Sunday, September 22, 2019

"Team Iran"

A week or so ago the government of Iran launched a military attack on Saudi Arabia. It sent missiles into Saudi oil fields, destroying some part of oil production, and affecting the world energy markets. 

It’s nice to say that we are energy independent-- we are-- but it is also worth noting that if your customers and suppliers are suffering from an energy shortage, your happiness about being self-sufficient energy wise will feel like a pyrrhic victory. Besides the energy market is a world wide market. It determines price around the world. If you imagine that such an incident would not affect the American economy you are vaping too much of the wrong stuff.

Of course, Iran is a mortal enemy of the United States. It never misses an opportunity to say so. And Iran is responsible for murdering a large number of Americans. It also routinely hangs gays for being gay and tosses women in jail if they dare take off their hijabs. 

As for Saudi Arabia, it has been a sometime ally for decades now. We recall that in 2017 the kingdom convened a summit to declare war on Islamist terrorism, highlighting its renunciation of terrorism and radical Islam, embracing President Trump and his efforts to defeat a movement that Barack Obama never recognized, at all. At the same time Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman launched a modernization drive in his kingdom, aiming at bringing Islam into the modern world.

Then, Saudi authorities murdered a journalist named Jamal Khassoggi, and, the Iran proxy armies in American politics immediately decided that we can no longer do any business with Saudi Arabia. 

By contrast, Iran has been leading the march toward a discredited past. Today, it has taken over swaths of Iraq and Syria and Lebanon. In those places America’s ally Israel has taken the fight to the Iranian forces.

For their part the Saudis have cut back on their support for Palestinian terrorism. Today Hezbollah and Hamas are largely supported by Iran, with money generously given it by the Obama administration. The Trump administration has cancelled the Iran nuclear deal, and has imposed crippling sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Such is the state of affairs in the Middle East. You would think that Americans would know the difference between friends and enemies. Apparently not.

As Lee Smith points out in an excellent article for Tablet, when Iran attacked Saudi Arabia, a chorus of Iran lovers, a group that he calls Team Iran, immediately took to the airways to defend Iran. These putatively peace loving leftists were embracing military aggression.

If minimal social intelligence requires you to know the difference between your friends and your enemies, they failed the test. Their loyalty to Obama and his legacy largely outpaces their loyalty to America and her allies.

Smith writes:

It wouldn’t seem hard for anyone remotely interested in the fate of the planet to draw at least one clear lesson from last Saturday’s Iranian strikes on Saudi Arabia: There is no way that the regime that casually took 50% of Saudi oil production offline can ever be allowed to get anywhere near possessing a nuclear bomb. Imagine what a nuclear-armed Iran might do to the oil production on which the entire planet depends for energy, transportation, and food. Does anyone really care to wager that an Iranian regime that had such devastating weapons wouldn’t actually use them? That seems like a bad bet. 

Immediately, Team Iran started denouncing Saudi Arabia, for 9/11, and declared that President Trump, who announced that he needed to consult with the Saudis before responding, was a Saudi stooge. If you cannot be a Russian stooge, why not be a Saudi stooge? As though we could intervene in a foreign nation’s wars without consultation!

Smith was rightly shocked to see how much support Iran, a hostile nation aggressing a neighbor, had garnered in the political world:

The oil fields were still burning as former Barack Obama aides, Democratic Party officials, political operatives, and journalists rolled out an arsenal of tweets, quotes, and op-eds laying down cover for a military attack targeting the world’s oil supply. In a different time, the idea of a public campaign to cheer on an operation whose intended effect was to raise oil prices and terrorize a traditional US ally might seem like a deranged PR stunt by campus nihilists. But in DC’s toxic new zero-sum political game, an attack on Saudi Arabia is good news— not because it benefits America or Americans in any conceivable way, but because it benefits Iran. Same difference, right?

Let’s not forget Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, BDS supporter, ally of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, a woman who has ensorcelled more than a few right thinking people, who quickly declared that we should never defend the Saudis… because of 9/11. 

