[this analysis was written for the Unz Review]
Lies, damn lies and statistics
Turns out that Trump and the Pentagon were lying. Again. This time about the true impact of the Iranian counter-strike on US forces in Iraq. First they claimed that there were no injured U.S. personnel, only to eventually have to fess up that 34 soldiers had suffered traumatic brain injury (which Trump “re-classified” as a “headache”). Then they had to admit that it was not really 34, but actually 50!
According to some sources, not all U.S. personnel were hiding in bunkers and some were deployed to defend the base perimeter. Whatever may be the case, this adds yet another indication that the Iranian counter-strike was much more robust than originally reported by the Empire. In fact, Iranian sources indicate that following the strike, a number of wounded casualties were flown to Israel, Kuwait and Germany. Again, we will probably never find out the full truth about what happened that night, but two things are now certain:
- The Iranian attack was extremely effective and it is undeniable that all the US/NATO/Israeli forces in the region are now exposed like sitting ducks waiting for the next Iranian strike.
- Uncle Shmuel has had to dramatically under-report the real extent and nature of the Iranian counter-strike.
Now, let’s be clear about the quality of the warning the U.S. personnel had. We now know at the very least the following warnings were received:
- Warning through the Iraqi government (whom the Iranians did brief about their intentions).
- Warning through the Swiss authorities (who represent U.S. interests in Iran and whom the Iranian did brief about their intentions).
- Warning through the US reconnaissance/intelligence capabilities on the ground, air and space.
And yet, in spite of these almost ideal conditions (from the point of view of defense), we now see that not a single Iranian missile was intercepted, that the missiles all landed with very high accuracy, that the U.S. base itself suffered extensive damage (including destroyed helicopters and drones) and that there were scores of injured personnel (see this article for a detailed discussion of the post-attack imagery).
If we look at this strike as primarily a “proof of concept” operation, then it becomes pretty clear that on the Iranian side what was proven was a superb degree of accuracy and robust ballistic missile capability, whereas on the U.S. side the only thing this strike did was to prove that the U.S. forces in the region are all extremely vulnerable to Iranian missile attack. Just imagine if the Iranians had wanted to maximize U.S. casualties and if they had given no warning of any kind – what would the tally be then?! What if the Iranians had targeted, say, fuel and ammo dumps, buildings where U.S. personnel lived, industrial facilities (including CENTCOM’s key logistic nodes), ports or even airfields? Can you imagine the kind of hell the Iranians would have unleashed against basically unprotected facilities?!
Then ask yourself why Trump & Co. had to lie and minimize the real scope of the Iranian attack. It is pretty obvious that the White House decided to lie and to present the strike as almost without impact because if it had admitted the magnitude of the strike, then it would also have had to admit to the total powerlessness to stop or even to meaningfully degrade it. Not only that, but an outraged U.S. public (most Americans still believe the traditional propaganda line about “The Greatest Military Force in the History of the Galaxy”!) would have demanded a retaliatory counter-counter-strike against Iran, which would have triggered an immediate Iranian attack on Israel which, in turn, would have plunged the entire region into a massive war which the U.S. had no stomach for.
Contrast that with the Iranian claims which, if anything, possibly exaggerated the impact of the strike and claimed that 80 servicemen were injured (I would add here that, at least so far, the Iranian government has been far more candid and less inclined to resort to crude lies than the U.S. has). Clearly the Iranians were ready for exactly the kind of further escalation that the U.S. wanted to avoid at almost any cost.
So what really took place?
There are two basic ways to defend against an attack: denial and punishment. Denial is what the Syrians have been doing against the U.S. and Israel every time they shoot down incoming missiles. Denial is ideal because it minimizes your own casualties while not necessarily going up the “escalation scale”. In contrast, punishment is when you don’t prevent an attack, but when you inflict retaliatory counter-strike on the attacking side, but only after being attacked yourself. That is what the USA could do against Iran, at pretty much at any time (yes, contrary to some wholly unrealistic claims, Iranian air defenses cannot prevent the US armed forces from inflicting immense damage upon Iran, its population and infrastructure).
The problem with punishing Iran is you are dealing with an enemy who is actually willing to absorb immense losses as long as these losses eventually lead to victory. How do you deter somebody who is willing to die for his country, people or faith?
There is no doubt in my mind that the Iranians, who are superb analysts, are fully aware of the damage that the U.S. can inflict. The key factor here is that they also realize that once the U.S. unleashes its missiles and bombers and once they destroy many (if not all) of their targets, they will have nothing else left to try to contain Iran with.
Here is how you can think of the Iranian strategy:
- If the U.S. does nothing or only engages in symbolic strikes (say, like Israel’s strikes in Syria), the Iranians can simply ignore these attacks because while they are very effective in giving the Americans (or the Israelis) an illusion of power, they really fail to achieve anything militarily significant.
