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The Beginning of The End

After the elimination of Iranian Quds Commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani on 3rd Jan around 1 a.m. local time, the US president warned leaders in Tehran, in a series of tweets, against following through on their threats to avenge the death of Soleimani. The US President tweeted “Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently hundreds of Iranian protesters”. “Let this serves as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!”

Qassem Soleimani was accountable for the deaths of more Americans than any terrorist leader since Osama Bin Laden. In Iran, however, he certainly was a venerable figure. Inside Iran, he is considered the most prominent or second most popular figure over the years. All the U.S. diplomatic, economic, and military approaches to limit Iranian influence in the region went in vain as he filled the vacuum which capitalized on Iranian nationalism. He may be the man largely responsible for the deaths of a large number of people in Syria, but Iranians saw him as the main figure who triumphed over the Islamic State. Amidst the political applause, it is crucial to acknowledge how much his death may have changed the operational environment and diplomacy.

Knowingly or not, Trump made two decisions. The first was to kill Soleimani. The second was to do so without subtlety. By using an American drone and then tweeting out first an American flag and then a contrived triumphant statement, Trump has left no doubt as to who is responsible for Soleimani’s death. As a result, the Iraqi government is now going to ratchet up the demand that American forces leave the country. The withdrawal of American forces simply cede Iraq to Iran against the wishes of most Iraqis, even those who do not particularly care for the United States either. This dynamic plays out against the backdrop of a political crisis and lame-duck government in Baghdad which gives Iran the opportunity to exponentially increase its influence.

Some political pundits now question whether Soleimani’s death raises a standard for deterrence. Will every Iranian figure plotting the deaths of Americans be killed? Alternatively, some Afghans have asked why, if Trump can kill Soleimani for his actions against Americans, why the U.S. military cannot target Pakistani figures supporting the Taliban? It is a good question.

Soleimani and Muhandis were targets of opportunity, and Trump took the decision to strike at them. It would be ridiculous, however, to ignore there will be an aftermath and many second and third-order effects. It is urgent that the U.S. national security bureaucracy draws the broad strategy to contain the negative and exploit the positive.

The Land of Aryans

Iran is the 17th largest country in world. It measures 1,684,000 square kilometers. That means that its territory is larger than the combined territories of France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Portugal — Western Europe. Iran is the 16th most populous country in the world, with about 70 million people.

If one looks carefully at a map of Iran, one can see that the western part of the country — the Zagros Mountains — is actually a land bridge for southern Asia. It is the only path between the Persian Gulf in the south and the Caspian Sea in the north. Iran is the route connecting the Indian subcontinent to the Mediterranean Sea. But because of its size and geography, Iran is not a country that can be easily travelled, much less conquered.

The location of Iran’s oil fields is critical in Iran. Oil is majorly found in the southwest region. The southwestern oil fields are an extension of the geological formation that created the oil fields in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Hence, the region east of the Shatt al-Arab is of critical importance to Iran. Iran has the third largest oil reserves in the world and is the world’s fourth largest producer. Therefore, one would expect it to be one of the wealthiest countries in the world. It isn’t. Iran has the 28th largest economy in the world but ranks only 71st in per capita gross domestic product.

Cul-de-Sac Country

Geographically Iran is a fortress. Surrounded on three sides by mountains and on the fourth by the ocean, with a wasteland at its center, Iran is extremely difficult to conquer. This was achieved only once by the Mongols, who entered the country from the northeast. The Ottomans also never made any attempt to move into the Persian heartland.

Mountains allow Iran to protect itself. However the mountainous region come with their own cultural and ethnic difficulties. Completely eradicating these cultures and ethnic groups is difficult. These groups resist absorption and annihilation. Although a Muslim state with a population over 55 percent ethnically Persian, Iran is divided into a large number of ethnic groups. It is also divided between the vastly dominant Shia and the minority Sunnis, who are congregated in three areas of the country — the northeast, the northwest and the southeast. Any foreign power interested in Iran will use these ethnoreligious groups to create allies in Iran to undermine the power of the central government.

