Macho Macho Man: What Is Happening With Iran?
Ever come across two guys who try to out alpha each other by trying to be the big dog in the room? One guy chugs a beer, the next guy chugs two, then the first guy chugs three more and then the second guy chugs six more to prove a point. Then they both drive home, one or both get a DUI, get sent to jail and realize they're not alpha at all?
Yeah, I've actually never seen this but that's what this current US and Iran conflict resembles.
For the past several days, the world was on the edge of their seat waiting to see if two world leaders were ready to kill millions of people just to see who was more alpha. For the past several months, Iran has increased their aggression across the globe directly and through their proxy organizations (organizations that are funded by the Iranian government). These acts include:
Blowing up Japanese and Norwegian oil tankers in the Straight of Hormuz
Capturing a British oil tanker and their crew in the summer of 2019
Shooting down an American drone while it flew over International waters (the Iranians say it was over their airspace)
Supplying and financing the Houthi Rebels on an attack on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities which halted production for several days
Firing up to 30 rockets at a US-Iraqi military base that killed an American Contractor
Protesting and storming the US embassy in Baghdad
Clearly, the Iranian government has been busy and aren't "innocent" in the rising conflict. The increasing aggression from the Iranian government led the US to stun the world by killing the second most powerful person in Iran, Major General Qasem Soleiman, leader of the Iranian Quds force. This act, seen as an act of war, has the US on the brink of another Middle East war. But a war with Iran would be catastrophic compared to the wars with Afghanistan and Iraq due to Iran's military capabilities.
This entire conflict is more complicated than figuring out what the ingredients are in a Twinke. Below, I try to explain how the f*** we ended up here.
Who are the major players in Iran?
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - Current Supreme leader of Iran. Iran has been a theocracy since The Islamic Revolution in 1979. He took power after the first Ayatollah died in 1989. He is the Supreme leader until he dies. He calls all the shots in the country.
Qasem Soleiman - Was the top general in Iran before his death. He was the leader of the Quds force, a highly trained unit in Iran's Revolutionary Guard. They specialize in military intelligence and unconventional warfare. Iran is known for sponsoring groups across the globe, specifically Shiite militias. These groups are in places such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon. The attacks mentioned above were through Iran proxy organizations. These organizations are trained by the Quds force with General Soleiman directing them.
Hassan Rouhani - He is the current president of Iran. He's elected directly by the people. However, he reports directly to the Supreme Leader and carries out the Supreme Leader's wishes. Rouhani is usually the face of the government when interviews are conducted by journalists or when the UN General Assembly is held.
In the news, I keep hearing about the Iran Nuclear Deal, what is it?
Back in June of 2015, the United States and five other nations (UK, China, Germany, Russia and France) signed a deal with Iran that curtailed Iran's plans to build a nuclear weapon. For years, the world believed Iran's nuclear program was intended to build a nuclear bomb. Iran's position was that its nuclear program was for alternative energy purposes. In order to prevent Iran from furthering its nuclear program, the US during the Obama administration believed a deal needed to be done to prevent warfare with Iran so that it couldn't develop a nuclear weapon. After 20 months of negotiations, a deal was reached. Some highlights of the deal below:
Iran had to reduce uranium enrichment for 10 years until January of 2026
Reduce the number of centrifuges
Halt the construction of heavy water reactors
Agree to inspectors going into the country and monitoring their nuclear activity
Lifting sanctions on Iran (allowing them to sell oil and natural gas on the international market)
Unfreezing $100B in assets that were frozen overseas. This was THEIR assets to begin with. Despite what many politicians say today, the US did not GIVE $100B to the Iranians. This was their assets to begin with
Though the deal was signed, many critics believed the deal was not enough to deter Iran from making a weapon. They believed it was too easy for the Iranians to cheat. In addition, they thought lifting sanctions and unfreezing their assets would give Iran the finances they needed to fund their proxy wars and initiatives across the globe. In May of 2018, President Trump backed out of the Iran Nuclear Deal saying it wasn't enough to deter the Iranian government from producing a weapon. He went against the advice of his Secretary of Defense at the time, General Mattis who believed the deal was a sure way to prevent armed conflict with Iran. The Iranians agreed to keep the deal in tact with the other nations involved. But after the US imposed sanctions on the Iranians later in 2018 and after the recent attacks, the Iranians have decided to pull out of the deal all together. Leaving the world back to square one.
So is the Iranian government just creating conflict for fun? Are they crazy? Why did they escalate their aggression this year?
