It's been a long week, followed by a long weekend, for yours truly. There's much to discuss with Trump as always, but I thought tonight would be a good time to look at our new Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, and his grudge against Iran.
I have heard from a Marine who has a good deal of respect for Gen. Mattis, and indeed, Mattis comes off as very intelligent and well-read, traits which are not always guaranteed for a cabinet-level pick. Being a non-military man, when I hear from a well-spoken Marine that Mattis is a good choice for the Sec Def position, I tend to listen.
On the other hand, I look at Mattis' hardline stance on Iran and I feel very troubled.
Look at a map of the Middle East for a second.
There are a lot of shades of grey that are omitted from this overly-simplistic map, but given the dearth of geographic knowledge of your average American (it's not just the young), this is a fine introductory map to the region as it stands today.
See that big pink splotch in Northern Iraq and Syria up there? More or less, that's ISIL/ISIS, the current psychotic terrorist regime of the area. ISIL/ISIS is composed chiefly of Sunni extremists, not Shia extremists (Iran is a Shia power, purple in the map above; Saudi Arabi is a Wahhabi/Sunni power, beige in the map above). Contrary to what Mattis asserts, Iran is not backing ISIL/ISIS; Iran is backing the Shiite-led government in Baghdad which is currently attempting to retake Mosul from ISIL/ISIS.
ISIL/ISIS has claimed responsibility, at least as an inspiring force, for all of the recent terrorist attacks in Western countries including the United States. Iran has not. Why is Iran the enemy?
The sworn opponent of Iran in the region is Wahhabi/Sunni power Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has long cultivated the extremist ideology that led first to Al Qaida and more recently to ISIL/ISIS. You may recall that Al Qaida extremists killed thousands of Americans on September 11, 2001; neither the Revolutionary Guard nor Hezbollah nor any other Iran-backed actor planned and executed those attacks.
Given that Iran is engaged in a feud with the power ultimately responsible for most of the terrorist attacks on the West, including the defining attack that led to the War on Terror era, is not Iran de facto our ally in the Middle East? Is our goal in the Middle East to defeat Islamic terrorists, or is it to defeat the enemy of these terrorists?
This is not to say that Iran is being run by especially nice guys, or that Iran doesn't have a history of terrorism to brag about. It most certainly does. It is also a demographically very young country with a powerful reformist streak. The best way to punish reformers in Iran and make sure they do not succeed is to lend credibility to their opponents. Iran opened its airspace to the United States during the initial invasion of Afghanistan to dislodge the Taliban. Does this sound like the action of a country that is unwilling to do business with the United States?
Now I can certainly understand that someone who has gone up against the Revolutionary Guard might have a bit of a hard-on for them. But consider Iran's position. The countries where Iran sticks its fingers into are more or less its neighbors. This is not all that different, geopolitically, from how the United States has treated Latin America and the Caribbean over the years. Iran is not, currently, inspiring wack-a-doos in the United States and Europe to go massacre random, innocent people. It is Iran's enemy, ISIL/ISIS, which is doing that.
Mattis' anti-Iran stance is also out of sync with Trump's other plans in the Middle East. Trump has more or less thrown in with the Assad regime and its patron, Russia. The Assad regime has long been propped up by Iran. So: what's it going to be? Take on Iran, and, logically, one would think, its client Syria and ally Russia, or throw in with them?
Perhaps what the Trump administration is thinking is that they can have it both ways: support an Iran-backed regime in Syria while taking the fight to Iran itself (a fight that didn't work out so well for Iran's neighbor back in the day).
Or, perhaps, the Trump administration is not thinking.
I want to end on a positive note: Mattis has stated that the US-Iran nuclear deal should not be scrapped. That's a solid position to maintain, because without the deal, the odds that Iran goes full nuclear is pretty damn good. He also appears to be very respectful of Islam generally, which sets him apart from the rank-and-file Republican of today. He appears thoughtful, like a man who won't fly off the handle.
All that's reassuring, but when it comes to getting tough on Iran, anyone who has played any board game ever can tell you that attacking a player you may not like who is nonetheless actively pursuing your main opponent is a quick way to hand the game to your main opponent.
Anyways, that's enough on Mattis for now; we'll see how it all plays out. For now, have a lovely evening, and if Sunday Night Football isn't your thing, consider professional deceit instead.