Persian or Iranian government has as its first and principal strategic interest maintaining the internal integrity of the country against separatist groups. It is inescapable, therefore it mandatory for Iran to have a highly centralized regime, with an incredibly intense security machine. For many countries, holding together its ethnic groups is significant. For Iran it is essential because it has no room to retreat from its current lines and instability could undermine its entire security structure. Therefore, the Iranian central government will always face the problem of internal cohesion and will use its army and security forces for that purpose before any other.

For the Iranians, the current situation has posed a dangerous scenario similar to what they faced from the British early in the 20th century. The United States has occupied, or at least placed substantial forces, to the east and the west of Iran, in Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran is not concerned about these troops invading Iran. That is not a military prospect. Iran’s skepticism is that the United States will use these positions as platforms to foment ethnic dissent in Iran. For these motives Iran is desperate for a nuclear program. Having a nuclear capability creates uncertainty as to whether it has an offensive nuclear capability, in addition it projects a carefully honed image of ideological extremism that makes it appear unpredictable. It makes Iran emerge threatening and unstable.

The United States is aware of these operational difficulties with respect to Iran. It’s Navy keeps potent forces on station in an effort to manage events in the Middle East. Task forces centered on Boxer and the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln are currently operating in the region. That’s a sizable fraction of U.S. naval power for a theater, Washington longs to demote on its strategic agenda. The US is also aware that on a good day the US navy has just four nuclear-powered carriers like Lincoln. The remainder are undergoing maintenance or overhauls. That means two of seven naval-aviation ships are executing duties in or around the Gulf while five are entrusted with the rest of the globe. Tehran, it seems, has managed to entangle the world’s leading superpower in a theater it would like to be quit of; done so at low cost by employing light naval forces; exacted a high price from the superpower for the privilege of remaining in that unloved theater; and siphoned away resources the superpower needs for strategic competition in more crucial theaters. Iran is employing the strategy what Napoleon sardonically called the British strategy in ‘Peninsular war’ as ‘Spanish Ulcer’, it inflicted less-than-fatal but constant nagging pain, distracted attention and energy from more important affairs, and drained resources that should have gone into the main fighting theatre. It accomplished all objectives at a bargain-basement price.

Going Forward

Objectives of Iranian forces are clear. They want to keep war cheap for themselves and costly for the US. On the other hand if Tehran attacks shipping injudiciously, it will be picking a fight with the entire industrial world, not just Washington, and that’s a lot of foe we are talking about. So Iran hopes like hell that their opponents will tire of ceaseless struggle and strike an accommodation on Iranian terms—or go away altogether. It would up the ante against America and it’s allies using asymmetric war with the the help of various non-state actors for sure.
Any form of naval battle could be brief. Iran’s fleet has a long history of waging losing fights with the United States and other Western powers. The United States has two options, foster discontent in the ethnically troubled areas or go for a direct war. If the war starts, ultimately the forces would have to go ashore and that fight would not be easy and decisive one, and the US is aware of that.

388 thoughts

  1. Iran has hurled in to a halt do to pandemic 50% of their Military reserves are sick with (COVID 19) The armys are inactive do to crisis this is a poor choice if the US military goes to war in this crisis of a new world order programming you and rule over us in a bigger picture we just see what happens it will not be televised the elitist need something your rights…

    1. George Orwell stated in his book ’1984’, “The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory but to keep the structure of society intact”. That just about summarizes it all.

      1. Clearly you have a great point, The Novel provides a space to appreciate the value of individual thought – an evocative and timely narrative of personal freedom against political repression. Today, Orwell’s prescient story resonates around the globe as individuals, systems, and governments clash.

      2. So beautifully you adumbrated Schopenhauer’s thoughts when he said: “we deceive ourselves into thinking that our beliefs and actions are subject to our conscience”. Nietzsche concurred suggesting that all the things we believe in at any time, reflect not truth but someone else’s power over us.

      3. Reminds me of a quote from Schopenhauer ” A man can be himself only so long as he is alone, and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom, for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.” And also Nietzsche’s Quote “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” Well done Bravo, thoughts thank you

  2. America is heading Nazi Germany way one will think! Attacking inside other countries with drones, next what? No respect for international borders or any such thing is US motto lately!