The public conjoining of US and Iranian interests represents the fulfillment of Obama’s signature foreign policy initiative, the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The purpose of the JCPOA was to bribe the Iranians to hold off on building a bomb until Obama left office by legitimizing a future Iranian bomb while filling the regime’s coffers with hundreds of billions of dollars. The effect of the deal was to arm and fund the country that Obama saw as America’s new ally in the region.

Smith is perhaps slightly too optimistic. I am confident that some members of the Obama administration secretly supported the world's leading anti-American nation. Did Obama really think that he was pursuing American national interest by arming Iran, by saving it from bankruptcy, by giving it access to nuclear weapons? Or was he trying to undermine American influence in the region, and especially, to give Iran the means to damage the great enemy of the international left, Israel?

Today, as we speak, Iranian forces, financed by the Obama administration are trying to surround Israel from the North and the South. Could it be that Jeremiah Wright’s protege was more devious than people imagine? If you think that America is the problem standing in the way of world peace, you would happily sign on to the Obama policy.

Now, as America has its first Jewish president, Donald Trump, and now that America has openly allied itself with Israel, those who hate Israel hate Trump. So, being pro-Iran means being a NeverTrumper. Iran is skillfully playing the anti-Trump card:

Team Iran’s ability to identify its opponent as Donald Trump no doubt contributes to its power in Washington: If you are against Iran, then you are with Trump. Yet why get in bed with Iran if your goal is to extricate yourself from the region—a goal that both Trump and Obama in fact share? The idea that Iran is devoted to undermining U.S. power in the region was a noncontroversial mainstay of U.S. government analysis that was widely shared by Obama’s first-term foreign policy team of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and CIA chief and later Defense Secretary Leon Panetta—and is helpfully emphasized by the “Death to America” chants that are a mainstay of Iranian government rallies and other events. 

So how do we describe the forces arrayed against Team Iran? You can’t really call it Team Saudi or Team Israel. As Obama correctly observed, both lack the ambition and ability to muster a large supporting cast. Iran, by contrast, has managed to galvanize a large constituency throughout the region and further abroad by employing violence and coloring it with a relatively coherent ideology: “resistance.”

As you know, Team Iran, led by former Secretary of State John Kerry, assumes that the world will soon be rid of President Trump, and that it will find a fellow traveler in the person of Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren. Iran is now running out the clock on Trump. In that it have the support of the weak sisters of Western Europe, people like Emmanuel Macron:

While the president’s apparently maximalist Iran policy—no nukes ever—requires the time and leverage earned through re-election, Team Iran’s strategy is premised on the belief that Trump will be gone by 2020. Previously, American interlocutors like former Secretary of State John Kerry counseled their Iranian counterparts to be patient. Last week’s attacks suggest Tehran believes it can force the issue by putting Trump in front of a series of hard choices. 

Team Iran wants Trump to relieve sanctions on Iran, and/or green-light the French initiative extending Tehran a $15 billion line of credit, which would likely unravel sanctions. The additional benefit of sanctions relief, as Team Iran sees it, is that it will create problems for Trump with his hawkish base. Or, Trump can risk further escalation, which entails another choice—either war or an economic downturn due to instability in the oil market, both of which are likely to hurt his re-election chances. It’s not exactly a “maximum pressure” campaign on Trump, but it’s heading that way.

Trump is applying maximum pressure on America’s enemy, Iran. Resistance fighters on Team Iran are applying maximum pressure on Trump… and on Israel and on Saudi Arabia.

Just as Trump has outsourced military operations against Iranian proxies to Israel, Iran has also moved a major component of its Trump policy offshore, to politics. This component comprises official European diplomacy as well as US freelancing, like Kerry’s meetings with Iranian and European officials. The most delicate feature of the political component, however, is propaganda—information operations managed by US political operatives with an eye on Team Iran’s two target audiences: American voters, and US allies.

