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Trump Stands Down Against Iran, U.S. Still in Denial of the ‘New Middle East’

Patrick Henningsen
21st Century Wire

Well, here we are. We’re told the White House just pulled us back from the brink of World War III.  Make no mistake, what happened this week was historic, but not in the way that Washington and its punditry class are spinning it. For the first time ever, a state actor has attacked the United States, and the US did not strike back. The region, and the world, may never be the same. Welcome to the New Middle East.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, the Islamic Republic of Iran fired some 22 missiles, hitting two US military installations located in Iraq’s Anbar province and in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. According to US and Iraqi officials, the missiles caused no casualties. US reports claim the American troops were hiding in bunkers before the missiles landed, following a tip off from their “early warning” missile detection system, although it’s more likely that the US received a phone call giving a 30 minute warning from officials in Iran via Washington’s intermediary channels in Baghdad and Switzerland. Still, CNN reported with typical national security gusto, “US intelligence satellites had picked up signs of a heat signature from Iran, suggesting the country had just launched short-range ballistic missiles.”

It seemed like a wider war was well and truly on. And then suddenly it wasn’t.

When news of the Iranian missile strike hit the headlines Tuesday evening east coast time, US President Donald Trump went silent for most of the evening, giving no press conference or televised address to the nation. All he could manage on this occasion was a typically glib remark followed by the usual tub-thumping on Twitter.

Later that morning, Trump stood behind the White House podium. Many were expecting him to announce that the US would respond to Iran’s attack on US assets by retaliating in a “disproportionate manner” – just as he had promised only days earlier. Instead Trump stood down, announcing that the US would not respond militarily.

The Sanctions Delusion

The Middle East, America, Europe, and the world, all breathed a sigh of relief, with many surprised that this US President had not come good on his own wild and flippant threats made earlier. After proclaiming ‘victory,’  Trump then proceeded to issue new threats against Iran, vowing to increase Washington’s policy of “maximum pressure” with more crippling economic sanctions against Tehran (even though the country is already practically under a full economic embargo). Emissaries Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of War Mike Pompeo, and other surrogates, then took to media, all insisting that the White House was only doing this in order to bring Iran “back to the negotiating table” for a new nuclear deal to replace the current international JCPOA agreement which Trump trashed in May 2018 at the behest of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump now wants a new deal which features a prohibition on Iran’s medium range missiles, and after events this week, it’s obvious why. Wednesday’s missile strike by Iran demonstrates that the US can no longer operate in the region so long as Iran has the ability to extend its own deterrence envelope westwards to Syria, Israel, and southwards to the Arabian Peninsula, and that includes all US military installations located within that radius. This new reality should signal the beginning of the end of US hegemony in the Middle East, but unfortunately for the people of the region, Washington seems determined to go kicking and screaming towards this inevitable conclusion.

If this was a geopolitical IQ test, then this Administration just failed. Any expectations on Washington’s part that punitive sanctions combined with threats of military force will somehow ‘bring Iran back to the table’ is really a fools errand, and shows the amateurish way in which this confused clique is conducting its foreign policy. Any decent undergrad student can tell you how basic game theory dictates that ‘maximum pressure’ campaign and subsequent military threats – only guarantees that Iran will give zero concession to Washington. Still, Trump and his motley outfit of former Tea Party and next generation Neocon ‘expert’ advisors, with various and sundry arms salesmen in tow – will happily carry on with the gag, not just because they lack the ingenuity and the will to pursue any other policy path, but because they are effectively held hostage by an anti-Iranian agenda which was conceived by Tel Aviv and rabidly backed by fundamentalist Christian Zionists in the United States – both of who Trump needs in order to secure his own reelection in 2020.

SEE ALSO: Trump’s Fatal Mistake in Iraq and Beginning of End for US Occupation

More interesting though, is how Washington’s leading war hawks all fell silent following Trump’s announcement that the US was effectively backing down from Iran’s missile strike. Even arch-Neocon Lindsey Graham was fairly muzzled. Perhaps he was expecting to realize his and former mentor John McCain’s life work of setting off an all-out war with Iran and Russia. What this really indicates is that in the end, even the most bellicose pro-war voices in America did not have the stomach to finish what they had just started. Even with the “most powerful military on earth,” as Trump boasts, Washington’s fervent hawks still couldn’t overcome the new and emerging structural realities of this New Middle East.