- If the U.S. finally decides to strike Iran hard, it will exhaust its “punishment card” in that counter-attack, and will have no further options to deter Iran.
- If the U.S. (or Israel) decides to use nuclear weapons, then such an attack will simply give a “political joker card” to Iran saying in essence “now you are justified in whatever retaliation you can think of”. And you can be darn sure that the Iranian will come up with all sorts of most painful forms of retaliation!
You can think of the current US posture as “binary”: it is either “all off” or “all on”. Not by choice, of course, but these conditions are the result of the geostrategic realities of the Middle-East and from the many asymmetries between the two sides:
|Combat capable ground forces||no||yes|
|Willingness to incur major losses||no||yes|
|Long and vulnerable supply lines||yes||no|
|Prepared for major defensive operations||no||yes|
The above is, of course, a simplification, yet it is also fundamentally true. And the reason for these asymmetries lies in a very simple yet crucial difference: US Americans have been brainwashed into believing that major wars can be won on the cheap. Iranians have no such illusions (most certainly not after Iraq, backed by the USA, the USSR and Europe, attacked Iran and inflicted immense destruction on the Iranian society). But the era of “wars on the cheap” is now long over.
Furthermore, Iranians also know that U.S. air superiority alone will not magically result in a U.S. victory. Finally, the Iranians have had 40 years to prepare for a U.S. attack. The U.S. has only really been put on notice since January 8th of this year.
Again, for the USA, it is “all in” or “all out”. We saw the “all out” in the days following the Iranian counter-strike and we can get an idea of what the “all in” would look like by recalling the Israeli operations against Hezbollah in 2006.
The Iranians, however, have a much more gradual escalatory capability, which they just demonstrated with their attack on the U.S. forces in Iraq: they can launch only a few missiles, or they can launch hundreds of them. They can try to maximize U.S. casualties, or they can decide to go after CENTCOM’s infrastructure. They can chose to strike Uncle Shumel directly, or they can decide to strike his allies (KSA) and bosses (Israel). They can chose to take credit for any action, or they can hide behind what the CIA calls plausible deniability.
So while the U.S. and the AngloZionist Empire as a whole are much more powerful than Iran, Iran has skillfully developed methods and means which allow it to be in control of what military analysts call the “escalation dominance”.
Has Iran just “ledeened” the almighty USA?
Remember Michael Ledeen? He is the Neocon who came up with this historical aphorism: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business“.
Is it not ironic that Iran did exactly that, they took the USA and “threw it against a wall, just to show that they meant business”, did they not?
And what does this all tell us?
For one thing, the U.S. military is in real trouble. It is pretty obvious that U.S. air defenses are hopelessly ineffective: we saw their “performance” in Saudi Arabia against the Houthi strikes. The truth is that the Patriot missiles never performed adequately, not in the first Gulf War, nor today. The big difference is that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq did not have any high-precision missiles and that its attempts to strike at the U.S. (or Israel, for that matter) where not very effective. Thus, it was easy for the Pentagon to fudge the real performance (or lack thereof!) of its weapon systems. Now that Iran has been able to pinpoint some buildings while carefully ignoring others shows that the entire Middle-East has entered a radically new era.
Second, it is equally obvious that U.S. bases in the Middle-East are very vulnerable to ballistic and cruise missile attacks. Air defenses are a very complicated and high-tech branch of the military and it often takes years, if not decades, to develop a truly effective air defense system. Due in part to its tendency to only attack weak and lightly-defended countries, and also due to the very real deterrent might the U.S. armed forces used to deliver in the past, the U.S. never had to really worry much about air defenses. The “little guys” had no missiles, while the “big guys” would never dare to openly strike at Uncle Shmuel’s forces.
Now, it is the previously almighty World Hegemon which has been tossed against a wall by a much weaker Iran and thus found itself being treated like a “small crappy little country”.
But there is much more to this story.
The real Iranian goal: to get the U.S. out of the Middle-East
The Iranians (and many Iranian allies in the region) have made it clear that the real retaliation for the murder of General Soleimani would be to bring about a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and Syria primarily, followed by a complete withdrawal from the entire Middle-East.
How likely is such an outcome?
Right now, I would say that the chances of that truly happening are microscopically small. After all, who could seriously imagine the U.S. leaving either Saudi Arabia or Israel? Ain’t gonna happen short of a true cataclysm.
What about countries like Turkey or Pakistan which are formally allies of the USA but which are also showing clear signs of being mighty fed-up with the kind of “patronage” the USA likes to mete out to its “allies”? Do we have any reason to believe that these countries will ever officially demand that Uncle Shmuel’s mercenaries (because that is what U.S. forces are, paid invaders) get the hell out?
