The global anti-American alliance is now on full display in the Middle East, with Iran at the lynch point. The headlines have told us about the coordination of Iranian/Iraqi/Syrian/Russian/Chinese activities, and of course there is a division of labor. That was all worked out in recent weeks in a series of Iranian visits to Moscow (General Suleimani, who commands the Revolutionjary Guards’ foreign ops, twice traveled to Russia in open defiance of existing sanctions). Basically, the Russians are sending some crack troops and their favorite heavy weapons (tanks, big guns). It goes via an Iranian air bridge and thence across Iraq to Syria. The Revolutionary Guards’ air force has 115 trained pilots ready to go, and they’ve trained 3000 Afghan fighters for ground battles. The Afghans get Iranian residence and a stipend. In addition there are 740 Pakistani Shi’ites in Suleimani’s special forces.
It’s a start, anyway.
We keep hearing about the difficulties of the Iranian people and the regime’s desperation to end the financial sanctions, but Khamenei & Co. don’t care much about the plight of the Iranian people, and they’re already spending a lot of the cash (more than $20 billion for Russian weaponry, especially stuff to use against our Nay, including missiles and torpedoes—on top of the $700 million per month we are already releasing to them—they are confident they will have soon).
Even so, the spigot won’t open for several months even if everyone signs The Deal (which nobody has, as yet), so they’ll need some spending money to make ends meet. The Chinese will help, having just signed a trade agreement said to amount to $25 billion. That doesn’t need The Deal, since China, like India, never agreed to sanctions, and they’ve got real leverage in this game; the Iranian elite has deposited lots of money in banks in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Maybe the regime will try to ease the pain so palpable in Iran nowadays. Maybe not. Workers haven’t been paid for months, and the latest manifestation is a nation-wide teachers’ protest against the arrest of the seven top leaders of their organizations. This comes just at the start of the school year, thereby disrupting an essential part of daily life.
Meanwhile, the Russians and Chinese are also having their problems, albeit of very different sorts, even though they have a common cause (centralized state-run economy). Russia suffers from low oil prices, and they are now around $40/barrel. China is in the throes of a mass anxiety verging on panic. I’ve been talking to American businessmen (who certainly have no animus vs. the People’s Republic) recently returned from China, and for the first time they are now whispering very nervously about the immediate future of the place. Many of them have been approached by Chinese with money, asking the Americans to open businesses for and/or with them in the U.S., so they can get their cash onto this continent and buy a nice house in which to live when they have to depart.
These are the circumstances in which regimes look for foreign adventures, and if you look at Syria and Iraq, voila’! A dandy foreign adventure. The thing is, if the adventure is successful it’s great for the regime, but if it goes badly, as did the last Russian incursion in that part of the world (Afghanistan), it can be devastating.
It’s all about winning and losing. So far, the numbers don’t seem anywhere big enough to predict victory against whomever it is they are fighting. Is it IS? Al Qaeda? The Kurds? That will sort out fairly soon. Meanwhile our own President Obama seems to have a put-up-or-shut-up option, as per Putin at the UN. What will Obama do? All his nerve endings are on the “shut up” side, but then his beloved Iranians will be telling him to join the party. Can he possibly enter the war with serious forces?
Yes he can. Life is full of surprises. We’ll need a lot of popcorn.