Intelligence in Short Supply

The dangerous tit-for-tat began on December 27, 2019, when a mysterious rocket barrage hit the K1 joint US-Iraqi base near Kirkuk, reportedly killing an American defense contractor, one Iraqi police officer, while wounding a further four US defense contractors and three Iraqi Army officers. Up until January 7th, there were no details – not even a name given following the death of this mysterious “American contractor” in Kirkuk. It was later quietly revealed that the victim was an Iraqi who became a naturalized US citizen, named Nawres Hamid, employed as a linguist for private firm Valiant Integrated Services LLC. Admittedly, not the Neocon’s ideal martyr for launching a new chapter in Washington’s clash of civilizations crusade. After rejecting calls by Iraqi leadership to investigate who had actually fired the rockets, US officials claimed to have “intelligence” that the act was carried out by “Iranian militia” or Iraqi People’s Mobilization Units (PMUs) which the US crudely regard as “Iranian” (even though they are actually Iraqi). Retaliation came on December 29, 2019, when the US bombed five Iraqi military bases housing Iraqi PMUs, killing 30 Iraqi servicemen and wounding a further 50, and once again, the US falsely claimed that all of their targets were “Iranian militia.” This act triggered a massive protest by Iraqis, and the friends, family and comrades-in-arms of dead PMUs – targeting the US Embassy compound located in Baghdad’s Green Zone. Predictably, US officials claimed to have more “intelligence” that the embassy protest was somehow organized by Iran and Washington’s newest premier villain, Iranian Quds Force leader, General Qasem Soleimani. Later, in the early hours (local time) of Friday January 3, 2020, the US government launched a drone attack outside Baghdad International Airport which assassinated Soleimani, along with senior Iraqi PMU commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

According to statements issued by the caretaker Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi, Soleimani may have been lured into a trap set by the United States, possibly with the help of Saudi Arabia. Writer Kim Sengupta from The Independent explains this incredible twist in the story:

Iraq’s prime minister revealed that he was due to be meeting the Iranian commander to discuss moves being made to ease the confrontation between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia – the crux of so much of strife in the Middle East and beyond.

Adil Abdul-Mahdi was quite clear: “I was supposed to meet him in the morning the day he was killed, he came to deliver a message from Iran in response to the message we had delivered from the Saudis to Iran.”  

The prime minister also disclosed that Donald Trump had called him to ask him to mediate following the attack on the US embassy in Baghdad. According to Iraqi officials contact was made with a number of militias as well as figures in Tehran. The siege of the embassy was lifted and the US president personally thanked Abdul-Mahdi for his help.

There was nothing to suggest to the Iraqis that it was unsafe for Soleimani to travel to Baghdad – quite the contrary. This suggests that Trump helped lure the Iranian commander to a place where he could be killed.

Of course, the US has vehemently denied that any of this is true, but it makes sense. For US drones to accurately target Soleimani, it would require a series of hand-offs and accurate spotting, aided by the target possibly letting their guard down momentarily. If this is what really happened, then it shows the underhanded lengths at which Washington is willing to go in order to provoke war, something which everyone should be alarmed about.

Following these two acts of aggression by the US on Iraqi soil, PM Abdul Mahdi held an emergency parliament session where the government voted on whether the US forces should continue to be allowed to operate in Iraq. This too was a historic moment: finally, after 15 years, a resolution was passed calling for the end of the US military occupation of Iraq. “Iraqi priorities and the US are increasingly at odds,” said the beleaguered but immobile Iraqi Prime Minister.

Trump’s response to the will of the Iraqi people was to threaten Iraq with more economic sanctions should they move forward with plans to expel US troops, a neocolonial tantrum which can only be translated as a direct attack on Iraqi sovereignty. So much for America’s mission to promote freedom and democracy in Iraq.

