More Reflections on Soleimani

Last Saturday, we published a “hot scrub” on the death of Iran’s General Soleimani. You can find it HERE.

Among other things, I wrote, “There’s a distressing similarity (in news accounts); as if everyone is taking their information from the same press releases. Rule Number One of warfare… First accounts from the battle front are almost always wrong.

It’s been a few days, and events are unfolding. We know more facts. There’s plenty of spin if you know how to interpret who is saying what.

One thing is for sure; the price for both gold and oil is up strongly. Clearly, markets are nervous.

Let’s dig into Soleimani’s death. Here’s more background, to help you better understand what’s in play in all of this…

You may never have heard of General Soleimani before last week. U.S. media haven’t covered him much. But in Iran and across the Middle East he was a “celebrity” soldier. Over many years, his name and image have been on many posters, TV broadcasts and newspaper front pages.

Aged 62 at the time of his death, Soleimani was the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard; sort of a parallel “army” within Iran, except the religious angle is much greater and deeper than you’d find in a conventional military service. Plus, he was considered the second most powerful person in Iran, after only the Ayatollah.

If you follow military matters or Middle East issues, however, you likely knew Soleimani. For over 20 years he orchestrated combat operations across the Middle East, from Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, to Afghanistan in the east and Yemen in the south.

In my view, Soleimani was Iran’s version of Japan’s Admiral Yamamoto of the late 1930s, and early days of World War II. Soleimani was a strategic planner with a strong sense of operational movement. I’ll give him credit for that.

Then again, and speaking as a former Navy guy, my instant take on Soleimani was that he’s the one who set up Iran’s operations against the U.S. and coalition partners in Iraq during the war, 2003 – 2011. Familiar name; familiar face.

Soleimani was behind the plan to blow up and kill our people with Iranian-made and -supplied IEDs (improvised explosive devices); the ones with shaped charges and copper-liner EFPs (explosive formed penetrators). I discussed those in the article on Saturday, referenced above.

As I mentioned the other day, Iranian IEDs killed over 600 Americans in Iraq (and Afghanistan), plus many allies. Iranian IEDs wounded number in the many thousands.

When I heard the news of Soleimani’s demise, my reaction was grim. I shed no tears for him. Live by the explosion, die in one. He had plenty of blood on his hands; American and others.

Soleimani knew who and what he was… He’s what’s known in Islam as a “Soldier of Allah.”

I suspect that Soleimani never really thought that he’d die peacefully in his sleep. As a devout Muslim, I suspect he had that “Insh’Allah”-view of the world. Whatever happens, it’s the will of Allah.

Okay, then. Allah sent a couple of Hellfire missiles his way. So, now what?

If you follow the news, you know that much Western mainstream media spin on Soleimani is not very harsh; and even favorable. Indeed, I’ve seen news accounts that describe in detail how Soleimani was a “revered” military leader, “beloved” by Iranians, yadda, yadda.

Yeah, right…

To me at least – and I believe to many other people who ever wore a U.S. or allied uniform, plus our family and friends – Soleimani was a miserable, scheming, murderous S.O.B. who ran operations from the other side of the Iran border, truly believing that the U.S. would never drop a bomb on his head.

As an aside… I recall an event at the Naval War College in Newport, back in about 2006. I was in a course called “Joint Operations,” and we had a visiting dignitary from the Pentagon; a senior guy. And the subject of IEDs in Iraq came up…

Basically, U.S. intelligence knew quite a bit about Iranian IEDs within a few months of them appearing on the battlefield. We knew what they were. Knew what they looked like, and had numerous unexploded examples. Our forensic guys had dismantled the devices. We had prisoners who answered questions.

We knew what kind of explosive, and what factories the IEDs came from in Iran. We knew about the copper, and what mine and smelter it came from in Iran. We knew about the electronics, and what assembly point it had originated in Iran. We understood the basic tactical usage, and had an idea of the overall concept.

After some discussion back and forth, one of us asked why we had not long ago bombed the crap out of those IED factory sites in Iran.

The answer from the senior Pentagon guy was, “We don’t want to expand the Iraq war into Iran.”

To which the conversation quickly transformed to… “Oh. Vietnam rules again, eh?”

We had a long discussion about the legalities of expanding combat actions under both U.S. and international law. In essence, an Iranian general in Iran could coordinate and supply combat operations against Americans in Iraq, and our lawyers were okay with that.

