Soleimani Episode – Historical Norm for Reversing Enemy’s Asymmetry

 

Classic tactics never change. Extremely capable men take armies to victories, victories that make them legends. And becoming a legend draws more fighters to the leader’s side hoping for both glory & riches. Their opponents, if they are smart, understand that the best and the most optimal tactic is to somehow kill or incapacitate such a legendary commander of the enemy. 

Go back to the first crusade & Richard I of England. He faced Salah ud din, or Saladin as western writers call him. Salah ud din had defeated & annihilated the Christian Crusader armies of Guy de Lusignan, king of Jerusalem at the battle of Hattin in 1187. It was Richard’s turn to face the forces of Salah ud din. That was not easy because Salah ud din used fast mobile warfare against Christian forces used to fight pitched battles using heavy armor. 

So, it is said, Richard challenged to Salah ud din to a duel promising his Christian crusader army would leave if Salah ud din defeated him. Richard knew that if he killed Saladin, the demoralized Muslim army would leave the battlefield & disband. But Salah ud din was smart & ignored Richard’s challenge. Richard did win the next battle in 1191 against Salah ud din but was smart enough to use that victory to sign a treaty with Salah ud din & end that Crusade. 

Look through out history & you will see how decades of warfare could have been avoided by killing or assassinating smart, popular commanders. Imagine how many years of bloodshed would have been avoided if Napoleon had been assassinated by Austrian, Prussian or British agencies. What if Hitler had been assassinated in his early years? 

1.Asymmetrical War by Iran-Soleimani against Trump’s America

Every one knows by now that Iran is under inexorable economic pressure from President Trump’s sanctions. Iranians protested & rioted in Iran; there were protests in Iraq & Lebanon against the Iranian presence in those countries. To quote George Friedman of Geopolitical Futures,

  • “In other words, the gains that Iran had made were in danger of being reversed, while the Iranian economy itself was weakening.”

Iran had to do something to force America to reduce the economic pressure & make a deal with Iran on Iran’s terms. Every one now knows the sequence by now. Iran seized oil tankers in the Persian Gulf trying to force President Trump to respond militarily. But President Trump was much too smart to do that. So then Iran attacked the attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, a big red line for yesterday’s America.

As Dr. Friedman wrote last week,

  • “The goal was to demonstrate the weakness of the United States as a guarantor of regional stability and the ability of the Iranians to impose counter-economic pressures and, in the worst of cases, cause a U.S. intervention. The latter would be an intervention with insufficient force and might solidify the government’s position, providing an otherwise unhappy populace and Iran-sponsored militias with a unifying cause.”

The strategy made sense. Look at the recent American history. The American War bureaucracy knows only one method – send US troops to intervene in the Middle East to reassure allies & to fight the Iraqis, Iranians, Syrians etc. The fact that these have been counterproductive at best & disastrous at worst has not & will not deter this war bureaucracy. 

To his tremendous credit, President Trump refused to take the bait. US allies in the Gulf were shocked to their core. And a panicked Saudi Arabia & UAE opened talks with Iran to protect themselves from Iran. But Iran was not content with that. They wanted President Trump to begin negotiating.

So they escalated their campaign & arranged an attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on December 31 and the Ayatullah publicly insulted President Trump in a jeering tweet on January 1:

  • Khamenei.ir@khamenei_ir –  Jan 1 – That guy has tweeted that we see Iran responsible for the events in Baghdad & we will respond to Iran. 1st: You can’t do anything. 2nd: If you were logical —which you’re not— you’d see that your crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan… have made nations hate you. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1212121026072592384

In our opinion, the tweet was not only an insult meant to goad President Trump. The Iranian leadership actually had begun believing its rhetoric about President Trump being all bark & no bite. So in an extraordinary dangerous & stupid act, they allowed Qaseem Soleimani, their legendary commander of Iran’s Quds force, to go into Baghdad.  

As Dr, Friedman wrote last week,

  • “… the American read that the Iranians were being pressed to the wall was confirmed by his presence. Iran was taking a major risk given his knowledge of its operational capabilities. That meant that the Iranians had decided on escalating beyond prior attacks. …. In other words, he was working with his Iraqi counterpart to carry out significant operations. “

Unfortunately for Soleimani & the Iranian leadership, they were dealing with President Trump & not the previous step-by-step process driven Presidents. He did not consult with the US Congress or US allies. Instead he took the opportunity that Iran had given him and & took out Soelimani in a fast & asymmetric response. 

The Ayatullah who publicly taunted President Trump “You can’t do anything” was reduced to public tears & private mind-blowing shock. Neither he nor any one else in the Iranian leadership had ever imagined that President Trump would terminate Soleimani.  

If the leadership was so publicly shocked to their core, imagine what must have happened to the lower operational levels of the Quds force & to proxy forces in Iraq & Lebanon who take orders from Iran. Reportedly, there has been chatter in those circles about going into hiding & refusing to side with Iran at least right now.

President Trump knew that Iran would be forced to respond & he was in no mood to tolerate that. He publicly warned Iran in the clearest possible terms that Iran would be hit very fast & very hard if they retaliated against American forces or American interests. This time the Ayatullah did not publicly jeer. Instead he remained totally silent & Iran only did a token retaliation without harming a single American. 

President Trump accepted Iran’s climb down & tweeted: 

  • Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump – All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.

But understand the meaning of “So far, so good!”. That only applies to the physical war. The economic pressure on Iran will not only continue but will get even more inexorable from new economic sanctions imposed by President Trump on Friday, January 11. 

How reassured & thrilled must Saudi Arabia & UAE be? Their biggest threat from Iran has been removed in a single blow without any blow back and without shedding a single drop of blood. The bad actors in the Middle East & elsewhere will now be far more careful about acting against President Trump’s warnings.

As we wrote in our conclusion last week:

  • “It has proved foolish to make big statements about the Middle East. Despite that, we feel the termination of Soleimani by the Trump Administration is a seminal moment for the Middle East. ….  we do think we will look back at the Soleimani termination & see how it changed the power equation in the Middle East.” 

Richard the Lion Heart would have applauded. 

 

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