We seemed close to a major military confrontation with Iran less that two weeks ago. With the Senate impeachment trial about to start, that Iran news seems like a distant memory. Whatever is the latest Trump act or outrageous comment takes up most of the media mind space, leaving everything else almost forgotten.
Let’s not forget how close we came to war. When Trump ordered the killing of Iran’s chief General Suleimani – to show his supporters and Iran his toughness – he left our fate in the hands of Iran or just plain luck to decide. Suleimani’s death – which incited millions of mourners in Iran – was definitely going to prompt a reaction from Iran’s government. That such an act was likely to produce grave unintended consequences is what restrained previous presidents from killing the general.
The question was how provocative would Iran’s response be. It had to be like the three bears – not too hot, not to cold, but just right. Just right being for Iran to protect its honor without provoking Trump to escalate, something neither side seemed to want. A tricky matter, though.
Iran fired missiles at Iraq near a U. S. army base which in retrospect seemed intended to make a show of strength rather than kill anyone, as Iran sent warnings ahead of time to Iraq. No one died, so Trump lucked out, but certainly some could have died. American troops were close enough to suffer concussions, as later reports revealed in 12 cases.
If even one American had died from Iran’s missile attack, what would Trump have done? What would Trump’s tough guy self-image have demanded he do? And what kind of escalation might have evolved?
When an American military contractor was killed several weeks ago, Trump ordered an attack on Iranian militia which killed about 25 Iranians. What show of force would Trump feel compelled to reciprocate for more American deaths from the missile attack? How many Americans would have had to die to produce a major escalation? What if 20 had been killed? That would seem to get us within a hair’s breath of war. There is no telling.
In short, Trump was lucky and we were lucky, but it does not deny the fact his decision to take out Suleimani was reckless. His ordering a bad man to be executed while lucking out that Iran managed just the right response so as not to prompt escalation (at least not immediately) undoubtedly pleased his followers.
But how long will we be lucky enough to survive Trump’s impetuous, ad hoc, foreign policy? While Trump will be charged in the Senate trial with other crimes against the nation, his herky-jerky foreign policy may produce the biggest threat to us all.
Something not to be forgotten.