War with Iran (24): Regrets Only

The Washington Examiner is a right-wing paper, and it’s angry at us. It’s trying to cut through this coronavirus noise, and tell us something. My God, why is no one listening? What will it take?

Iran repeatedly attacks US troops while coronavirus outbreak distracts public attention.

Repeatedly! And during a pandemic! The nerve of those people!

Yes, the reporter seems to be saying, the coronavirus is important. It may kill a couple million people here or there. But isn’t war important, too? How on Earth have the American people have managed to miss that we are at war with Iran in Iraq? How? Could they all be so stupid as to have thought that our killing General Suleimani was the deathblow to Iran, and the end of the story? I mean, who came up with that dumb-ass idea? Obviously, those Iranians were going to retaliate. What did you expect them to do, just sit there? And naturally, they’d do it at a time of their choosing, and at a time of maximum vulnerability for us. That’s almost too obvious, like something out of a Strategy 101 textbook.

Anyway, let’s read this article together. You can take in the reporting, and I will offer the tastelessly triumphant (and yet unapologetically defeatist) snark along the way. With the coronavirus pandemic as background music. Come on. It’ll be fun.

Iran-controlled forces are launching rockets at U.S. troops in Iraq while Western leaders focus on a coronavirus pandemic that threatens to overwhelm hospital networks around the world.

“It feels like part of the American public may have forgotten that two Americans died in Iraq,” Behnam Ben Taleblu, an expert on the Iranian regime at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Washington Examiner.

I feel you, bro. And not just a small part of the American public, I’d say. More like 99% of it. I actually feel like a part of the American public may even have forgotten that we unilaterally ditched a nuclear agreement with Iran and slapped some sanctions on them, too. They’re pretty forgetful, that American public.


American forces targeted five weapons depots controlled by Kataib Hezbollah, a Shia militia that the United States blamed for the attack that killed two Americans and one British service member last week. Yet the militias remain undeterred, as a Tuesday morning barrage marked the third attack on bases housing U.S.n troops in the last week, even as Tehran struggles to manage one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world.

You know, I keep wondering what exactly those Americans–I mean we–hit at those depots, and can’t seem to get a straight answer, no matter where I look. It kinda is weird that those militias “remain undeterred.” I’m guessing that one explanation is that we didn’t hit much of anything? Or enough of anything that would deter them? I guess another explanation is that maybe air power isn’t the key to victory against Iran. Almost makes you wonder whether we should just have withdrawn our troops from Iraq like a month ago.

Speaking of which:

“They view this as a kind of continuing campaign to push Americans out of Iraq,” retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, who directs the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, told the Washington Examiner. “They’ve lost a lot of citizens to corona, but for those kinds of regimes, it’s really kind of inconsequential to them. They don’t place as high a premium on life as we do.”

I totally agree with General Spoehr. Like him, I see this as a kind of continuing campaign to push Americans out of Iraq, too. The funniest thing is that I cheated on figuring that one out, because, well, Hezbollah–like ten or twelve weeks ago, maybe?–just came out and said that that’s what they wanted, and said they’d shoot their way to that goal. So I just assumed they would. I was so sure they’d live up to their word that I challenged anyone with enough disposable income to send me to Beirut (and back) to have a cup of coffee with Hezbollah–certain that they’d be nice enough to pour me a cup and send me back unharmed.* And here they are, doing exactly what they said they would! Funny how that is.

As for respect for life, I see where the General is coming from, but I’m wondering what he thinks about the connection between the high premium we put on life, and the fact that lots and lots and lots of Americans seem to be flouting the need for social distancing on that whole coronavirus thing–which recklessly puts lots of lives at risk. I wonder whether the phrases “spring break” or “South Padre Island” mean anything to him. He might want to have a conversation with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on that one. Or some of my neighbors. Or hell, some college kids. 

Maybe General Boomer should just stop blowing the war out of proportion. I mean, if we lose a brigade of troops, we lose a brigade of troops. We can’t let shit like that stop us from living our lives. Especially during this coronavirus thing.

Imma skip a lot of the filler in this article to cut to the chase:

Some analysts believe that Iran has renewed attacks on U.S. forces in order to distract from the coronavirus outbreak…

Ben Taleblu disagrees that it is a distraction, saying, like Spoehr, that the latest attacks are part of Iran’s long-term effort to drive the U.S. from Iraq and require a response. He notes that either way, it’s hard to tolerate repeated attacks on the bases that house U.S. and other Western troops — attacks that have injured Americans even when they failed to kill any service-members. “Normally, had there been no coronavirus, there would have been a lot more attention to the recent loss of American life in Iraq,” the FDD analyst said. “Washington has to grapple with how to deter an actor like Iran at such a low and asymmetric level?”

