In his latest interview for Serbia’s top-rated Happy TV channel, Dr. Trifkovic dwells on the geostrategic and political dynamics behind the current crisis in the Middle East. The first question was whether we are at the threshold of a major war.
[Interview transcript below, translated from Serbian and abbreviated.]
ST: The odds of a major war are around 2.5-3 percent right now, no more. Iran has developed a strategic partnership with China and Russia, and only one day before Soleimani was killed they completed a joint naval exercise in the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean. It is not far fetched to assume that the decision to kill him was partly meant to send a signal that Iran is still the weak link in this emerging geopolitical chain, and it was sent.
Q: But Iran is not Iraq, or Libya, or Afghanistan. It is a serious civilization, the heir to the Persian Empire, and attacking it would be dangerous. It seems that someone is pushing Trump into making the plunge?
ST: But of course, and we know who exactly is pushing him—the neoconservatives, the same people who pushed America into the war against Saddam with their false claims that Iraq had the weapons of mass destruction. They have been lying, persistently, for almost 19 years about the war in Afghanistan, as we now know thanks to the Afghanistan Papers published by The Washington Post on December 9. America has been subjected to a systematic campaign of lies, and all along there has been no strategy to end the war…
Back to Soleimani. He was a prominent commander and field operative, but he was not making strategic decisions. Media reports have exaggerated his political importance.
Q: It is even claimed that he was No. 2 in the regime, you are saying that is not correct?
ST: Yes. All key decisions on strategy are made by the Supreme Leader, Khamenei, and the President, Rouhani. Soleimani was there to see them executed on the ground, as evidenced by the fact that he was often on the road, between Damascus, Baghdad, and Tehran. He was notably effective in coordinating the operations of the Hezbollah, the Syrian Army, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard against the Islamic State and other jihadists, the so-called moderate rebels in Syria, but he was not the one who was making decisions about Iran’s involvement in those operations in the first place… As we have seen before, it is always easier to replace a military or intelligence field operative than a key decision maker who designs the long-term political coordinates, which are subsequently followed by men like Soleimani.
At this moment Trump is seeking to deescalate the crisis. The events of last summer indicate that he does not want to be pushed into this war. The Iranians attacked Saudi oil installations—which briefly crippled their production—and shot down an American drone, the markets responded with a major spike in the price of oil, yet Trump supposedly cancelled the air strikes as the planes were preparing for takeoff. The neoconservative hawks criticized him for indecisiveness and unwillingness to finally teach Iran a lesson. And yet he was aware that if he were to be drawn into war, he would risk losing the election, which now looks increasingly promising for him. The U.S. economy is in very good shape, it is growing at over two percent, unemployment is down to three and a half percent…
Trump is aware there are people who want to push him into war. For that reason he replaced his National Security Advisor John Bolton last fall, who was the greatest hawk on his team. He was an unwavering upholder of the U.S. global hegemony, which was incompatible with Trump’s earlier promises that there would be no more regime change operations and no more endless wars in the Middle East which have never yielded any benefit to America—in fact nothing but blood, sweat, and tears. The main anti-Iranian hawk on Trump’s team now is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He was a great adversary of Bolton, but on this issue there was no difference between them.
I hope that the generals, who are well aware of the potential risks of any Operation Iranian Freedom, will warn Trump that it would be very bloody, very expensive, and with an uncertain outcome. In ancient China, Sun Tzu warned against starting a war for which you have no end game in sight, and Clausewitz reiterated it 200 years ago. The failure to do so is manifest in all of America’s Middle Eastern wars: it is easy to enter Baghdad or Kabul, but it is not easy at all to execute the political wrapping up of the conflict. We have the remarkable situation that now—in 2020, almost 17 years since the war started—the Iraqi government is demanding the withdrawal of all American troops from its territory.
In the meantime it is obvious that 48 hours after the last American soldiers leave Kabul the Taliban will be back. Whether this happens this year or in a hundred years is immaterial: sooner or later Afghanistan will revert to its natural, pre-2001 condition. As for Iraq, Soleimani’s killing has pushed the public opinion towards greater reliance on Tehran and against the United States. Last fall we saw demonstrations in Baghdad where protesters carried placards saying “No to America, no to Iran, yes to Iraq!” There was a great deal of support for the notion of reaffirming Iraqi sovereignty and autonomy of action which they have not had since 2003…
Q: So the Iraqis want U.S. withdrawal and America is threatening them with sanctions? After two Desert Storms?
ST: It is supremely ironic, looking at the U.S. position in the Middle East, that thousands of lives and several trillion dollars in treasure have been wasted to change the regime in Baghdad, which is now closer to Iran than Saddam Hussein could ever be. Saddam was the barrier to the projection of Iranian influence towards Syria and Lebanon, the Levant. With his removal, with the collapse of American proxies in Syria, with the closeness which has developed between Turkey and Russia—even though in Libya Erdogan and Putin support two opposite camps, but that is a different story—and with the emergent trilateral Moscow-Beijing-Tehran, I am of the opinion that Trump will make a sober assessment… We heard harsh and threatening statements last summer. There will be a deescalation yet again, the jug has remained whole one more time.
[Image via Happy TV]
Dr. Srdja Trifkovic, Foreign Affairs Editor of Chronicles, is the author of The Sword of the Prophet and Defeating Jihad.