Both of these violent US provocations seemed sure to lead to a chain of escalation events which could have easily locked Washington, Tehran, and their respective allies into the fait accompli of a wider multinational war. In an impressive Orwellian stroke, President Trump went on to claim that the double assassination was somehow justified because Soleimani was a “terrorist.” He continued to lay it on thick, saying that the killing of “sick monster” Soleimani saved ‘a lot of lives’ and that Soleimani “was planning a big attack” on US targets in the region. Pentagon spokesmen claimed there was unspecific “intelligence” that Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”  Still, there is no sign of any intelligence, or even a summary briefing by the White House.

“If Americans anywhere are threatened we have all of those targets fully identified and I am ready and prepared to take whatever action is necessary, and that particularly refers to Iran,” exclaimed the President.

It’s worth noting that during his 2016 election campaign, Trump had no idea who Soleimani was. People should be under no illusion that Trump is any less clueless now as he was then, the only difference now being that he’s surrounded by a gaggle of advisors whose own credentials should really be questioned after this whole debacle.

In a way which you can only do when you’ve got the moral high ground, Iranians took the PR initiative following Trump’s self-owning comments, with Iranian cleric, Shahab Moradi, saying that Iran might ‘struggle to hit-back’ at a comparable US hero to General Soleimani, as the US only has “fictional” heroes. “Think about it. Are we supposed to take out Spiderman and Sponge Bob?”, quipped Moradi.

Unaware of the rising tide of irony surrounding him, Trump took to Twitter again, this time threatening to incinerate many of Iran’s 5,000 year-old culture heritage sites. To even threaten such action is regarded as a total abrogation of international laws and norms, although very much in line with the savage scorched earth methods of ISIS. Indeed, interesting company Trump finds himself with.

In a fit of bombast, Trump went on to steal a leaf from NBC’s disgraced anchor, Brian Williams, extolling the virtues of the Pentagon’s “beautiful equipment” thanks to “Two Trillion Dollars” provided by the US taxpayer (and the Federal Reserve’s magic QE money tree).

Undoubtedly, these are the words of a raving lunatic, and Americans might do well to seriously consider whether or not he is mentally fit to hold a chief executive position in the US government.

Throughout all of this, no evidence has ever been presented by US officials to back up these dramatic claims by the President and the Pentagon. The public is simply expected to take their word for it. This has prompted previously unheard of calls – made by US mainstream media pundits – for Washington to please reveal what evidence they actually have to justify US military actions over the last two weeks. Despite numerous requests from media and by members of the House and Senate, no such explanations are forthcoming. This opaque approach by the White House caused US Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) to come out in sharp opposition to the White House, citing the fact that Trump had used the same flimsy 2002 Authorization of Force which Bush used to illegally invade and occupy Iraq. They were joined, somewhat, by Matt Gaetz (R-FL) in the House who called for a new War Powers Resolution to check executive power, although House members did not come close to censuring the President. After attending a classified briefing on Iran, Senators Lee and Paul revealed how Trump’s team ordered Senators “not to debate” the justifications to go to war with Iran, and that the White House will decide when and where to go to war without consulting Congress. Lee called it, “the worst briefing I’ve seen, at least on a military issue,” and called “insulting” to the constitutional prerogative of Congress.

Washington’s War on Reality

Trump and the US war lobby continued to lay on the moxie, sayingno one will mourn Solemani’s passing.’  Those propaganda lines quickly evaporated when scenes emerged from Iran, showing millions of Iranians taking to the streets in multiple cities, in what is now regarded as  one of the largest televised funeral processions in world history.