And then there are countries like Iraq or Afghanistan which have hosted a very successful and active anti-U.S. insurgency which has kept U.S. forces hunkered down in heavily fortified bases. I don’t think there is anybody mentally sane out there who could offer a even semi-credible scenario of what a U.S. “victory” would look like in these countries. The fact that the U.S. stayed in Afghanistan even longer than the Soviets did shows not only that the Soviet forces were far more effective (and popular) than their U.S. counterparts, but also that Gorbachev’s Politburo was more in touch with reality than Trump’s NSC.
Whatever may be the case, I believe it is undeniable that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are lost and than no amount of grandstanding will change this outcome. The same goes for Syria where the U.S. is basically holding on out of sheer stubbornness and a total inability to admit defeat.
Uncle Shmuel’s “vision of peace” for the Middle-East
I just listened to the Idiot-in-Chief proudly present “his” Middle-East “peace” plan to Bibi Netanyahu and the world. This latest stunt shows two crucial things about the mind-set in Washington, D.C.:
- There is nothing which the U.S. ruling classes will not do to try to get the favor and support of the Israel Lobby.
- The USA does not care, not even marginally, what the people of the Middle-East think.
This dynamic, which is not anything new, but which received a qualitative “shot of steroids” under Trump, will only further contribute to the inevitable collapse of Empire in the Middle-East. For one thing, all the so-called “U.S. allies” in the region a;; understand that the only country which matters to the USA is Israel, and that all the others count for almost nothing. Furthermore, all the rulers of the Middle-East now also know that being allied to the USA also means being a cheap prostitute for Israel which, in turn, is guaranteed political suicide for any politician not wise enough to smell the trap. Finally, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Syria have shown that the “Axis of Kindness” is long on hyperbole and hubris, but very short in terms of actual combat capability.
The simple truth is that the abject brown-nosing of the Israel Lobby that Trump has been engaged in from Day 1 of his term only serves to further isolate and weaken the U.S. in the Middle-East (and beyond, really!).
In this context, how realistic is the Iranian goal of kicking Uncle Shmuel out of the region?
As I said, not realistic at all, if seen solely in the short term. But I hasten to add that it is very realistic in the mid-term if we look at some, but not all, the countries of the region. Finally, in the long term, it is not only realistic, it is inevitable, even if the Iranians themselves don’t do much, or anything at all, to make that happen.
Conclusion: “Israel’s” days are numbered
The Israelis have been feeding us all a steady diet about this or that country or politician being a “new Hitler’ who will either gas 6M Jews “again”, or wants to wipe Israel “off the map” or even engage in a new Holocaust. Gilad Atzmon brilliantly calls this mental disorder “pre-traumatic stress disorder”, and he is spot on. The Israelis mostly used this “preemptive geschrei*” as a way to squeeze out as many concessions (and money) from the western goyim as possible. But in a deep sense, it is possibly that the Israelis are at least dimly aware that their entire project is simply not viable, that you cannot ensure the survival of any state by terrorizing all of your neighbors. Violence, especially vicious, rabid, violence can, indeed, terrorize people, but only for so long. Sooner or later, the human soul will outgrow any fear, no matter how visceral, and will replace that fear by a new and immensely powerful sense of determination.
Here is what Robert Fisk said in distant 2006, 14 years ago:
You heard Sharon, before he suffered his massive stroke, he used this phrase in the Knesset, you know, “The Palestinians must feel pain.” This was during one of the intifadas. The idea that if you continue to beat and beat and beat the Arabs, they will submit, that eventually they’ll go on their knees and give you what you want. And this is totally, utterly self-delusional, because it doesn’t apply anymore. It used to apply 30 years ago, when I first arrived in the Middle East. If the Israelis crossed the Lebanese border, the Palestinians jumped in their cars and drove to Beirut and went to the cinema. Now when the Israelis cross the Lebanese border, the Hezbollah jump in their cars in Beirut and race to the south to join battle with them. But the key thing now is that Arabs are not afraid any more. Their leaders are afraid, the Mubaraks of this world, the president of Egypt, King Abdullah II of Jordan. They’re afraid. They shake and tremble in their golden mosques, because they were supported by us. But the people are no longer afraid.
What was true only for some Arabs in 2006, has now become true for most (maybe even all?) Arabs in 2020. As for the Iranians, they have never had any fear of Uncle Shmuel, they are the ones who “injected” the newly created Hezbollah with this qualitatively new kind of “special courage” (which is the Shia ethos, really!) when this movement was founded.
Empires can survive many things, but once they are not feared anymore, then their end is near. The Iranian strike proved a fundamental new reality to the rest of the world: the USA is much more afraid of Iran than Iran is afraid of the USA. U.S. rulers and politicians will, of course, claim otherwise. But that futile effort to re-shape reality is now doomed to failure, if only because even the Houthis can now openly and successfully defy the combined might of the “Axis of Kindness”.
You can think of U.S. and Israeli leaders as the orchestra on the Titanic: they play well, but they will still get wet and then die.
(*geschrei: the Yiddish word for yelling, crying out, to shriek)