How To Ensure a Big, Ugly War with Iran

Iranian-backed militias have attacked American installations and forces in Syria, Iraq, and Jordan some 170 times.

Ostensibly, these terrorist groups claim they are hitting US forces to coerce America into dropping its support of Israel and demanding a cease-fire in the Gaza war.

In reality, these satellite terrorists are being directed in a larger effort by Iran to pry the US. out of the Middle East, in the manner of the 1983 Marine barracks bombing.

That way, Iran will be free to fulfill its old dream of becoming a nuclear shield for a new Shiite/Persian terrorist axis from Tehran to Damascus to Beirut to the West Bank and Gaza—surrounding Israel and intimidating the Gulf regimes and more moderate states like Jordan and Egypt into concessions.

These Iranian appendages have made a number of unfortunately correct assumptions about America in general and the Biden administration in particular.

One, after the recent serial humiliations of the flight from Afghanistan, the passivity of watching a Chinese spy balloon traverse with impunity the continental United States, the mixed American signals on the eve of the Ukraine war, the troubled Pentagon’s recruitment and leadership lapses, and the destruction of the US southern border, both Iran and its surrogates feel that the United States either cannot or will do much of anything in response to their aggression.

They see the U.S. military short thousands of recruits, its leadership politicized, its munition stocks depleted by arms shipments to Ukraine and Israel, and the massive abandonment of weapons in Kabul.

Two, they view Joe Biden’s serial appeasement as a force multiplier of these perceptions of American weakness. After entering office, the Biden administration begged for a renewed Iran deal from a preening theocracy. It sought to ensure calm by delisting the Houthis from global terrorist designations and sending hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas and radical Palestinians to buy good behavior.

Biden may have agreed that Iran was the spider in the center of the Middle East Islamic terrorist web, but only thereby to win over it with bribes such as lifting embargoes and sanctions to ensure an Iranian windfall of $90 or more billion in oil sales revenue.

Biden greenlighted a bribery payment of $6 billion to Iran to return American hostages, thereby ensuring more will be taken. It loudly distanced itself from the Netanyahu government. The gulf encouraged radicals to believe they could coerce Israel into accepting radical Islamic states on the West Bank and Gaza.

Three, after hitting American stations and bases 170 times and seeing little sustained, much less disproportionate, responses, Iran and its satellites now feel they are winning proxy wars with the US.

They have all but shut down the Red Sea as an international shipping route—damaging Europe, Egypt, and Israel, which all depend on Red Sea commerce for vital imports and exports.

Iran has forced Biden to publicly alienate the Netanyahu government and push a ceasefire down Israel’s throat. And it has helped to spark international pro-Hamas protests throughout Europe and the US that timid and compliant left-wing governments fear could lose them close elections.

But most damaging are administration spokesmen who mouth the same empty script after each serial attack: 1) The US will respond at the time and place of its own choosing. 2) The US finds no direct evidence of Iranian involvement, although it clearly has supplied the attackers; 3) The US does not wish a wider war and has no plans to attack Iran itself.

Translated to our enemies, it means an 80-year-old non-compos-mentis president is in no position to prevent, much less win, a theater-wide Middle East war that his own serial appeasement has now nearly birthed.

Biden and the Democratic Party know, as National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan pointed out just prior to the October 7 attacks on Israel, that the administration inherited a deterred and quiet Middle East. And then it blew up on their appeasing watch.

Now they are terrified of a theater-wide conflict breaking out during an election year—a fact known to all of America’s Middle East enemies.

Biden and company have forgotten the ancient wisdom that preparing loudly only for peace guarantees war. To prevent war, it should return to oil sanctions on Iran, embargo its banking transactions, slap a travel ban on Iran and its allies, cut off all aid to Hamas and the West Bank, and restore a true terrorist designation for the Houthis.

US officials must stop aimlessly babbling. If the administration must speak, Washington should do so by conveying disproportionality and unpredictability. And if, and when, America were to strike, it should do so in silent and devastating fashion.

When serially attacked, loudly responding that we will only proportionally strike back and wish no wider war will only ensure a big, ugly one.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author of the just released New York Times best seller, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend into Annihilation, published by Basic Books on May 7, 2024, as well as the recent  The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump, and The Dying Citizen.

Photo: Flag of Islamic Republic of Iran.

Notable Replies

  1. The Big, Ugly War is actually being fought right now and will be decided this November–if not sooner. Whether the American people win this war may depend less on what they want than the means their enemy (the Ruling Class, elites, etc.) is willing to use to stop them.

    Meaning it is becoming clear that voting no longer matters, but to the extent it might, industrial-scale cheating by powerful forces will be employed to guarantee a particular outcome.

    Thus, the only consideration for Iran–or for that matter, the rest of the world’s thugs and madmen–is whether a war at this moment will help accelerate final takeover of the US government by fascist, neo-Marxist megalomaniacs, or rather if calculated patience is required to wait out the political drama climaxing later this year.

    Or, as the saying goes, never let a crisis go to waste.

  2. “A big reply” will result in 50 instead of 25 massive sand piles being destroyed. After all, we are now six days from the Tower 22 episode, and nothing has happened. Iran and its proxies have had plenty of time to move their personnel and equipment to “undisclosed locations.” If Biden wants to get Iran’s attention, and, honestly speaking, he doesn’t, then take out Kharg Island.

  3. What, exactly, does Hanson propose? I’ve been to Iran. It’s mostly desert and it’s practically land-locked except for the Caspian Sea, which is actually a large saltwater lake with no access and the Persian Gulf, which is nearly 400 miles from Tehran, the capitol. All the US military can really do is throw bombs and rockets at desert in hopes of hitting something.

  4. The optimist in me says Biden knows he’s finished come this November and wants to leave his archenemy Donald Trump with a huge war to handle. The pessimist in me says we’re being led off a cliff by a senile corrupt old man while his inner-circle is rearranging chairs and Congressional Democrats are playing music.

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