I’m with my homies Taleblu and Spoehr on this one. The latest attacks are part of Iran’s long-term drive to drive us from the region, one that pre-dates any real concern with the coronavirus here. As for that counterfactual–had there been no coronavirus, there would have been a lot more attention to Iraq–I’ve got a question for Taleblu. How does he explain the fact that when there was no concern for the coronavirus, back in January and most of February, there was also scant attention being paid to Hezbollah attacks on U.S. facilities? Mill’s Methods, dude.

As for Taleblu’s last question, I answered that awhile ago. How do you deter an actor like Iran at such a low and asymmetric level? You leave. Better question: how do you do it after they’ve embroiled you in a foreseeable (explicitly announced) insurgency while you’re trying to deal with the coronavirus? You regret that you didn’t leave earlier. Other than that, I don’t know what to tell you. And luckily for me, I have no obligation to figure it out. Right now, I’ve got bigger problems to deal with than what to do about the war you managed to blunder yourself into.

*They promised not to harm non-combatants, and if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a combatant. Of course, the chances of getting safely to Beirut and back are slim now, but not for reasons having to do with Hezbollah.

15 thoughts on “War with Iran (24): Regrets Only

  1. Pingback: Nightcap | Notes On Liberty

  2. Irfan: Of course, many of your statements make sense but, in the end, you are lining up with the mad ayatollahs and with the obscurantist, terrorist Hezbollah. What would your sister say if you had a sister?


    • How am I lining up with the mad ayatollahs and Hezbollah? I don’t have a sister, but my mother would be truly appalled to learn that I was–if I was. But I’m not.

      I can’t resist pointing out that I was once falsely accused of having a sister by the Israeli border protection agency–a sister I was unaware of having, but was suspected of hiding. And for awhile they actually convinced me. But so far, you haven’t convinced me.


      • You join in the endeavor making US actions in Iraq seem both irrational and evil. No one in the US really wants a continued military presence in Iraq. Keeping watch over the remnants of Daesch is a fair and reasonable thing to do. The alliance with the Kurds – what’s left of it – is also both moral and reasonable. I must add that present US policy there reflects well the deep ambivalence of the American people: We don’t want to be there at all but we have to. So, US practices are a compromise, half-hassed. Sorry about your sister. Mine was extremely valuable when I was a teenager, like a very good sheepdog.


        • Still unconvinced–about my sympathies for Hezbollah et al, not re the value of sisters. I think it’s clear that the US presence in Iraq is irrational. That doesn’t imply sympathy for Hezbollah or Iranian ayatollahs. That’s like saying Richard Nixon was a sympathizer of the Viet Cong. If no one really wanted a US military presence in Iraq, we wouldn’t have one. We have one because that’s precisely not true. Isn’t that how democracy works? We don’t have troops in Iraq to “keep watch” over ISIS; they’re there to fight ISIS, and now Hezbollah (or rather, to ignore ISIS while they claim to fight Hezbollah, while in fact they sit there functioning as targets to Hezbollah). Even if you waive every moral consideration, their strategic position is untenable and senseless without escalation. But escalation is undesirable under any circumstances, and semi-suicidal under the current ones.

          While I happen to think that American imperialism is an evil, dehumanizing (as well as counter-productive) enterprise, I can make common cause with an American patriot who sees things in terms of purely national self-interest and rejects my anti-imperialist posture. Many who take this more standard view do counsel troop withdrawal (e.g., Andrew Bacevich). I don’t think anyone regards Andrew Bacevich as a crypto-Iranian-theocrat.

          That we “have” to be there requires more of an argument than the sheer assertion. I don’t see why we have to be there at all. In any case, the point at which one admits that one’s war effort is a half-assed compromise is the point at which one has already admitted defeat. One of the biggest problems with the US military, and indeed with the US itself, is that it neither knows how to pursue victory to the full, nor admit defeat when it hasn’t.

          It’s going to learn this lesson the hard way both in Iraq and on the coronavirus front–and at the same time. There’s something terrifying and pitiful about this, like watching a 21st century real-time enactment of Aeschylus or Sophocles. Even as Iran and Lebanon themselves lie in tatters, I get the sense that the ayatollahs and Hassan Nasrallahs of the world grasp what most Americans do not grasp: that our hubris betokens our downfall. I make no apologies for agreeing with them on that. This isn’t because I’d like to live under them. My family left Pakistan, after all, precisely because we didn’t want to live under such people. So now we live under Trump. I’m grateful for the improvement. I just wish my parents had left the old country for Toronto, Oslo, or Stockholm rather than Jersey City. At this point, I’m resigned to the fact that they didn’t.


          • I read this. Of course, I don’t agree with much of it. What’s not clear is your statements about the relationship between the small continued presence of US troops in Iraq and the existence of remants of Daesh there and nearby. What should Pres. Trump do, remove them and wish for the best? Incidentally, once you call American actions abroad “American imperialism,” you have pretty much shut off a part of the debate. If the discussion took place at all, it would be like the bad old days: not interesting. Hunting dow Daesh is not “imperialist” in my book. Those are people wh want to kill me, destroy my society or, at best, make me a dhimmi, irrespective of what I and mine do. I know them well. I used to be they, about one thousand years ago Any kind of leniency about them is abhorrent. I am glad you don’t favor Hezbollah (the Lebanese, the Iraqi?)


