WAS it really as basic as that? At every phase of the US-Iran ‘relationship’ since 1979, Tehran’s Shiite overlords had the world believing they were capable of any atrocity – however apocalyptic – to resist the Great Satan. The world believed them. Their terrorist reach was long and their interventions in Iraq caused devastating carnage. During the Bush era, Tehran was regarded by locker-room alphas as the ultimate foe. “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.” So boasted an unnamed “British official close to the Bush team” in 2003. The remark came to be regarded as the quintessence of a larger ‘neo-con’ project. Given an inch by the post-9/11 Bush Doctrine insistence that state sponsors of terrorism were licit targets, a small group of hawks took a mile instead. Their ambitions were best encapsulated (on the record) by moustachioed Teddy Roosevelt impersonator John Bolton. He told Israeli officials in February of the same year that after defeating Iraq the US would “deal with” Iran, Syria and North Korea. This assumed an insatiable public appetite for war; plus, more importantly, an unlimited supply of young warriors. Donald Trump’s execution of Iran’s phony-soldier terrorist mastermind, Qassem Soleimani, was not what these “real men” had in mind at all. That reflects poorly on them. Iran, it turns out, was hiding behind Madman Theory all along.
The madness was authentic enough. Unlike Richard Nixon, however, the mullahs’ capacity for nation-on-nation war with a hyper-power was non-existent and always was. By the standards of America’s arsenal, a drone is akin to a toy – albeit of a deadly variety – but a single drone and a single missile were enough to expose Iran for what it truly is: a mouthy blowhard whose leaders are terrified of a systemic pounding by its arch-enemy – or, better still, a remote-control clean-out of big names. No need for Boltonian boots on the ground, as it happens. The woeful theatrical response to the Soleimani killing was akin to the bloodied bully hiding behind an onlooker screeching ‘let me at him!’ It was a noisy cordite tribute to the President’s uncomplicated victory. Whether the downed Ukrainian airliner was taken down by accident or as a spiteful tactical reminder to the United States of what Iran is capable of – and all it is genuinely good at – remains to be seen. Either way, that too is a revelation of insipidity.
Trump has been on the national political stage for only three years but continues to shatter orthodoxies of left and right. A Twitter meme doing the rounds this week contrasts an amateur (in the best sense) president who will run for re-election on substantial accomplishments versus a likely contender in Joe Biden with 40 years in Washington but nothing to show for it. On Iran, that opening question again: was the crisis really as basic as it now seems? Militarily, yes it was. Politically, no it wasn’t. The longstanding kowtowing to Iran – or, at least, the respect afforded its will-to-suzerainty – was standard operating procedure for everyone from Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra team to Bush Doctrine ultraists. They all conflated deadly sniping with here-to-stay hemispheric muscle. The latter did so doctrinally: to reorder a world via a remodelled Pax Americana of hubristic design and Roman scope. In Iran and North Korea, the President has ended their reign.
Accordingly, the Obama Administration cannot be indicted by history for the unfounded indulgence of the cat Trump so breezily belled. True, Barack Obama’s shameful appeasement has no real equal in the history of that bilateral entanglement or possibly any other pas de deux in the annals of US diplomacy. His nuclear deal and crates of cash best the good Mr Chamberlain’s error of judgment as infamies of appeasement. But we cannot lose sight of the sorry fact that his policy on Iran was an over-correction of already faulty conventions. Trump’s missile cut through the accumulated blubber and boilerplate and struck at the heart of the matter. The only thing that survived was Soleimani’s never upper hand. That Democrats are lining up to kiss the gaudy ring on one of its fingers – crying over the engagement it could be said to symbolise; one they were unwilling to break off – points to the only weakness of Trump’s Iran policy: it will not survive the return to power of an Obama revanchist. Only the incumbent’s re-election this year will lock in the revolution.