controlled war

Image: Elyeser Szturm

Trump needs a war to try to secure his re-election, but a war that does not hint at the possibility of a new and endless Vietnam, a war executed through “surgical touches”

By Flavio Aguiar*

Only idiots, like the idiots who run the Itamaraty today, believe that the assassination of Qassem Suleimani will help fight terrorism or – even worse – help “to protect American lives”. Well, there is another hypothesis for repeating this mantra: hypocrisy.

The decision to authorize the assassination by Donald Trump has three obvious targets, in addition to the dead man: (1) to bomb his impeachment agenda on the home front, replacing it or at least counterbalancing it with the emotional theme of a belligerence against the “anti-Americans”; (2) proceed with the liquidation of what Trump obsessively sees as “the legacy of Barack Obama”, including things ranging from the proposal to universalize the public health system to the agreement on Iran's nuclear program; (3) reaffirm that the United States rules the world and that Washington can do whatever it wants whenever and wherever it wants.

In the wake of this third objective is included Trump's absurd but accurate subsequent statement that, if Iran retaliates, the United States will bomb 52 targets in that country, including its "cultural heritage", which explicitly contravenes international laws and conventions. In this case, there is a special message for its European “allies”, who take pains to place anti-bombing posters on the roofs of hospitals and buildings of their historic heritage. The message is that the current administration in Washington doesn't care about conventions of this type, and others.

It is known that there was a meeting in Florida - significantly on the premises of a golf course, an image of relaxation and ease in making such serious decisions - between the president, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Mark Esper and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the country's Armed Forces, prior to the murder decision. The role played there by Esper and Milley is not very well known. Pompeo is, along with Vice President Mike Pence, one of the leaders of the “warmongers hawks”, warmongers, militarists, instigators of war), in American political jargon. It is also known that at this meeting several options were put before the president, including that of assassination.

There is speculation about the hypothesis that other Trump advisors did not believe he was capable of making the decision he did. There is also speculation about the role played there by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, considered very close to the Israeli government; the hypothesis cannot be ruled out that the belligerent climate reinforced by the murder will favor the position, as threatened as that of Trump, of his ally Benyamin Netanyahu in the next election in Israel, scheduled for March.

Yet another speculation claims that although nearly all of the staff of Defense of the United States was taken by surprise by the monocratic presidential decision, the CIA and the Pentagon immediately began to work feverishly on the best way to carry out the undertaking, ending up pointing out the drone at Baghdad airport as the best solution. .

In addition to Suleiman, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandir, leader of the Iraqi paramilitary militias, and nearly a dozen bodyguards died in the attack. But these were “collateral casualties”; the target was indeed the Iranian general, something obviously designed to whet the belligerence of the Tehran regime. Why?

Because Trump needs a war to try to secure his re-election. However, it should be noted, not just any war. He needs a “controlled war” that does not hint at the possibility of a new and endless Vietnam. In other words, it is a war carried out through “surgical touches”, such as this one of eliminating a “dangerous” general of the enemy, touches that maintain the impression/perception that Trump is on top of the situation, controlling it sovereignly.

Will he achieve his goal? There are some doubts along the way. Below I list a few.

The assassination decision reinforced the president's belligerent image, but increased Washington's international isolation. Discounting cretinous and irrelevant geopolitical reactions such as those of Ernesto Araújo and Jair Bolsonaro, the distrust and fear shown or insinuated by various European leaders is evident. The new person in charge of international relations in the European Union, the Spaniard Josep Borrell, rushed to invite the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran, Javad Zarif, to talk in Brussels, and everything indicates that he will accept the invitation.

If Netanyahu reacted favorably to the assassination, something that doesn't surprise anyone, Saudi Arabia had a more cautious reaction. The “obsequious silence”, although obvious, of Switzerland, which represents US interests in Iran, of Japan, of Oman, which normally also serve as channels of communication between Tehran and Washington, is also expressive.

The Iranian masses and some leaders – like Ayatollah Khamenei – may cry out for “revenge”, but Tehran has a huge range of policy options to respond to the US attack. The first has already surfaced, dictated by a bold decision, but cautiously formulated, which may seem like a contradiction, but it is not: Iran has announced that it will no longer follow the limitations of the nuclear agreement regarding the enrichment of uranium, an agreement that , moreover, Trump had already denounced (for his obsession with “defeating Obama” more than anything else), but at the same time he declared that he would continue “his cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency” of the UN. Putting it mildly, or rather, big: Iran has reinforced both its position of “strength” in the Middle East and its image of “dialogue” in what, despite everything, remains the world's main geopolitical forum (the UN).

If Trump attacked with his knights on the chessboard, the first Iranian move was a defensive/offensive castle on the same board. Other Iranian options do not rule out choosing military targets. However, Tehran would hardly carry out a frontal attack on US forces, due to the disparity in war power between the two countries, taking into account that the United States has thousands of troops and a considerable naval fleet in the Middle East.

Iran also got an extra edge in Iraq, where opposition to Iranian influence actually weakened after the assassinations of both Suleiman and al-Muhandir. The Iraqi parliament passed a motion calling for the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops, including the XNUMX US troops stationed there. In a reaction very typical of his mentality and his obsessions, Trump declared that the United States would only withdraw its troops if Iraq paid billions of dollars in compensation for investments made in the US military base in the country. Trump's statement favors his position with his financier voters in the United States, but heightens the image of the US presence in the region as an alien intervention. Subtly, Russia, China, Bashar al-Assad and Erdogan celebrate.

Of course: Washington could always trigger Israel to attack Iranian territory, but the question remains: will Netanyahu have the strength to do so, he who is so contested internally, to the point of having to ask parliament to vote in favor of his “immunity” ?

In short, Trump's decision put the United States in a kind of "dead end". “Brete”: that death row that the oxen enter, in the slaughterhouse, to be slaughtered. There are two possibilities on this path of no return: (a) the situation gets complicated and he loses the election; (b) he mobilizes millions of North American believers and wins the election in November. But what victory will he manage next? And its eventual defeat, what will it bring? Nobody knows.

One of the most enigmatic statements in this imbroglio was that of Iranian Brigadier General Ali Fadavi. According to him, the Swiss Embassy in Tehran would have sent a message from the United States to the Iranian government, containing a request: that the Iranian response be “proportionate to what we did”. Bluff? Lie? True? What would that mean by "proportional"? It is not known. But in the carnival of nonsense that is Trump's foreign policy, which promises to pull the United States out of wars around the world and, at the same time, send more troops to the Middle East, anything is possible. Until Tehran plays its re-election game. After all, Trump also reinforces the Iranian “hard line”, against Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani.

*Flavio Aguiar is a journalist, writer and retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP

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