The Dangerous Reality of an Iran War

Washington has rejected a Turkish role in the liberation of Raqqa, knowing that Ankara will not tolerate the ISIS capital falling into Kurdish hands either. It’s becoming increasingly likely that the winning formula will see the city and its environs ceded to an authority friendly to the Syrian government, under a Russian umbrella ..

.. Just last week, the UAE reportedly upped the ante by demanding the Saudis abandon their puppet president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi—ostensibly the “legitimate” Yemeni authority the western-backed Saudi coalition was fighting to reinstate.

.. What’s notable is that all of these developments, at face value, serve Iran’s interests in the region and undermine those of U.S. allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

.. Iran will also be a useful tool to provoke or cajole traditional U.S. allies like Israel, Turkey, and various Arab monarchies into taking positions favored by Trump.

.. There are whispers of a Saudi-led “Arab NATO” that could partner with Israel to target Iran.

.. Trump’s choices are actually fairly limited.

.. Subversive activities—such as color revolution plots, propaganda, or cyberwarfare—have proven futile given Iran’s historic vigilance on and within its borders. Conventional war would require a substantial Iranian provocation and isn’t likely to be sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

.. James Mattis, a committed Iran hawk, almost did so several weeks ago when he considered letting U.S. forces board an Iranian ship in Arabian Sea international waters, according to a passing mention of the incident in the New York Times.

.. It has endured an eight-year war with Iraq, which was encouraged, financed, and armed by great powers and regional states alike. The Islamic Republic performed a remarkable claw-back from the assault and went on to amass conventional and asymmetrical capabilities to deter future attacks.

.. When the U.S. is there, Iran’s focus and discipline is better. They’re useful that way. It brings us together, creates support for our security forces, our army, our borders.”

.. because of Wikileaks’ 2010 State Department cables cache, we now know that—in private at least—U.S. officials are also skeptical of their own public charges.

.. “the U.S. military rarely beats Iran in asymmetrical war games unless it cheats or rigs it.”

.. the “Millennium Challenge,” a 2002 U.S. armed forces war game in the Persian Gulf between the U.S. (blue team) and an unnamed Mideast adversary (red team), believed to be Iran.

.. Why are U.S. armed forces in the Persian Gulf anyway?

.. between 1976 and 2010, Washington has spent an eye-popping $8 trillion protecting the oil flow in the Persian Gulf. As of 2010, the U.S. only received 10 percent of those oil shipments. The largest recipients were Japan (20 percent), followed by China, India, and South Korea.


The Economic Anxieties That Motivate Donald Trump Loyalists

The president’s backers often cite the trade imbalance, federal debt and the cost of foreign wars—not health insurance or immigrants

Yet there is a solid cadre of Trump supporters who aren’t turned off by the turmoil, but rather see it as a sign that something is happening. They remain loyal; for them, the Trump message is more important than the messenger.

 .. an estimate of the total cumulative cost of military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere over the last 15 years, which runs north of $1.5 trillion.

.. In a January Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, for example, addressing trade unfairness and keeping jobs from going abroad far outranked deporting illegal immigrants or building a border wall as top priorities among Trump voters.
.. the fact that Mr. Trump has effectively tapped into these sentiments doesn’t necessarily mean his policies will resolve the underlying problems. In fact, they actually could make them worse.
His desire for a big tax cut, his defense buildup and his reluctance to trim Medicare or roll back Medicaid growth may grow the debt further. His pledge to wipe Islamic State “from the face of the earth” could add to the costs of overseas adventures. His trade policies could set off trade wars that would undermine the economy without ending that trade deficit.
.. They are told, for example, that budget deficits and debt don’t undermine the economy, but don’t buy it.
.. Mr. Trump may not have the answers, but, as the entertainer he once was, he knows his audience.

A Comparative Guide to Russia’s Use of Force

From Ukraine to Syria, Charap cogently identified an important trend in how Russian leadership deploys the military: “Moscow has used just enough force to get the policy job done, but not more.”

This is part and parcel of a Russian strategy defined by reasonable sufficiency, compelling an outcome with the least amount of force required. It contrasts sharply with working to achieve battlefield dominance and overmatch at the outset. Perhaps, this is best understood for what it is not. The Russian approach is the polar opposite of the Weinberger Doctrine, which Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger laid out in a famous 1984 speech. Weinberger’s six conditions for the use of force included, “if we are unwilling to commit the forces or resources necessary to achieve our objectives, we should not commit them at all,” and the “need for well-defined objectives and a consistent strategy is still essential.”

.. In the Russian view, force must be used cheaply, deniably when necessary, and with emphasis placed on retaining agility, which requires holding the bulk of its forces in reserve.

force is meant for coercion rather than conquest

.. This approach stems from a healthy fear of commitment that could result in overextension, quagmires, and offer opportunities for opponents to counter.  It is driven by a cognizance of Russia’s limits in terms of economic and human resources

.. In the post-Cold War period, the U.S. policy community also rejected the Powell-Weinberger doctrine, but it has arguably not replaced it with anything serviceable.

.. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya are hardly the resume of a successful policy establishment.  What’s more, large parts of the national security community have trouble even admitting these wars have not gone well, with the notable exception of President Obama identifying Libya as one of his greatest mistakes.

.. The Russian armed forces are actually small relative to the size of the country they have to defend, perhaps exceeding no more than 900,000 in total size with a ground force doubtfully greater than ~300,000.  That may not seem small, but Russia is one eight the earth’s land mass.  As a comparison, countries like Turkey or Pakistan are fraction of Russia’s geographic size, yet they possess comparable if not larger armies with over 400,000 in the land forces.


In the case of Syria, Russia was engaged in a two-level game. Its objective was to change the foreign policies of the United States and Turkey. To do this, Moscow recognized that it would have to annihilate the Syrian opposition on the battlefield, destroying any alternatives to Assad. Moscow, with its Syrian, Iranian, and Lebanese partners, killed its way to victory on a part of the battlefield in order to coerce adversaries at the strategic level.

.. In order to deter and dissuade peer adversaries Russia  will often introduce high-end conventional capabilities, such as long range air defense, anti-ship missiles, and conventional ballistic missile systems.  These weapons are not meant for the actual fight. Instead, they are intended to make an impression on the United States.

.. the Kremlin prefers to use regular forces in burst mode, both to prevent combat losses and avoid uncontrolled escalation once they shift into the high gear.

.. It is a remarkable amalgamation: a feudal economy, headed by what can best be described as a national security aristocracy, but the principal agencies required to manage government affairs (like the Ministry of Defense) tend to be run by competent administrators.

.. Russia places strong emphasis on having an exit strategy.  In fact, a viable exit strategy seems just as important than whatever they are trying to achieve.

.. Russia prefers to establish dominance for brief periods of time, but does not desire mastery of the battlefield, and would rather take a long time with limited application of power than have to ‘own’ the war.

.. Moscow is comfortable with failure, preferring for it come fast and cheap so it can improvise the next evolution rather than investing in a failing plan.  As I described in an earlier article, the overall Russian strategy is emergent, preferring a lean approach to deliberate planning.

.. Much of Russia’s effort to establish plausible deniability is intended to create the political space to make mistakes, paving the road for cycles of retreat and escalation as necessary.

.. the United States should consider using force differently. A better motto for conflicts against small and middle sized powers, many of which tend to be wars of choice, could be “go small or go home.”  If Russia can figure out how to use its much smaller conventional force for coercive effects over countries sized big and small, certainly the U.S. policy establishment can get smarter on the subject.  Only in the shadowy drone war, a component of the global counter terrorism campaign, has the United States shown the sort of tactile flexibility and creative thinking required of this century.

You can learn a lot about Steve Bannon by watching the films he made

I was familiar with Bannon’s work as a filmmaker, having reviewed his 2011 documentary, “The Undefeated,” about Sarah Palin.

.. Although Bannon has produced the occasional fiction feature, most of his creative energy has gone into making nonfiction agitprop designed to whip viewers into a froth of either adulation or rage, but always into passionate political action

.. His most recent film, “Torchbearer,” features “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson delivering an hour-long sermon about the existential necessity of a Judeo-Christian republic, his long gray beard and booming voice lending Old Testament gravitas to the oratory. In the 2012 film “Occupy Unmasked,” the late Andrew Breitbart — whose website, Breitbart News, Bannon took over that year — debunks the Occupy Wall Street movement as the cynical product of an organized Left “hellbent on the nihilistic destruction of everything the American people care for.”

.. Distinct Manichaean themes emerge within Bannon’s collected works, echoing the same urgent, apocalyptic anti-globalism he’s espoused in speeches and on Breitbart News. Contemptuous of the “permanent political class,” crony capitalism, hippies and community organizers (who “hate this country . . . hate the Constitution [and] hate freedom”), Bannon doesn’t see the world in terms of partisan politics as much as a cage-match clash of civilizations

.. it seems that Trump is clearly a fan of the Bannon canon: His recent policy actions, particularly the travel ban on refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries, can be traced, directly or at least philosophically, to the views espoused in Bannon’s films.

.. There’s “a major war brewing, a war that’s already global,” he said during a Skype call from his Los Angeles office. “Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is — and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it — will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act.”

.. In other words, Bannon is as reflexively attuned to the spectacle as the substance of the “major war” that he and his boss are girding themselves to wage. The paradigm shift he craves is less about constitutional norms and democratic institutions — which have a tendency to bog down the second act — than the kind of propulsive provocations he has specialized in as a consummate showman.