The susceptibility of these audiences to disinformation thanks to their own biases, including their unbridled hatred for Trump, is accentuated by Trump’s difficulty in communicating clearly even with his own supporters. While part of that difficulty is caused by the swirling clouds of political disinformation spread by a hostile press, it is also the result of Trump’s own style, which is part calculated and part chaotic. The facility with which Trump appears to entertain a variety of positions—maybe he’s open to meeting with the Iranians, maybe he’s ok with the French initiative, etc—in order to win his maximalist version of the deal might be a sound negotiating tactic, but it also leaves room for Team Iran to inject its own messaging to confuse the target audiences. 

Team Iran propaganda typically manipulates the language of democracy, liberalism, and human rights to drive up negatives for traditional US allies and make Iran look at least ok by comparison, even while it works on behalf of a terror-sponsoring theocracy that stuffs hundreds of thousands of its own citizens into dungeons and torture chambers for speech and thought-crimes.

Smith is not the first to note it, but Trump’s inability to communicate clearly and to command his language has fed the fires of resistance. And Iran has found a multitude of dupes, many of whom will support the Obama legacy, for reasons that have more to do with identity politics than with the success or failure of policy.

Team Iran has done everything in its power to smear Trump, Israel and Saudi Arabia. To say that they are on the side of Iran is the least and most obvious conclusion:

Take last year, when Team Iran saw the murder of longtime Saudi intelligence officer Jamal Khashoggi by other Saudi intelligence officers as an opportunity to destroy the US-Saudi alliance. A Team Iran information operation alleged that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was personally responsible for killing Khashoggi, who was incorrectly portrayed as a dissident journalist and a US green-card holder—while obscuring his intelligence role—effectively pressuring Trump into distancing himself from Riyadh. The goal was to impose realignment on Obama’s successor, whether he liked it or not.

Israel is also vulnerable to information warfare coordinated by political operatives and delivered by a pliant press. Last week’s anonymously sourced report claiming that Israel was spying on Trump and his inner circle was utter nonsense, but it was also part of an ongoing campaign to sow distrust between the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A long Washington Post essay by Robert Kagan smeared Netanyahu, contending that under his leadership Israel is succumbing to authoritarian tendencies. Moreover, wrote the former neoconservative, Israel is not really a US ally. “It has launched attacks against Iranian allies in Syria and Iraq only when its own interests have been directly threatened,” wrote Kagan. “This might be entirely justified, but it does not make Israel an asset to the United States.” Besides, Kagan offhandedly suggests, “Iran poses little direct threat to the United States.” 

For those who sincerely believe that it is good to ally America with Iran, Smith provides the counterargument:

The problem for Team Iran is that no one can explain how an alliance with Iran is actually good for America. 

To take only the most recent example, Saturday’s attacks by Iran led, briefly, to the highest surge in oil prices in over a decade. To the extent that further escalation from the Iranians threatens Trump’s electoral chances, that’s because it will hurt Americans. And why do the Iranians want to cause Americans pain? To coerce Trump into providing them with financial resources to wage war on American allies. Think that through for a moment the next time you hear Team Iran cheering.

Realignment is a geopolitical protection racket. That’s why Trump says the Iran deal was a catastrophe. It was good for Obama—it kept Iran from getting a bomb on his watch. But the JCPOA did nothing good for America, or the regional allies who are good for America, or for American values. The Islamic Republic is not even capable of doing good for its own people. Instead of feeding Iranians, the clerical regime used its post-nuclear deal cash windfall to spearhead a campaign of sectarian slaughter in Syria. 

And also:

Even the most elementary premise of realignment is illogical. It means overturning the existing US alliance system of pro-American states in the Middle East in favor of embracing a genocidal regime that at its core is virulently anti-American. 

Something has to give. For Trump, that’s Iran. For Team Iran, that’s us.  


Anonymous said...

Uncle Joe's analysis of supposed event mentioned above;

UbuMaccabee said...

Civil War 2 continues. I don’t care about Iran, I are interested in the Americans who support Iran. That is my immediate enemy.

Sam L. said...

Continuing my post, American citizens do know the difference, but Democrats hate us too much to admit it. Or so it seems to me.

Sam L. said...

"Such is the state of affairs in the Middle East. You would think that Americans would know the difference between friends and enemies. Apparently not." Americans do. Government employees and Democrats, however, seem not to.