If it sounds crazy, it’s because it is crazy. It gets back to the truism that there’s nothing simple about fighting wars. Per the great scholar Clausewitz, “Everything in war is very simple. But the simplest thing is difficult.”

Yeah… Like bombing IED factories that are manufacturing munitions that kill our guys.

It’s fair to say that Iran has been “at war” with the U.S. for over 40 years. Iranian leadership talks about waging “war” against the U.S. (and Israel, of course). They say warlike things. They commit warlike acts. We’ve seen a long list of attacks on the U.S.:

  • 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
  • 1983 Beirut bombing.
  • 1996 Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.
  • 2000 bombing of USS Cole.
  • 2003 and beyond, anti-U.S. operations in Iraq.

I could list more times, dates, places, events. But I don’t have all day.

There’s room to discuss the overall U.S. presence in the Middle East. Should we be there at all? What about Israel? What about global oil supplies? Saudi and other Arab states? Yes, I know…  People write books on the topic.

Thing is, though… We’ve been in the Middle East for a long time, and Iran or its surrogates and proxies have been shooting at us and bombing us. We’ve seldom fired back.

So… Iran is at war with the U.S.; but for some reason the U.S. doesn’t regard itself as being “at war” with Iran. To borrow a phrase, perhaps it’s that “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Now, fast forward to droning Soleimani. What changed? Why do it? Sure, Soleimani had it coming as far as I’m concerned. But was it wise?

I can’t speak for President Trump or his advisers – and I absolutely do NOT speak for the U.S. government, Department of Defense or Navy. But I suspect that the “deciders” up there saw a breakdown in the idea of deterrence.

That is, for many years, the U.S. has put up with Iranian actions. Harassment in the waters and sky. Shots fired here and there. Electronic warfare and cyberattacks. Bombings though proxies and cutouts. Endless taunts, threats, insults, etc.

Then recently… Things began to transform.

  • Last June, Iran shot down a U.S. drone. Trump called off any retaliation.
  • Last fall, Iran “helped” Yemen attack Saudi oil. No response from the U.S.
  • A couple of weeks ago, Iranian proxies attacked U.S. forces in Iraq. U.S. jets bombed a near-insignificant training camp.
  • Last week, other Iranian proxies attacked the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
  • And I’ll omit many other Iranian attacks, near and far.

Add in the taunts about the Baghdad attack being Trump’s “Jimmy Carter moment,” or “Trump’s Benghazi.”

Not unexpectedly, Trump did the unexpected. (Really, after three years of the guy, you know that he doesn’t follow convention.)

Instead of bombing the outhouse at some desert training site, Trump OK’d droning Soleimani.

In essence, Trump re-booted the idea of deterrence. Attack the U.S., kill U.S. people, assault our embassy… and we’re now aiming for the head of the snake. Aiming for a “center of gravity,” in the terms of Clausewitz.

Trump upped the ante.

The U.S. has never deliberately attacked an Iranian target as significant as Soleimani. U.S. forces have sunk a few Iranian ships and blown up a couple of oil platforms. The Iran Air shootdown in 1988 was a tragic mistake; not deliberate (and I was on staff at Chief of Naval Operations; I’m certain it was accidental.)

Where does it go from here? Nobody knows!

What will Iran do? I don’t think that Iranian leadership knows just now. They’re still processing things.

Will Iran respond in some manner? Highly likely, but…

Is the U.S. ready for “war with Iran”? No. The U.S. people don’t want it. U.S. politicians aren’t capable of managing wartime policies. Even the U.S. military lacks people, equipment and resources for anything long-term.

Is Iran ready for a real “war” with the U.S.; not just the rhetoric and occasional potshots? No. All that street protesting is just noisy theater. Mass psychosis. The country is broke. Much of the populace resents the ruling classes.

What’s more likely? I expect more chaos in Iraq. Iranian factions will fight with anti-Iranian factions. It’ll get ugly.

And I also expect third parties will make efforts to intermediate between the U.S. and Iran. It might be France, or Saudi or even Russia.

Plus, expect a price premium for oil and gold. This will translate into better fortunes for companies in those sectors.

I’ll leave it at that; and give you more as events unfold.

On that note, I rest my case.

That’s all for now…  Thank you for subscribing and reading.

Best wishes,

Byron King

Byron King
Managing Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder

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Byron King

A Harvard-trained geologist and former aide to the United States Chief of Naval Operations, Byron King is our resident gold and mining expert, and we are proud to have him on board as the managing editor of Whiskey & Gunpowder.

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