As the week went on, all official US statements were laced with familiar propaganda talking points, all clearly designed to lend justification to US involvement in the previous military actions. The most egregious of these was the fable that Iran’s General Solemani was a “blood thirsty terrorist.” Like all good propaganda, it’s main purpose is to conceal a truth which is diametrically opposed to the official government narrative. In this case, US officials are desperate to hide the fact that not only was Qasem Solemani not a terrorist, but he was actually a leading force in the fight against ISIS and Al Qaeda, in Iraq and Syria. Unlike US forces who were intentionally kept well-away from ‘engaging’ with ISIS and Al Qaeda, Solemani led the fight on the ground, while the US flew what can only be described as three years of largely meaningless air sorties, before eventually swooping in the final days of the Iraqi battles to hit actual targets at the request of the Iraqi military, and of course taking credit for “defeating ISIS” as Trump has done ad nauseum. Of course, Iraqis, Iranians and Syrians know the real story – that it was the Iraqi PMUs – the very ones which Washington insists are “Iranian militias” and “terrorists” – who played the decisive role in the defeat of ISIS in Iraq. So it was the PMUs, the Syrian Army, Iranian special forces, Hezbollah, Russian forces, along with Kurdish Peshmerga (Iraq) and YPG militants (Syria), who collectively did all of the heavy lifting in the battle against ISIS from 2014 to 2017. The US did distinguish itself though, but not in a positive way, by racking up record civilian casualties during carpet bombing campaigns over Mosul and Raqqa, a fact which is now well-documented by numerous international organizations.

Another critical detail which has been conveniently ignored by US media, but was almost certainly noted by government officials, was a statement said to be issued by Iran’s Tasnim News which quoted Iranian officials who warned that any US retaliation against Iran’s strikes against US targets in Iraq will be regarded as “a threat to widen the conflict and bring Iran’s regional allies into play,” and would result in Lebanon’s Hezbollah forces firing rockets into Israel. In effect, Iran was treating the US and Israel as one entity in this fight. This warning was most certainly headed by Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu, who quickly walked-back his hawkish stance on Iran, suddenly informing his Security Cabinet that Israel ‘must not be dragged into Soleimani killing.’ From a strategic perspective, this was a pivotal moment, and showed just how exposed Israel and the US are in the region, but also how impotent their Gulf allies are in the event of a wider war with Iran and its allies.

That’s not to say Washington or Israel will not return to attack or draw Iran into another round of fighting, but a precedent has now been set whereby Iran is now dictating the pace of exchange, and not the US. This means the US will face increasing difficulty in predicting and plotting outcomes. A similar effect has taken hold in Syria after the entrance of Russia in the fall of 2015. History’s actors are many, and more diverse now.

Fortunately for the world, Trump did not follow through with his threats made just days earlier to ‘hit back harder’ at Iran.

In the end, his bark was worse than his bite, but his assent merely reflects the Pentagon’s own strategic assessments on an US war with Iran, concluding that the US couldn’t win should that conflict go the distance. Now the whole world knows what only a few elite wargamers in the West knew, but what many leading eastern analysts outside of America have known for quite some time – that from a geostrategic perspective, the US cannot ‘win’ a war against Iran in the New Middle East. Nor could Israel protect itself from its exposure on all sides. Because of these two physical realities, Trump had no choice but to back down.

Moreover, it was Iran who was the rational actor, and Washington DC who demonstrated through their own unhinged and chaotic demeanor – that they were the irrational actor.

Once hostilities abated, Israeli hawks took to the media to reiterate the ‘certainty’ of war with Iran, led by Brig. General Ilan Lavi, former Deputy Head of the Northern Command, who warned that if US leaves the region, then Israel will eventually go to war with Iran. What’s he’s not saying is that this would automatically pull the US back into the fray anyway, leaving us neatly back at square one. What Lavi and others are reticent to address, is the two underlying bones of contention in this story, namely illegal Israeli expansion and its continuation of the brutal apartheid regime and systematic ethnic cleansing campaign being waged against the native Palestinian Arab population. Both are central to grievances of Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, Turks, Iraqis, and Iranians.

