There is a certain inevitability in the chain reaction caused by Soleimani’s killing.
President Donald J. Trump has based his policy towards Iran on the postulate that an economic strangulation of the country would lead to bloodshed on the streets and a Ceausescu-style meltdown of the clerical regime that has enjoyed full power in Teheran since the fall of President Abolhassan Bani Sadr in 1981. And that sanctions-created economic hardship would lead to the clerical regime following the example of Libya in 2003 of voluntarily giving up its stocks of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), thereby providing the window needed to force through regime change through military means, as took place in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011. And that Iran would greet the killing of Commander Soleimani with only a verbal rather than military response. Visitors to Washington will immediately sense the bubble within which strategic thinking takes place in that most consequential of world capitals. The hangover of Churchillian thought, with its suggestion of invincibility for those powers whose ethnic composition is mostly composed of those of European origin, shrouds attempts at analysing real life situations, leading to miscalculations such as President George W. Bush’s appointing a US citizen of European origin (Paul Bremer) as the “Administrator of Iraq” and another individual of Iraqi ethnicity who for all practical purposes thinks, acts and speaks as (other) Americans do as his “Advisor”. The assassination of Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani last week was the equivalent of a declaration of war against the clerical regime in Teheran, and there is a certain inevitability in the chain reaction caused by that killing. This action will end either in regime change in Iran or the withdrawal of US combat forces from the Middle East. President Trump has in the past shown a form of brilliance in his climb to the top. However, the fact that he lacks practical field experience outside the boundaries of the continental United States may influence his thinking on strategic issues. The Republican Party appears to have embraced a policy of looking at the European ethnic groups as being at the apex of human endeavour. This may have led to an underestimation of the fact that the pain threshold for the US administration in terms of body bags and asymmetric warfare is much below that which is bearable for the clerical regime in Iran, which has remained stable despite the enormous human and material cost that the Islamic Republic of Iran has endured since the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979. Last week’s hail of missiles from Iran to two military bases in Iraq showed that the taking out of at least 5,000 US service personnel in the Middle East in a single night is well within the capability of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arsenal.
Should the US unleash a military storm on Iran in the shape of retaliatory missiles and air strikes, the IRGC has the means to ensure significant destruction in countries within the Middle East that are hosting US troops. Such an escalation would lead to a meltdown of the global economy that would overshadow the impact of the 2008 financial crash, a crash which would affect the US and Europe substantially, if not as much as the regional Gulf Cooperation Council powers themselves and countries in Asia heavily linked to them economically, such as India, China, Japan and South Korea. It is not clear whether such potential outcomes of kinetic US action against Iran were taken into consideration while the NSC suggested to President Trump the option of taking out the Quds Force Commander. For by doing so the US administration has unwittingly engineered a change in the leadership of the Quds Force that is harmful rather than helpful to stated US objectives in the region. Commander Soleimani had made the elimination of ISIS, Al Qaeda and other Wahhabi armed extremist groups his top priority, His successor Esmail Qaani is known to hold the view that Al Qaeda, ISIS and other armed manifestations of Wahhabi extremism are parasites riding on the back of Israel, the US and the UK and will automatically perish once US forces are eliminated from the Middle East. Rather than reduce efforts directed against the presence of US forces in the Middle East, the new Quds Force Commander is likely to intensify moves designed to so raise the cost of hosting US forces by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE that they ensure that US bases within their jurisdictions close down. The crisis created by the admittedly courageous decision of President Trump to end the life of both the Quds Force commander as well as the chief of the most effective anti-ISIS force in Iraq (Kitaib Hezbollah) has led to Teheran warning Riyadh, Doha, Manama and Dubai that their territory will be pounded in case bases within them launch US attacks on the Islamic Republic of Iran. The less than welcoming response even of Saudi Arabia to suggestions expressed on Twitter by Trump that he would order US forces to initiate an all-out offensive against Iran shows that realisation that the clerical regime in Teheran is ready to meet punishment with punishment rather than surrender has sunk home. As already mentioned, the level of punishment that the regime in Iran can absorb is far above that which could be endured by either the NATO allies or their GCC supporters. Given the accretion of trouble that a newly awakened Iranian sense of resistance is likely to cause for US forces in the Middle East, it is doubtful that any NATO power (with the possible exceptions of Turkey and the ever loyal UK) will accept the invitation of President Trump to share the risks that he seems willing to subject US service personnel to in the Middle East. Agreeing to the JCPOA (nuclear deal) was in fact a concession by Iran that held the potential for the eventual ending of the primacy of the clerical regime and its replacement with a political construct of the kind created in 1980 by President Bani Sadr but successfully overturned by Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who used the invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein as the excuse to entrench the clerical regime in Teheran as the only power centre in the country. President Trump either did not appreciate the concealed clerical regime change aspect of the JCPOA, or believed that less subtle means would lead to clerical regime change at a faster pace in Iran. Judging by the results of the moves initiated by him, it does not seem likely that Trump was right in such an assumption.
For those within the region who believed that it was in their interest to entice and bait President Trump into going to war against Iran, it must be disappointing to see the manner in which he declared a tactical defeat (the launch of Iranian missiles directly at US bases without a response) as a strategic victory. Trump is clearly better aware (post the Iran missile strike) of the consequences of kinetic action against Iran than when he took out Soleimani. This move has led to a situation where US forces will be subjected to a slow but relentless campaign by allies of Iran and by Teheran itself to withdraw from their bases in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar and the UAE. Commander Soleimani must be smiling from wherever he is at the moment.