Belmont Club

WW III Didn't Happen, But Something Else Did

(Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office via AP)

World War III with Iran in retaliation for the killing of terror mastermind Qasem Soleimani failed to materialize. Instead, Iran fired about a dozen missiles at airfields hosting U.S. forces in Sunni and Kurdish areas of Iraq and despite deadly intent, failed to cause casualties. Content with that bootless result, the ayatollahs offered to end the cycle of retaliation, at least for now, citing their generous and forgiving nature.

The abrupt de-escalation of military conflict caused by the actual impracticability of open war left inflamed political passions with nowhere to go. So they burst their channels in various ways. The reaction to Soleimani’s death has proved more destructive than the original strike itself. It has already caused one mass-casualty funeral stampede born of crowds eager to prove how beloved the late IRGC chief was; an Iranian missile volley that fortunately missed the town of Hit fired by the ayatollahs for face-saving reasons; and one accidental shootdown of a Ukrainian jetliner killing nearly 200 passengers in vigilance of an American strike that never came. It also precipitated a nonbinding Congressional resolution “asserting that President Donald Trump must seek approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran.”

The war powers resolution is not binding on the president and would not require his signature. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nonetheless insisted it “has real teeth” because “it is a statement of the Congress of the United States.”

The measure will “protect American lives and values” by limiting Trump’s military actions, Pelosi said. “The administration must de-escalate and must prevent further violence.″

Referring to the Iranian shootdown of the airliner, Representative Jackie Speier of the House Intelligence Committee blamed Trump, saying, “if what is being projected is true, this is yet another example of collateral damage from the actions that have been taken in a provocative way by the president of the United States.” But the origins of the hatreds ran deeper than Trump, rooted in more than 40 years of secret war. Even the accidental firing on the Ukrainian plane by Iran was foreshadowed by the shootdown of Iran Air flight 655 by the U.S. Navy in 1988.

The NYT has obtained video of the SAM hit this week that allows us to visualize what took place. “A small explosion occurred when a missile hit the plane, but the plane did not explode, the video showed. The jet continued flying for several minutes and turned back toward the airport … before it exploded and crashed quickly, other videos verified by The Times showed.” That small explosion probably represented the effect of a continuous rod warhead that blew out a circular pattern of steel which riddled the fuselage, punctured the fuel cells and smashed the engine like a giant Ginsu in the sky. The pilot apparently tried to return the plane, its systems cut in half, to the airport before the blaze ignited the main tanks, but he could not.

That is what it must have been like for U.S. troops when EFP fragments came through the vehicle side. A similar sort of hell overtook countless civilians who’ve perished in the long low-intensity conflict. Soleimani killed thousands upon thousands, both Americans and others over the years. But secret war is never real until you put a face to it. Soleimani was the man, the Islamic Republic was the regime that no one was supposed to anger lest they turn their baleful glare on us instead of passing by to kill someone else.

That fact can’t be hidden anymore, not even by the nuclear deal.

The end of the secret war phase has left Iran with the strategic problem of continuing a campaign it cannot afford to wage openly. But it also left Washington with a situation they can neither continue to deny nor fob off with nonbinding congressional resolutions. We have yet to learn how to survive in our globalized world with the monsters. As Andy McCarthy put it: “25 years ago today we started jury selection in the Blind Sheikh trial against jihadists who were making war on our country. The long war is not over, but our divisions are more threatening than our enemies. I wish I’d understood that better.”

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