The killing of Qasem Suleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis by Donald Trump has elicited the usual protestations from the usual pro-Iranian analysts and politicians who wet their pants whenever America responds to aggression.
It’s war, I tell you! Run for your lives! Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Their only problem is that they fail to explain just how Iran will go to war. In fact, Iran would be committing regime suicide if they attacked American interests in the Middle East or carried out terrorist attacks on American soil. What’s more, they know it. They may rant and rave, get their brain-dead supporters to march in the streets, shouting the tired, shopworn ‘Death to America” (exclamation point), but launching some of their missiles at American bases in Iraq and elsewhere in the region? Not a chance in hell.
Currently, the U.S. has an enormous amount of military hardware and assets in the region. There are nearly 200 fighter planes on American carriers just itching for a shot at the regime. There are hundreds of cruise missiles targeting every conceivable military facility. There are a couple of dozen stealth bombers ready to take out Iranian radar installations and other targets.
The Iranian military would be obliterated in a couple of days. Of course, then the complaints would be it wasn’t a fair fight.
So what is realistically coming next?
Khamenei has already appointed a successor to Soleimani, his deputy general, Esmail Qaani, and the mullahs will surely thunder from their podiums about America’s aggression. The regime will have to be seen as offering some kind of a response. But for all the fears already circulating that the United States just started World War III, Iran’s reaction is likely to be a calibrated one.
Ali Khamenei is a cagey leader who did not become one of the longest serving rulers in the Middle East by impetuously going to war with America. The clerical oligarchs respect American determination and understand the imbalance between a superpower and a struggling regional actor. They have never figured out Donald Trump, a U.S. president who offers unconditional talks while working to crater the Iranian economy. We should not expect Iran to take on a president who just ordered the killing of one of their famed commanders.
Nixon had some of that same unpredictability that his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger used to exploit to his advantage in negotiations. In that sense, “past is prologue” says the author Ray Takeyh.
When a truculent Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency, Iran hastily released the American diplomats it had held hostage for 444 days. When George W. Bush’s shock and awe campaign quickly displaced the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Iran responded by suspending its nuclear program. The mullahs relish assaulting America but are circumspect when facing a tough-minded, unpredictable president. The Islamic Republic had already pledged to retreat further from its nuclear obligations by next week. A move in that direction seems more likely at this point, as opposed to blowing up American diplomatic and military outposts.
Indeed, stomping its little feet and throwing a tantrum is about all Iran is capable of doing at this point. They may even try to take their case to the UN, although complaining about Trump doing away with the mass murderer Suleimani would probably stretch the hypocrisy of the UN to the breaking point.
But then, it’s an election year and hypocrisy goes hand in hand with politics. Democratic candidates will posture and breathe fire about “war” with Iran, but if they have half a brain, they know what the mullahs know.