Blank And Pitiless: Having ordered the assassination of the Iranian General, Qasem Soleimani, President Donald Trump promised to reduce the cultural monuments of Iran’s 3,000 year-old civilisation to rubble if a revenge attack was mounted. A breach of international law? Certainly. A war crime? Indisputably. Who’s going to stop him? Nobody.
WHAT WERE THEY thinking? Allowing angry crowds to storm the US Embassy in Baghdad? If such scenes were authorised by General Qasem Soleimani, then he was not the master strategist and tactician his countrymen are proclaiming him to have been. Believing an American president – any American president – could look upon such scenes with equanimity betrayed the most astonishing ignorance of recent US history.
The storming and capture of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979 set off 444 days of diplomatic and military humiliation that not only destroyed the presidency of Jimmy Carter, but also created a thirst for vengeance that not even the passage of 40 years has diminished. It matters little that Soleimani was instrumental in clearing the Baghdad embassy compound of demonstrators, simply by allowing such images to imprint themselves upon Donald Trump’s retinas, the General was guilty of the most enormous, and ultimately fatal, error of judgement.
Nor will the American President be in the slightest measure intimidated by the size of General Soleimani’s funeral procession, or by the promises of vengeance offered to his widow by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran’s capacity to inflict harm on the American Empire is considerably less than Queen Boudica’s ability to make the Roman Empire pay for its outrages. The Roman Empire did not have an air force.
In some part of the Iranian Islamic Republic, the unanswerable character of American air power must, surely, be weighing heavily upon the judgements of its public servants and soldiers. A retaliatory strike against the United States that even remotely resembled the assassination of General Soleimani in terms of scale and significance would provoke the USA to, in the memorable quip of the late US Senator from Arizona, John McCain, “Bomb, bomb, bomb-bomb, Iran”.
The armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran have nothing with which to stop an American air attack. Its fighters are too old and its pilots insufficiently trained to take on the state-of-the-art aircraft, air-crews and missile technology of the United States. Everything the Iranians could throw at them would be effortlessly brushed aside by their American attackers. Not only that, but the very instruments of Iran’s self-defence would themselves be among the Americans’ first targets. They would not, however, be the last.
Having rendered Iran defenceless to American (and, almost certainly, Israeli and Saudi) attack, the list of targets would include (in no particular order) the country’s weapons factories, transportation systems, manufacturing enterprises, cement plants, water purification facilities, media networks, state ministries and scientific research centres – especially Iran’s nuclear research programme – pharmaceutical production plants and fertiliser factories. All of the above would be attacked even as Iran’s military and civilian command-and-control centres and all of its major cities were being pounded into dust.
President Donald Trump has further promised to reduce the cultural monuments of Iran’s 3,000 year-old civilisation to rubble if a revenge attack is mounted. A breach of international law? Certainly. A war crime? Indisputably. Who’s going to stop him? Nobody.
There are some who insist that Iran is not entirely helpless. That its little navy has developed weapons and tactics capable of sinking a US aircraft carrier with all hands. But, what then? The snuffing-out of 3,000 American lives in a single attack would, almost certainly, provoke the current American president into ordering a tactical nuclear response. Tehran, or if he was feeling particularly vindictive, the holy Shia city of Qom, would, in a split second, be transformed into a radioactive wasteland.
Impossible? No, sadly, it’s not. The rest of the world would certainly be shocked and horrified by such an act of disproportionate savagery. But, once again, who would/could stop an American president determined to demonstrate to the rest of humanity that America has been made great again – and will not be constrained by any power upon the face of the planet?
Still not convinced? Well, consider this. When 60 Minutes journalist, Lesley Stahl, put the following question to American Secretary of State, Madeline Albright in 1996: “We have heard that a half million [Iraqi] children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright replied: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”
And she was a Democrat!
POSTSCRIPT: When assessing the actions and options of the Iranians it is always wise to recall that it was in their part of the world that the game of Chess was invented. To have avenged the death of General Soleimani without killing a single American (or any other human-being) has to be adjudged a truly inspired move. Forced into a duel by President Trump, Ayatollah Khamenei elected to fire his pistol harmlessly into the air. Honour is satisfied – and the world breathes again.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 10 January 2020.