            • What’s not clear is your statements about the relationship between the small continued presence of US troops in Iraq and the existence of remants of Daesh there and nearby. What should Pres. Trump do, remove them and wish for the best?

              When it comes to military matters, the proper question is not “Why shouldn’t we do this?” but “Why should we do this?” The first question implies that military intervention is the default, and non-intervention requires a special justification. It’s the other way around. Intervention is what requires a special justification. Non-interventionism is the default.

              If the claim is, we need to have them there to fight ISIS, I would say that that’s an inadequate justification. It’s not a matter of “leniency” toward ISIS, as though whenever one doesn’t commit troops to fight in a foreign war, one is being “lenient” to whoever happens to be aggressing somewhere. This is like saying that our refusal to intervene militarily in the Rwandan genocide was a matter of “leniency” towards the Hutus. It’s also like saying that our failure to have intervened in Korea or Vietnam would have been “leniency” toward North Korea or North Vietnam.

              “Leniency” is a term we use in the context of interpersonal relations, and in particular the relationship of a guardian to a ward. It lacks application here. You can offer as negative a condemnation of ISIS as you want; the condemnation doesn’t entail the need for intervention.

              You say that ISIS consists of people who want to kill you, destroy your society, etc. True enough. Is that enough to go to war with someone? No. Your statement involves no consideration of costs, benefits, means, ends, strategy or tactics. You’re literally saying: they’re evil; so, let’s go to war with them. Even if we confine ourselves to questions of purely instrumental rationality, that is unbelievably irrational. There has to be more to it than that.

              It makes things worse, not better, that you underscore “the small continued presence of US troops.” A small continued presence can’t accomplish much. So the question arises: since it can’t, what’s it doing there? I so far have heard no intelligible answer to that question from anyone, considering events since the Suleimani assassination. And I have struggled hard to listen for one.

              We have a brigade’s worth of troops chasing the remnants of ISIS while being attacked by Hezbollah et al, while lacking the support of Iraq and while the homeland is focused on fighting COVID-19. Let’s set aside the larger issue of whether it made sense to keep them there to fight ISIS before the Suleimani assassination. In the current environment, this is the situation: 5,200 troops, lacking the support of Iraq and lacking the support of the American people, are charged with finding the remnants of an organization that bears no clear threat to the US homeland, while they’re being attacked by Iranian proxies, which proxies are also fighting those same remnants. US forces can’t prevail under those circumstances. So if the goal is victory, then the US has to escalate. What are the odds that escalation will work? What are the odds that it will gain anything worth the price? What is the argument that escalation makes us any safer than we are if we withdraw?

              The most modest answer I can muster: far, far, far too many unknowns to justify the loss of life and treasure involved. This set-up is so quixotic it makes Dien Bien Phu seem sensible by comparison.

              As for the term “imperialism,” you say that my use of it stops the conversation. I’ve heard this before from others. But that reaction by itself merely poses a question: is my use of it a case of semantic imprecision, or is your reaction to it a case of ideological dogmatism?

              I would say that the protracted military occupation of a foreign country is a sufficient condition for imperialism on the part of the occupier. Our occupation of Japan, by contrast, was not protracted, so I don’t call it imperialist. India’s occupation of Kashmir is protracted, so I do. Likewise Israel’s occupation of Palestine, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the French occupation of Algeria, and so on. Most imperialist powers do some good for the places they occupy; one can always ask “What have the Romans ever done for us?” and get a heart-warming answer. That doesn’t change the imperialist character of the good that’s done, or the manner in which it’s done.

              A reality can’t be erased by deleting the word that denotes it. The United States has been a reluctant, deluded imperial power since the Spanish-American War, or really, before it, since the Indian Wars. Its characteristic way of dealing with this fact is to pretend that the good it has imposed on others (at enormous cost to those others) absolves it from the charge of “imperialism.” On the contrary.


    • … many of your statements make sense but, in the end, you are lining up with the mad ayatollahs and with the obscurantist, terrorist Hezbollah …

      Good lord. Fortunately, statements and arguments are the sort of thing that can be evaluated (as true or false, cogent or specious, sound or unsound) on their own merits, and not only by the characteristics or the allegiances of the (other) people who agree or are imagined to agree with them. Ideas are ideas, not phalanx formations, and while I don’t doubt that the mad ayatollahs and the Partisans of God have some views on whether the earth is known to be roughly spheroid or banana shaped, that’s hardly any reason to be afraid or ashamed if it turns out that your views or mine happen to agree with theirs on this point.

      Liked by 1 person

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