Terry Glavin, writing in Maclean’s magazine, says, and I fully agree, that “It may well have been capricious in the extreme for Donald Trump’s White House to order that spectacular hit in Iraq, but lets face it: the airstrike target was the Lord of the Flies. He got nothing less than he visited upon countless others who—unlike him—had no blood on their hands … [and] … Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian major-general who was incinerated in a precision Pentagon airstrike in Iraq on Thursday, was not just the most ruthless and blood-soaked warlord in the entire Middle East. He was Iran’s military-intelligence mastermind and the head of the Quds Force, which put him at the pinnacle of Tehran’s extraterritorial terror, espionage and military chain of command.” In other words, he got what was coming to him … no tears should be shed, by anyone, anywhere, for the demise of Qassem Soleimani. It was a good “hit” because, as Mr Glavin says, “Of the hundreds of thousands of innocents slaughtered across the Middle East over the past decade, it would not be a stretch to say most were murdered by Soleimani’s connivance, or at his direct order.”
But, and there are always a couple of ‘buts,’ aren’t there? Terry Glavin reminds us that:
- “Soleimani reported directly to Iran’s Supreme Leader, the gruesome, cold-blooded Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Among the terror groups and armies reporting directly to Soleimani were several powerful and notoriously savage Iraqi militias, as well as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Houthi militants in Yemen, Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Bashar Assad’s Syrian Arab Army.” That means he mattered, a lot, to Iran; and
- “Soleimani was the equivalent, you could say, of the U.S. secretary of state.“
Thus, Mr Glavin says, and again I agree, “Without getting into any of the partisan hyperventilation about whether Trump has just kicked off World War III, or wading into the quarrels about whether the operation should be understood as an assassination or an execution or a battlefield bullseye, a stroke of strategic genius, a wildly reckless miscalculation or just a drearily necessary act of civic hygiene, a number of deeply unsettling questions arise.“
OK, what “deeply unsettling questions“?
“To start with,” Tery Glavin asks: “just how much thought went into this? Is the United States ready to withstand the kind of “forceful revenge” that Ayatollah Khamenei has predictably threatened, and the “revenge for this horrific crime” that Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has demanded Iran’s allies in the region exact from the U.S.? Is America supposed to go into lockdown now?” and
He also asks: “what are the implications for the NATO mission in Iraq, headed by Canada’s own General Jennie Carignan, and for the 250-plus Canadian Forces military trainers and special-operations soldiers posted in and around Iraq? Did anyone ask NATO whether this was a good idea?“
“Those questions,” he says “will be widely and quickly canvassed, but there is another more pertinent and useful question that might be put to the Americans … What the hell took you so long?“
Mr Glavin spends quite a few paragraphs rehashing 21st century American ~ Bush, Obama and Trump ~ foolishness and folly in the Middle East but the whole region, the Middle East and South-West Asia (from the Libyan desert through Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Gulf States and Iran) only matters for one reason: oil. The oil which powers parts of America (partly because pipelines don’t connect enough American oil to enough American refineries and partly because oil is a fungible commodity and sometimes imports are cheaper on any given day) and lots of Europe and most of Asia comes, in large part, from the Middle East and a lot of it passes through the world’s biggest oil choke-point: the Strat of Hormuz (circled on the map).
One of the reasons China wants to control theSouth China Seas is that most of the petroleum that Taiwan, South Korea and Japan need comes from the Middle East and then through the South China Seas … in 2016 over 15 million barrels per day passed through those narrow, contested waters. Notwithstanding anything that Mark Carney, Justin Trudeau and Greta Thunberg might say or think, oil matters and it matters a damned site more, in strategic terms, in the 2020s than does climate change.
In strategic terms, Iran is an important regional power. It is on the verge of being a nuclear power and the BBC reports that in the wake of the elimination of Qassem Soleimani, “Iran has declared that it will no longer abide by any of the restrictions imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal.” But I doubt that Israel will allow Iran to produce a weapon. I don’t think Israel cares what Trump’s America, Xi’s China and/or Putin’s Russia might think, individually or collectively, about the region; my sense is that Isreal can and will act, unilaterally and in only its own vital interests to safeguard its strategic (nuclear-armed) supremacy in the Middle East.
Who did America ‘consult?’
At a guess: only Israel. And my guess is that it went beyond consultation and included coordination.
I suspect that America informed NATO and Russia. Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan “said Friday afternoon he has spoken with his U.S. counterpart,” but it was likely after the fact. Canada, let us all be clear, doesn’t count for much in anyone’s global strategic calculus.
Does this mark a strategic shift for Trump?
Mr Glavin points out, as have I, that President Trump is anything but a warmonger. In fact, he’s the most isolationist and least ‘warlike’ president the USA has had in over a century. He has put up with a lot from Iran and he pursues what I suspect is a broad albeit ill-considered strategic goal of disengaging from a troubled world. But enough can, eventually, be enough, even for President Trump and he has, finally, taken the gloves off.
Is this World War III?
Not likely. I expect Iran to retaliate, likely by disrupting tanker traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, likely by increasing terrorist attacks against Israel ~ which may provoke a harsh reaction, uncoordinated with anyone, and likely be attacking Saudi Arabia.
The frightening possibility is that Iran will launch fresh, direct, attacks against Israel and Israel ~ which is in the midst of a domestic political crisis ~ will respond with more force than anyone expects. China and Russia might intervene in the (mistaken) belief that Israel will respond to diplomatic pressure. That series of missteps could drag an unwilling and unready world past the brink of a tactical nuclear battle.
It is more likely, in my opinion, that Iran will lash out, using its proxies, including Hezbollah and Hamas, at what it perceives to be American proxies in the region. That will, likely, include Saudi Arabia and, perhaps, Egypt and Turkey, too. I think NATO’s training mission in Iraq, in which hundreds of Canadians are involved, is also in danger.
The prevailing ‘wisdom‘ on the Sunday commentaries seems to be “It’s hard to envision how this ends short of war.” (Susan E Rice in the New York Times.) Perhaps war is inevitable, throughout the region, and, possibly, it’s even the best way to sort out the many varied conflicts that keep North Africa, the Middle East and West Asia in turmoil.
Canada is, more than many Western nations, woefully unprepared for a global strategic crisis. Our national strategic leadership team is, to be charitable …
… a sad, pathetic joke: it has, in my opinion, made us weaker than we have been since the 1930s.
There is some good news: thanks, entirely, to projects put in place by Stephen Harper, the Canadian Forces are being, slowly, hesitantly, reequipped but there is far too little in the defence budget for the numbers of ships, tanks, vehicles, guns, aircraft and, above all, people that are needed.
For Canada, the best course of action is to replace Justin Trudeau’s failed Liberals with a Conservative government in 2021 … until then we must, just hope.
More to follow …