I am not an Iran expert, and will not pretend that I have magically become one in the past few days. Nor do I see much point in a detailed chronicle of the latest developments and Tweets – for that, there is, say, /r/SyrianCivilWar.
Instead, I think it would be more productive to highlight a few things that may have perhaps gone under-reported.
(1) Obviously, this presents a major escalation on America’s part. And to date the US shows no signs of stopping, with Trump threatening to destroy 52 Iranian “cultural sites” (presumably the neocons will be as pleased with bombing ancient mosques as their Bolshevik predecessors were with blowing up old Russian Orthodox churches), Michael Pence now retconning the Iranians as the masterminds behind 9/11, and barring the Iranian Foreign Minister from the UN.
It really does seem that they are aiming for war, though this was – in retrospect – clear as early as last May when the US presented its unfulfillable demands for lifting sanctions.
(2) What is remarkable is the extent to which the US is prepared to flout international norms in pursuit of this aim. I remarked that the US seems to be reverting to quasi-medieval behavior in its international relations (e.g. seizing the family members of foreign tech oligarchs as hostages). Luring Soleimani to Iraq on the pretext of negotiations and then using the US military in the geopolitical equivalent of a gangland murder is an order of magnitude more “powerful” still. This is being rationalized by Republicans/Alt Lite on account of American exceptionalism – the Democrats are generally against it, but the brunt of their arguments revolve around how Trump is going about it (e.g. not consulting them), not with the general principle. And those same people will doubtless be outraged if/when that same refusal to accept that other nations have legitimate interests that are at odds with their own is weaponized again them.
(3) One concrete example of how this is rationalized by the MIGA/neocon crowd on account of the US assassination of Soleimani enjoying popular legitimacy, e.g. Pompeo: “Iraqis are dancing on the streets celebrating freedom. They’re thankful General Suleimani is no more.” The videos of the mass gatherings at his funeral give the lie to that, at least one would think – though at least one MIGA personality has claimed that all those millions only attended the funeral at the barrel of a gun – but it’s worth noting that we also have concrete numbers about Iranian opinion on the matter:
Iranians supporting Soleimani assassination will either be:
- At best, very unrepresentative, prob. emigres in most cases;
- “Officer’s daughter” type propagandists (famous case of Ukrainian male infowarrior forgetting to login & posting as anti-Russian woman in Crimea).
There is also a certain moderate/neoliberal kind of person – they mainly seem to be technocrat types from outside the US – who speculate that the Iranian elites are themselves secretly pleased at the US having gotten rid of a potential populist challenger – or perhaps even colluded in his assassination. I saw a Tweet to that effect from a female Russian finance/econ person, though I can’t locate it ATM. I think that the most that can be said is that they speak (or project) for themselves.
(4) Americans strongly dislike Iran according to all the polls. This is evident even on “dissident right” website such as this very one. This might be a blackpill to some, but conflict with Iran is not going to be unpopular, at least within the timeframes that matter. With less than a year to go, it shouldn’t hurt Trump and may well even help him. According to Election Betting Odds, Trump’s chances of winning in 2020 remain at 50% and haven’t budged since the start of the current crisis. So I would not rely on American “war weariness” holding the US back. Just look at the replies to people like Michael Tracey or Max Blumenthal on Twitter… quite unlikely that they are all MAGA bots.
(5) So here’s what we have now.
USA – The boomers have been triggered into reliving their 1979 psychological traumas and the Ziocons are at a peak state to offer them relief (no matter how short-term and ineffectual). On the plus side, there is more anti-war sentiment than in 2002-3. However, at the end of the day, even now 43% of Americans approve of the Soleimani assassination (vs. 38% who disapprove) and the propaganda spigots haven’t even been turned on, so there isn’t much scope for confidence in that regard. Finally, and this might be quite critical, one point I haven’t seen anyone make is that the US is now almost self-sufficient in oil production. This largely insulates it against Iran’s only feasible “nuclear” response.
Iran – Their economy is in the doldrums from American secondary sanctions (it is one thing when just the US refuses to trade with them; it is something entirely else when they leverage their position as the world’s financial hyperpower to prevent even Chinese or Russian entities from trading with Iran). The conditions for their removal are basically across the board capitulation, more radical with Austria-Hungary with respect to Serbia in 1914. They have no had their equivalent of McCain or Petraeus (in terms of social position – no intention to sully Soleimani by association) whacked by the US while on a diplomatic mission in a third country. So not responding at all might well be more dangerous, even in absolute terms, so far as regime stability is concerned.
The risk of an Iran-US war this year must is therefore decidedly untrivial. 40% sounds about right. How would such a war look like?