Still, Trump is declaring this as a victory for US power, spinning his retreat as a “win” for a hapless base at home. Supporters (and bot accounts) have swarmed social media, imploring Americans to show their appreciation to the Dear Leaderfor side-stepping WWIII’ … even after he nearly single-handedly started it. This bit of counterintuitive #QAnon and #MAGA wizardry is a bit like congratulating an arsonist for helping put out a fire which he’s responsible for starting in the first place. Sadly, this inverted cult-like thinking passes for esoteric wisdom in pro-Trump online circles, as followers cling to the mythological belief set of MAGA cultists which dogmaticly believes that Trump is a supremely rational actor who is playing an uber-advanced geopolitical game of ‘5D chess.’  Funny enough, their fantasy projections lead nicely to more agit-prop talking points seeded by the CIA and their media adjuncts at CNN, both keen on leaving future escalation on the table vis-à-vis Iran. Former acting director of the CIA, Michael Morell told CNN’s passive inquisitor, Jake Tapper, that Tehran will soon be targeting high-ranking US officials in revenge for the killing of General Soleimani. Just like that, a new official conspiracy theory was injected into the national conversation.

Readers should consider how in the current hysterical environment, rife with unfounded speculation and fabricated ‘intelligence’ (now the norm in Washington), any third-party actor could target an US official, with a narrative planted by the US political establishment and its media arms, all of which has already been preemptively blamed on Iran. It’s happened before in history, most notably at the onset of WWI, with the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand. In this era of power politics and entangled alliances, the danger of such an event triggering a World War III scenario should be of serious concern.

The most dangerous aspect of the last two weeks is the proliferation of lies and fabricated ‘intelligence’ claims which have been replete throughout all US statements relating to Iran. Likewise, the US continues to wage a devastating program of economic warfare against the people of Iran, while telling the western public that it’s really just to punish “the regime.” It’s the same broken record of invented crimes by the Iranian state, and still disturbing to watch US officials and their media stenographers continually recycling talking points designed to justify their own questionable military actions, but also which leaves the door wide open for a future military confrontation with Iran and its allies.

A New Middle East

The following day, Trump remarked at a press conference how he thinks that NATO should be expanded to include Middle East nations in the alliance. It’s not hard to guess who he’s referring to. Trump wants to call it, “NATOME.” Perhaps Trump feels the US can no longer manage on its own, or that they’ll need western replacement forces to help balance against Iran and Syria, and also Russia. More than anything, this should indicate a lack of American confidence regarding events of the past few weeks. Of course, NATO would be a disaster if it expanded in the Middle East. One only has to look at Turkey’s own precarious situation and its awkward relationship with the US as a result. Any more Article 5 death spiral alliances will only invite additional problems and with that, the heavy hand of the US providing another unwelcome ‘solution.’ Trump is trying to apply yesterday’s solutions to today’s reality. It won’t work, and Europe will not be on board with it either.

Back in 2006, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice laid out her vision of a “New Middle East,” with the stated aim of eliminating the Hezbollah resistance forces, thereby boosting Israeli power in order to “reshape” the region according to US designs. Unfortunately for these Neocon visionaries, the opposite is now happening, and there’s nothing the US can do about, other than play a spoiler’s role.

For these and other reasons, what happened yesterday was historic, and signals one of the most significant realignments of the post-World War II era, alongside the equally significant watershed moment where Russia entered the Syrian War in October 2015, both of which have changed the geopolitical face of region away from its previous crypto-colonial status managed by the US, Britain and France, and the West’s local enforcers, Israel and Saudi Arabia. That was the old Middle East.

In theory, these new developments should foster a healthier balance of power in the region and globally, but the potential benefits may still be offset by the faltering Faustian pact between the Washington, London and their Anglo-American mideast beachhead, Israel. Continuing this geopolitical train wreck only ensures that any solution to the Palestinian crisis will be kicked further down the road, along with the Golan Heights issue, a sure recipe for more conflict and strife.

There is a New Middle East taking shape, only it’s not the one Condoleezza had in mind. Rather, this one is being led Arab and Persian nationalist states, allied with Russia and China. The longer the US and its allies stand in denial of this new reality, the longer the West’s tired old feedback loops will continue, all much to the deteriment of residents of the region, and American taxpayers back at home.

***
Author Patrick Henningsen is an American writer and global affairs analyst and founder of independent news and analysis site 21st Century Wire, and is host of the SUNDAY WIRE weekly radio show broadcast globally over the Alternate Current Radio Network (ACR). He has written for a number of international publications and has done extensive on-the-ground reporting in the Middle East including work in Syria and Iraq. See his archive here.

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