American Foreign Policy Is Broken. Suleimani’s Killing Proves It.

A properly functioning National Security Council would never have let it happen, for good reason.

The targeted killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani and four others in a precision strike by an MQ-9 Reaper drone at Baghdad International Airport was an impressive display of American military prowess. And it liquidated a destabilizing figure: The general was the commander of the Quds Force, which is responsible for Iran’s covert and extraterritorial military operations. In the scheme of things, he had it coming. Yet killing him made little strategic sense for the United States. In some ways, the most significant thing about his death is what it shows about the breakdown of American foreign policymaking.

President Trump ordered the strike directly, prompted by the death of an American contractor on Dec. 27 in a rocket attack by Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-sponsored Iraqi Shia militia. Mr. Trump did not bother to consult congressional leaders. As with his other displays of martial fiat, his immediate impulse was probably to shock the liberal domestic audience, vicariously make himself feel tough, and assert raw executive power by going around the normal channels of decision making.

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had considered taking out General Suleimani but rejected it — not for lack of nerve, but for fear of undue escalation and an unnecessary war with Iran. The fundamental facts on the ground have not changed, and in the kind of robust interagency, national security decision-making process that the National Security Council staff is supposed to supervise, such concerns would have been systematically raised, dissected and discussed, and a consensus reached to inform presidential action. No such process seems to have occurred here.

The Pentagon has claimed, facilely, that General Suleimani was hit because the Revolutionary Guard was planning attacks on American targets in the region. But in a proper interagency review, the intelligence community could have pointed out that “decapitation” is a patently unreliable means of pre-emption — particularly when the organization in question is the Revolutionary Guard, an integral part of a well-honed security state with considerable depth of command talent.

In addition, the State Department might have noted that next to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, General Suleimani was arguably the country’s most powerful and venerated figure, and that when the target was such a senior and esteemed official, his countrymen were likely to perceive his killing as outright assassination. The State Department would also have emphasized that assassination was a flagrant casus belli, or provocation for war.

Had the Justice Department argued that targeted killing is distinct from assassination, which has long been proscribed by executive order, a raft of other government agencies might have noted that perceptions matter, perhaps anticipating Mr. Khamenei’s response to the deadly strike: “His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands.”

The National Security Council would have undoubtedly asked the intelligence community for a detailed assessment of Iran’s possible responses to the strike. Analysts would have underscored the inevitability of lethal attacks on Americans and American interests: terrorist attacks on embassies or other civilian or military facilities in the Middle East and farther afield, military escalation on the ground in Syria or Iraq, cyberattacks, the closing of the Strait of Hormuz, Hezbollah attacks on Israel, further operations targeting Gulf States’ oil infrastructure, and accelerating movement toward nuclear breakout.

Drilling deeper, intelligence analysts could have stressed the possibility that the strike on General Suleimani might encourage a new strain of transnational terrorism. While acknowledging that the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in the Middle East, has largely resisted venturing outside the Middle East for the past 25 years, they would have stressed that it is considered the most capable nonstate armed group in the world, the A Team to Al Qaeda’s B Team — a force that was shaped and nurtured by General Suleimani himself.

What’s more, such an official would have warned, Hezbollah has fiercely demonstrated its willingness to prosecute Iranian interests, against Israel and in Syria. If Iran so asked, the assessment might have continued, Hezbollah would turn outward, as it did in 1992, when it bombed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and killed 29, and in 1994, when it bombed a Jewish community center there and killed 85.

An appropriately functioning National Security Council would have asked: How does this fit in the administration’s overall foreign policy?

The State Department would have underlined that a chief objective of the administration’s Iran policy, including its withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, was to roll back Iran’s nefarious regional activities — in particular, intervention in the Syrian civil war, political intrigue in Iraq and support for the Houthis in Yemen — and that General Suleimani oversaw them.

In response, the C.I.A. would have observed that taking out the general would deprive Iranian moderates, like President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, of any leeway for compromise, enabling hard-liners to co-opt them. Thus, the agency would have reasoned, the killing of a hard-line national hero would most likely dissolve any hope — dim even beforehand — that Mr. Trump’s “maximum pressure” approach would move the Iranians to renegotiate the nuclear deal; it might instead stir vengeance in the Iranian leadership, which would intensify rather than subdue those activities in his name.

Had there been a distinguished senior career State Department officer on hand — there used to be many, but their numbers have dwindled in this administration — he or she might even have provided the big strategic picture: that the Trump administration’s one major contribution to American foreign policy has been to refocus attention on great-power competition. And while Russia and China are great powers, Iran really isn’t one. Pick your fights, they’d have said.

A discreet official, of course, would have elided the fact that Mr. Obama’s rebalance to Asia and diplomatic approach to Iran appreciated this reality, cutting straight to Mr. Trump’s own antipathy to committing military resources to the Middle East. But that official might well have commented, for emphasis, that the former national security adviser, John Bolton, was dismissed in part over his hawkish insistence on coercive regime change in Tehran.