    1. Sharmishtha, things are changing at breakneck speed in international diplomacy. If one is powerful enough, it can do whatever one wants. The United States is undisputed and only Superpower in the world today. But that time is not far, and if Thucydides’ prophecy is correct, then this equation is going to change soon.

    1. Sorry, I was busy with one of my projects. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

    1. I suppose, more than the Presidents and Prime Ministers, it is the team of advisors who matter, and give right or wrong advice.

    2. You seem to be blinded by hate, intolerance, and pc left culture. Please educate yourself in an objective manner. He, nor anybody, is perfect.

      1. Thank you so much, Bill, for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

    1. But I just don’t get it. Some of the Americans are vehemently pro-Trump and others just hate him. Whatever it is, America is losing a lot of prestige, and people in the civilized world just don’t like it?

      1. U.S. news,opinion, hollywood culture, educational system, most every form of media, is dominated by the left, to far left, world view. Trump is a real threat to the status quo, for them, Washington, and indeed the world. Their person (Hillary), didn’t make it, and their agenda was upset. Too many Americans will not take the extra time to be informed in a more objective way. Therefore, the country is truly about 50/50 split. I think you can probably imagine, if Trump had not been elected, that China would be much closer to the world IT wants. I recently discovered your sight. I appreciate your very informative writing. Thank you!

  3. Great article. Your view on the possibility of utilising various ethnic groups in Iran, by the U.S. is interesting, but as I see it, it is not that easy. Otherwise the U.S. would have done that already. Iran’s authoritarian regime holds a tight grip on its subjects.

    1. You are right. The use of ethnic groups was recommended to the United States since that was better than the direct confrontation. In fact, the US was doing exactly the same, when Coronavirus hit, and all the public demonstrations were stopped.

  4. I remembere my high school social studies class when i used to top my class in this subject (modesty aside) my mother is a historian so i grew up with her history books.
    All these years i thought i knew everything i needed to know about Iran and Iraq.
    But here you presented us with a really elaborate details of the country which i failed to read or even my history teacher ..

    1. I liked that… Modesty aside 😁. Well, we all are students and learning so many new things, every day. It is my pleasure to interact with a highly evolved mind. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Thank you for laying out these considerations into the future not just of these two countries but the world into which they are inextricably linked. The world is like a giant dominoe game. One domino falls and the rest….well it all just takes time.

    1. Thank you so much, Joseph, for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. The region we are talking about is already so complex and volatile, that there is no scope of adding another conflict.

      1. Indeed, it has much bigger potential. I shall throw some light on it in my concluding part.

  6. I’m glad to be following your very informative blog, I can see that I have much to learn from you and I sincerely appreciate your insight. God’s blessings on you and yours my friend.

  7. I think someone needs to work on their history a bit. Iran may be a difficult country to conquer but it has been conquered MANY times over the past 2+ millenia. To list them in chronological order: The Achaemenids, Alexander the Great, the Antigonids, the Seleucids, the Parthians, the Sassanids, the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Seljuk Turks, the Khwarazmians, the Mongols, the Timurids, the Safavids and finally the British and Soviets. Now I did leave out some ruling states that more usurped power rather than conquered the region and some of these invaders originated from territories within what might be considered Iran itself but this should demonstrate very clearly that Iran is far from an unconquerable region. it is one of the few connecting points between Europe and Asia and has be conquered from both directions by powerful states looking to expand from one direction or the other.

    1. Thank you so much, Liam, for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I am sure when you are referring to the United States conquering or subjugating Iran, you must have given enough attention to the U.S. conquests in Vietnam and Afghanistan, to name a few. Of course, future adventures in North Korea and maybe China, are also on the horizon.
      Do read my pathbreaking article in two parts:



      1. I wasn’t necessarily speaking of the US in particular here. I just noticed that at one point in the above article you stated that Iran had only ever been conquered by the Mongols, but there are in fact many other groups that have conquered he region in its history.

        I will be sure to give your other articles a look as well though 🙂

    2. What I wanted to say was, during the middle and modern ages. The British and Russians have never really ruled Iran, those were kind of political understandings.

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