It's hard to pinpoint the escalating Iranian aggression to one event, but the sanctions imposed by the US and other nations has destroyed the Iranian economy. Iran who is a major exporter of oil and natural gas was barred from selling their resources on the international market. Not only did the US impose sanctions on Iran but they imposed sanctions on any country or company that did business with Iran (Huawei). In addition to an embargo, the Iranians are not allowed to access the US financial market and many major financial institutions across the world. Billions of assets have also been frozen overseas.
A destroyed economy has led to high unemployment along with sky high prices for goods and services. Massive protests within Iran have occurred with the people demanding the government do something to alleviate the hardship many Iranians are going through. The government has tried to squash these protests with thousands of people dying in the process. The escalation in Iranian aggression can be led to this; trying to find a way to gain leverage to get the sanctions removed .
What's Iran's role in the Middle East?
The Middle East is complicated to say the least. Iran's role in the Middle East is just as complicated. Islam has two main sects, Sunni's and Shiite's. A majority of the Middle East follow the Sunni branch of Islam. Iran is a majority Shiite state. This has caused countless conflicts with its neighbors. The Saudi kingdom HATES Iran.
General Soleiman was far from a moral person, responsible for the deaths of US troops and innocent people across the globe through proxy organizations. However, he was a major ally to the US in the fight against ISIS. In fact, he was one of the most instrumental figures in defeating ISIS (in terms of land, unfortunately the ideology is still around). Worst case scenario for Iran was to have a Sunni radical group next door (in Iraq). So the guy the United States just blew up was actually one of the major ally's in the fight against one of the most evil ideologies the world has seen, ISIS (he also fought Al Qaeda).
So what happened in the last few weeks that led to the brink of war?
In late December, Iranian backed Shiite militia groups attacked an Iraqi-US base that killed an American contractor. After months of other escalating events, the US bombed several sites in Iraq and Syria which were sites belonging to these Shiite militia groups that were funded by the Iranian government. 25 people were killed in these bombings. Enraged by the bombings, Shiite militia groups protested and stormed the US Embassy in Baghdad. Fearful of another Benghazi like situation, the US ordered the evacuation of diplomats to safe rooms and eventually an evacuation from the country. Additional Marines were sent to the embassy to protect it. Eventually the crowd dispersed.
What are the ramifications of killing General Major Qasem Soleiman?
Killing a major player of a country is usually a declaration of war. President Trump is receiving a lot of heat for green lighting the attack on Soleiman. The attack was seen as a disproportionate retaliation. It's the equivalent of a country killing someone on the President's cabinet.
What are some of the questions for President Trump?
Well for starters, what was the intended goal of the attack? To start a war with Iran? To have thousands of US troops killed, trillions of dollars spent? Thousands if not millions of Iranians killed? To show Iran and the world who's boss? Why take him out now?
Lawmakers across Capital Hill are perplexed on what the goal of the attack was. Was this done to distract the public on the impending impeachment trial?
The Trump administration stated the killing of General Soleiman needed to happen as attacks against the US were "imminent". However, the administration has failed to produce any evidence of imminent attacks. In fact, on January 8, Senators were briefed by the Trump administration on why they went forward on the killing of Soleiman. After the briefing, Senator Mike Lee of Utah, a staunch Trump supporter and Republican said it was " the worst briefing I've seen at least on a military issue in the nine years I've served in the United States Senate."
In addition, the United States cannot go to war unless Congress authorizes it. The killing of Iran's top general is seen as an act of war that Congress did not authorize. This has enraged members of Congress who believe the President was not authorized to conduct such an attack.
So what now, is World War 3 going to happen?
Both the Ayatollah and President Trump know any war between the two nations would be catastrophic. In retaliation for the killing of General Soleiman, Iran fired 10+ rockets at US bases in Iraq. The first DIRECT attacks by the Iranians in decades. Pentagon officials believe the Iranians intentionally missed their targets or fired them onto empty locations in order to avoid casualties. In addition, they called the heads of states in Iraq to let them know they were about to fire rockets into Iraq.
The US has been at war in Afghanistan since 2001 and in Iraq since 2003. Thousands of troops have died, hundreds of thousands of civilians have perished in Iraq and Afghanistan, trillions of dollars have been spent and radical evil groups have emerged from the violence. On top of that, "democracy" has not spread. Needless to say, the wars in the Middle East have been a disaster.
The US and the world do not need another pointless war. Diplomacy must reign supreme and the leaders of US and Iran know this. Despite the recent events, expect cooler heads to prevail and for both of these nations to come together at the table, negotiating a new nuclear deal. They know the stability of the Middle East depends on it.