That adviser could have argued that for an administration looking to manage great-power competition, it is patently illogical to elevate a regional spoiler to great-power status, antagonistically martyr one of its leaders, gratuitously invigorate nonstate militants, and set the United States on a path toward war in a region it had hoped to calm.

And a really enterprising confidant might have intimated that a sensational military operation could scan as a cynical effort to divert attention from impeachment, as well as an example of the same brand of self-interested autocracy with which the House’s articles of impeachment charge the president.

It seems like none of these points were carefully considered, revealing the abject dysfunction and deterioration of the national security process under Mr. Trump. The killing of General Suleimani arose outside of any coherent policy context, and without adequate contemplation of near- or long-term strategic consequences. Mr. Trump’s move looks like either an impetuous act of self-indulgence or, somewhat more probable, a calculated attempt to bury his domestic political troubles. Whatever the precise reason, the act itself is irreversible, and will have serious consequences — precisely why it merited the systematic deliberation that it clearly did not receive.

Stratechery: Concepts

Aggregation Theory

Defining Aggregation Theory

Smiling Curve

Distribution and Transaction Costs

Commoditizing Suppliers

Owning Customer Relationship

Platforms vs Aggregators

Disruption Theory

The Innovator’s Dilemma

Disruption

Modular versus Integrated

The User Experience

Incentives

Making Money

Company Culture

Strengths=Weaknesses

Company Structure

Facing Change

Technology and Society

Antitrust

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Politics

Ethics and Mores

The Post-War Order

Unintended Consequences

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Media

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New Media

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Premium Strategy

Using Leverage

Customer Acquisition

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Horizontal versus Vertical

Advertising

Software-as-a-Service

Goals vs Tactics with a16z’s Marc Andreessen at Disrupt SF

10:20
do you do that to a company yeah so a
lot of this is actually you can actually
borrow concepts actually from military
strategy on this which is sort of the
difference between sort of strategy and
tactics right at a difference between
goals and tactics so I think it’s
incredibly important to have a really
vivid clear idea about where you want to
get in the long run that you stick to
and that you’re very solid on and that
everybody agrees to and then I think you
want to be very very flexible in the
tactics and I think the problem is you
it’s a dichotomy right it’s a it’s a
contradiction so you have to you have to
think about terms you have to think it
from a long-term standpoint but also you
have to think in terms of day-to-day
tactics and this is where you know I’ve
been very critical in the past to this
idea of like fail fast because like I
always things like fail fast is like the
key word in there is not fast it’s fail
and failure sucks and success is awesome
and we should be trying to succeed not
fail and I think the fail fast thing is
people thinking because I think fail
fast makes a lot of sense on tactics if
the tactics Network doesn’t work find a
different tactic I think fail fast is
catastrophic if it’s applied to strategy
and if it’s applied to goals and I think
a lot of founders frankly even still
like talk themselves out of what are
going to be good ideas in the long run
because they’re not getting immediate
traction and so again it goes back to
long term like we just ruled by data and
what cited by their gut that’s actually
so that is actually a racing point so
that is one of the things that happens
which is in the old day in the old days
when I when I was running short pants
you just didn’t hat you didn’t have all
the data it was much harder to get a
sense of how well you were doing and so
like on the one hand you you you felt
less concrete connection to what you’re
doing but on the other hand you didn’t
have this cascade of data coming at you
and now is you know like in all of these
businesses today you have daily weekly
if you want you have data to the minute
to the second to the microsecond of how
well or poorly you’re doing and it’s
really easy to get distracted by that by
that short term data and it’s really
easy to draw a long term
Lucian’s based on short-term data and
you do see companies that have gotten in
real trouble over that mm-hmm
conversely you see companies you know
that worked for a very long time on
something that people think is just
completely nutty and they get heavily
criticized along the way and by the way
sometimes those work and sometimes they
don’t but when they do work that is how
you do something like for all this whole
thing about how everything’s supposed to
be speeding up it still takes a decade
or more to build something really
significant I mean it you know in this
world like it still really does so when
it comes to like interesting products
that seem to be sort of jerked around by
their own data or were for a long time

Does Trump Have a Middle East Policy?

(Visit: http://www.uctv.tv/) The Trump Administration has an anti-ISIS military policy but has zeroed out reconstruction support for areas that have been liberated from ISIS in Syria. It has an anti-Iranian policy both rhetorically and economically, but it leaves containing the spread of Iran and the Shia militias in Syria to Israel and to the Russians and leaves Israel on its own to deal with the Russians. It has declared it will present a peace plan for the Israelis and Palestinians but at this point is unable to deal directly with the Palestinian Authority. In all these areas, there are elements of a policy but inconsistencies as well. The gap between objectives and means remains wide. Can it be bridged? Will we see an effective strategy for the area? And, what would an effective strategy look like? Dennis Ross will cover all this in his lecture. Recorded on 10/21/2018. Series: “Herman P. and Sophia Taubman Endowed Symposia in Jewish Studies” [2/2019] [Show ID: 34373]