Don’t Fight the Last War

A firm President Trump laid down the gauntlet on Iran and stepped back from all-out war when he announced in the radiant and brilliant light of the White House—accompanied by the full military brass, his vice president, secretary of defense, and secretary of state—that, “he was backing away from further military action” after Iran “backed down.”

While the world sighed in relief and said he acted “presidential,” it raised the larger question of what comes next with respect to an overall Iran strategy in a region that remains tense, armed to the teeth, and on guard.

Donald Trump’s strategy, as opposed to George W. Bush’s stupid strategy of invasion and decades-long occupation, is critical.

“Maximum pressure” as Trump termed it, has three main elements of American prowess, all of which differentiate it from the past. First, it uses economic warfare, instead of military hardware wherever possible. Second, it will now involve NATO, as the United States is energy independent and it is the rest of the world that depends on Middle East oil.

And finally, rather than regime change à la John Bolton and other warmonger neoconservatives, Trump seeks regime collapse. There is a huge difference. 

Here are the six questions that need to be addressed.

1) Why should we assume that a war with Iran is equivalent to the Iraq war?

Do we not have a different agenda and purpose, a different administration? A different enemy? Would such a war be a war of liberation or of nation-building? I think not.

Would it even be a typical war or a specific military response(s)? Would it require occupation? Clearly, for Trump, the answer is in the negative. Military leaders, generals, and admirals are prone to fight the last war and believe that nothing ever changes. This tendency to fight the proverbial last war has repeated itself down the centuries with bad results.

These are new times, however, and they demand new approaches. Trump’s team is devising one and has no ambition for another bellicose misadventure in the Middle East, which costs trillions, kills millions, and leaves nothing but blood in the sand. 

2) If the United States completely withdrew from the Middle East, not just Iraq, would that change Iran’s behavior? Would the United States be more or less safe?

The Middle East is a bad neighborhood full of thugs. Iran’s diabolical terror regime steeped in Shia theology and revolutionary garb is more than 40 years old. For centuries the primary motive and animosity have been against the larger Sunni Muslim persuasion. For them, it is a matter of heresy. Why should we care one iota? The United States is not going to solve this deep religious hatred and long-standing rivalry and violence. Let them have it out.

Iran has a totalitarian theocracy and uses proxies across the region to do its evil business. It is a volatile environment. This would not change. 

The United States would be no safer, but we would be free of the cost in lives and cash that come with being an intervening power. Iran ultimately wants world domination and conversion of the world which are, truthfully, as unlikely as they are unwelcome.

3) If Iran achieves a nuclear arsenal, would that change the regime’s behavior?

Would the Iranian regime be more or less aggressive? Would it be more or less of a threat? More or less belligerent?

Iran is hell-bent on becoming a nuclear power. It could use such weapons as it has often stated, to wipe Israel off the map or destroy Saudi and United Arab Emirate oilfields. Estimates suggest that this could happen in as few as six months. They have an extensive network of centers dedicated to this aim and have skirted inspections and agreements to restrain their behavior. The president of the United States notably opened his White House announcement with the memorable line: “Iran will never have a nuclear weapon.” Since he firmly believes this, there must be a way to ensure such. 

How he will assure this is the most critical issue. There could be another diplomatic route, free of the shackles of Barack Obama’s failed Iran nuclear deal. There could be an economic scenario with extremely harsh sanctions that essentially close the Iranian economy completely. Or there could be, if and only when absolutely necessary, a limited military path that would likely also include Israel and other U.S. allies. All of them are on the table. Time is of the essence. Iran is an aggressor regional power that needs to be contained and deterred. This Trump realizes.

4) Is Iran merely responding to moves made by the United States or does it have its own agenda?

If the latter, why assume that everything that happens depends on our decisions alone? Are there regimes (ideologies) that require an external “enemy” in order to hold or maintain control over their own populations?

Iran acts independently of the actions of the United States, the United Nations, regional influence, or even the actions of its supporters. Its irrational and mad eschatology drives it to extreme positions and has made it the number-one state sponsor of terrorism in the world. No one would miss the Ayatollah or its insane regime, most certainly not the majority of the Iranian people, who want freedom and a degree of prosperity. Without a nemesis and “Death to America” the current Iranian regime would not remain in power. 

5) Platitudes aside, what is the long-term foreign policy of the U.S. Democratic Party? What is the foreign policy of CNN? The New York Times

It should be abundantly clear that the Democratic Party and all its presidential candidates, as well as many of its congressional members, side more with Iran than they do with the United States government. They have abandoned any pretense of patriotism and have become traitors to the cause. It is hard to believe such anti-Americanism, not just anti-Trumpism, will get them re-elected. Their foreign policy seems to be akin to Obama’s but is even more outlandish—an extensive apology tour and the removal of American influence and power from the world. 

The mainstream media go one step further and the New York Times and CNN embrace this most boldly: Trump is illegitimate and must be nullified, impeached, and removed from office. Iran is benign, and even if a bit bloody, is harmed by a malignant United States and deserves our understanding. We should have a world government and peace will ensue.   

6) When and where has appeasement ever worked?

Quite simply the answer is never. When Neville Chamberlain came back from Munich after meeting Adolf Hitler and announced, “Peace in our time” he was proven wrong within months. Isolationists like Charles Lindbergh and Nazi-sympathizers, including U.S. Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, were equally wrong. 

It can be argued that appeasement caused World War II because it allowed Hitler and the Nazis to build Germany’s military power until it was strong enough to fight a major war. Appeasement equally emboldened Germany, making it think the Allies would never have the will to fight.

Historians and students of international relations don’t seek any single sweeping explanation that can account for all wars. Wars are perhaps more like traffic accidents and some conditions make them much more prevalent. What we do know is that at the start of any given conflict, some leader makes a conscious decision that is not accidental.

Take note, we have a new Iran strategy and we should now embrace it. Don’t fight the last war.

About Theodore Roosevelt Malloch

Theodore Roosevelt Malloch is a scholar, diplomat, and strategist who was active in the Trump campaign in 2016.

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