air bases, the question has come: is that it? A few very expensive missiles used to retaliate and, in so doing, kill nobody?
Some are suggesting that Iran may recognize that it does not have the capability to tackle the U.S. directly and is thus backing down. Others, that Iranian technology has been demonstrated to be so terrible that a full war with them would be simple to win. Allow me to present a third option: Iran wants another world war… with the U.S. as Germany. They could get it.
They key to this strategy is President Trump’s elevation of Kim Jong Un. The Iranians are familiar with North Korea, having been partnered with that country either directly or through back channels for decades. They are fully aware of the mass enslavement experienced by that nation and the torturous repression all dissidents and their families face there. They are also cognizant of the fact that all other nations understand the nonexistent state of human rights there.
Trump embraced North Korea’s government. Not only did he seek a rapport with their leadership, he loudly proclaimed his love for them. At the time, as an American, I felt disgust and a deep betrayal of American principles. I was appalled that so many of my countrymen would write off the President’s entreaties to Kim as simple diplomacy or, worse, acceptable because of “opposition tears”. I was nevertheless woefully myopic about the full toll.
Trump normalized North Korea with his statements… but in so doing, he normalized every other country whose human rights offenses were less than those of North Korea. He normalized brutal African dictatorships, he normalized Venezuela, and he normalized Iran.
Even if America, for reasons of its foreign policy, chose not to recognize this fact, other nations shifted their policy in response. If the United States no longer fundamentally cared about basic human rights, where was the harm – other than violating the letter of the law regarding sanctions – in associating with Iran?
Iran already had ties to countries throughout the world because of its oil reserves. Freed from the diplomatic damage associated with being a repressive, tyrannical regime, it was able to reset its associations with other nations from “casual” to “friendly”.
This is the post-Trump foreign policy world.
Americans, for the most part, cannot see it. We have grown up surrounded by the trappings of “liberty” and “freedom” – not merely the benefits accrued by historically pursuing them, but the words and concepts bound into our songs and our symbols. Most of us see America as a force for good in the world, and even those who see us as a force for destruction root that view in the notion of freedom… freedom, in their eyes, for our rapine corporations to abuse lesser nations and for our ignorance to damage the planet.
In the eyes of other countries, Trump represents the culmination of abandoning freedom and human rights as a factor in policy decisions. While they may have felt some disquiet at Clinton’s dealings with China and Obama’s acceptance of the Muslim Brotherhood, they were categorically shown with Trump that we, as a nation, no longer care what terrors a prospective partner may be raining down upon its people.
With morality set aside, the question for all nations simply becomes: who is a better ally, on paper?
Iran is not directing attacks toward most countries outside of the Middle East. They have massive stores of oil. They offer the respect shown equals rather than the fealty demanded of subordinates. They are not waging economic war against allies. They do not offer any level of protection from aggressor nations, but the United States has been steadily backing away from such agreements anyway, or charging exorbitant fees for such protection.
Iran cannot win a war with the United States… directly. I would wager every dime I’d ever owned on the results of such a conflict. Iran, plus China, plus Russia, plus the E.U., plus Japan… all countries or organizations with which it has been developing stronger relations even as we burn our bridges? I would no longer wish to take that bet.
I have little doubt that the revelation which took so long to occur to me has been front-of-mind for many of our experienced diplomats and senior military strategists. They, unlike myself, deal with representatives of other nations every day and have likely seen attitudes shift, which in turn would have them extrapolating likely outcomes. Even as there are intolerable levels of incompetency at the higher levels of government, for the most part our experts are good at their jobs.
Unfortunately, with a President who is personally offended by contrary opinion, having expert advice is meaningless. Even were our strategists to accurately forecast Iran’s attempts to cast America as a villain worth organizing against, there is no indication Trump and his base would be receptive to the warnings.