If the hive be disturbed by rash and stupid hands, instead of honey, it will yield us bees.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Once again, we find ourselves on the brink of war. For the third time in our lives for some of us, the United States may be about to embark on a prolonged conflict. Because of recent experiences we don’t have to imagine what the costs may be—we already know, although we may not be able to envision all of them.
First, of course, is the cost in blood—American as well as others, combatants as well as innocent civilians who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Second, is the cost in treasure. Our latest adventure(s) in the Middle East has cost us more than a trillion dollars. Imagine how many highways, water mains, bridges and other public works projects that could have paid for in the United States.
Third, is the opportunity cost. If weakening the mullahs’ power grip is an aim of our foreign policy, then we have just given the Iranian regime a huge gift. Iran has been racked by recent demonstrations, and deadly crackdowns, for the past several months. Killing Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani has accomplished what the Iranian regime could not: It has united the Iranian population.
Just a brief look back. The Middle East has not been stable since the end of World War II (and actually farther back). Besides the Israel-Palestinian conflict we had turmoil in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and probably some other countries I’ve missed. After the Gulf War in 1991, Saddam Hussein still held power, but he had been considerably weakened. He did not have weapons of mass destruction, and if our multi- multi-billion dollar intelligence services had been doing their job, we would have known that.
Removing Saddam Hussein from power (and ultimately from life) opened up what I will cleverly call a Pandora’s box. Perhaps not all, but much of the Middle East chaos of the past 16 years stems from the decision to invade Iraq. No WMDs were found, and democracy has not been established in Iraq. It was a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of democracies to think that we could impose democracy on a society riven with ethnic and religious divisions. That was why it was governed by an autocratic regime in the first place!
Both the Bush and Obama administrations had the opportunity to kill Suleimani, who apparently moved about openly, but they both refrained from doing so because of the potential consequences
When the Pentagon presented the current president with a list of options to retaliate for the killing of an American contractor in Iraq and attacks on American military installations, the Pentagon reportedly included killing Suleimani as an extreme choice supposedly to make other options more attractive. According to news reports, defense officials were dumbstruck when Trump elected to go after Suleimani.
Nor, apparently, were congressional leaders briefed in advance of the operation. Trump acted alone, as though he were some kind of medieval potentate. We have arrived at this juncture because Donald Trump, in his obsession to undo anything and everything that Barack Obama did, abrogated the Iran nuclear deal—supposedly because he thought he could get a better one. Instead, Iran has methodically —although not completely—withdrawn step-by-step from observing its obligations under the agreement. I’m not one for predictions, but it’s hard to see how killing Suleimani will bring Iran back to the negotiating table.
We may ask, again, is there a strategy behind these moves by the Trump administration? If so, perhaps the American public might be informed what it is.
I haven’t addressed the other large issue that the Suleimani killing poses. Allegedly, Suleimani was planning an imminent attack on American installations somewhere. That justification is at odds with another report that Trump, outraged by the attack on the American embassy in Baghdad, ordered the attack that killed Suleimani.
If that account is correct, then we have a case of a potentially catastrophic step being taken in a fit of anger. Once again we are confronted by the question of the temperament and personality of the current commander-in-chief.
We are days into this crisis and yet the administration has still not presented any evidence to justify its claim of an imminent attack. And, conceding the possibility that such evidence may exist, how does killing Suleimani eliminate the threat? A successor has already moved into Suleimani’s chair. He no doubt knows of the supposed plan and could order it to be executed.
The essential element missing in all of this is trust. Trust that our leaders are telling the truth; trust that they are acting on good intelligence; trust that they have carefully considered the potential ramifications of their actions, and trust, in other words, that they know what they are doing.
That trust, unfortunately, no longer exists. Sad.