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A Man’s Got to Know His Strategic Limitations: President Trump and the Current Middle Eastern Crisis

        Turkish Protestors in Istanbul 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I watch the crisis between the United States, or shall I better say President Trump and Iran unfold, and have talked with various friends about it in person and on social media I am reminded of a couple of different definitions of patriotism. Now since I have served the United States as a military enlisted man, and officer in both the Army and Navy in Peace and War, I think that I love my country and should be considered a patriot. I am not blind to our shortcomings, nor things that have been done in the name of the United States that go against the will of our Founders, the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, and the law embodied in our Constitution. Liberal or not, I am a realist. I don’t like to us to lose unnecessary wars.

Likewise, as my favorite theologian Harry Callahan said in Magnum Force: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”  Our President, nor his Cult  do not understand reality. Despite the comparative easy Assassination of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Qassim Suleimani, regardless of how bad of man he was, the President has opened a potentially apocalyptic Pandora’s Box which will bring about worse for the United United States, the region and the world.

None of our allies anywhere in the world, including the Israelis, who hate Iran, have officially offered us their support. The Iraqi Parliament has passed a resolution asking the government to order the United States military forces to leave the country. That may not happen, but it will place our very limited and scattered forces in Iraq at the mercy of Iraqi Militias supported by Iran, and quite possibly regular Iraqi and Iranian forces. It could be a death trap for the 5,500 or so American troops in Iraq, not to mention those in Kuwait, those based in Syria, Bahrain, and Qatar, or on ships in the Arabian/Persian Gulf.

American military power is not what it used to be and the President has not considered the second, third, fourth, fifth, or more effects of this strike. Our military readiness is not good, our ability to project power and sustain our forces is worse than it was in 2003, and now we have no allied support. Likewise there is no telling what the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, or other competitors/enemies will do.

The Iranians have announced that they will not abide by the nuclear accords reached with the West during the Obama Administration, which they abided by even after President Trump renounced that accord. Likewise they have promised vengeance against American military targets and a eulogist at Suleimani’s funeral put an 80 million dollar contract for anyone who kills President Trump.

I neither want a wider war or for that matter for the Iranians to succeed in assassinating President Trump. As much as I oppose the President’s policies and think of him as a dangerous man, his death would only serve to make things worse. He would be succeeded by Vice President Pence, and his cult would demand its own vengeance, regardless of the military, diplomatic, and economic cost.

The “Mistake” Letter

Today the situation continued to escalate as the Iraqi Parliament continued to press for the removal of American and foreign forces from Iraq, backed now by the Iraqi President. President Trump threatened to attack religious and cultural sites in Iran, in violation of treaties we have signed and if carried out would be war crimes. He was countermanded by Mark Esper, the Secretary of Defense.Trump continued to reiterate his threat about 52 targets in Iran based on the number of hostages taken by Iranians during the takeover of the American Embassy in 1979, to which the Iranian President reminded the United States of the 290 passengers lost when the USS Vincennes misidentified and shot down IR-655, an Iranian passenger plane on a scheduled flight in 1988. In response the the Iraqi Parliament vote Trump ordered the administration to draft  sanctions against Iraq. During the day a draft of a withdraw letter was mistakenly released by the commander of American Forces, which was almost immediately denied as a mistake by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of Defense.

If you ask me, things seem to be spiraling out of control, and nobody seems to be at the helm of the ship of state. This is not a good position to be in.

But now the dice have been thrown, the wager has been made, and the outcome is at best an uncertain gamble. I fear for our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen in Iraq and the Gulf. The Iranians can easily shut down the Straits of Hormuz, their Yemeni allies can threaten the Bab El Mendeb, the other major maritime choke point in the region. Likewise, in defiance of Trump the Iraqis could cut off supplies from the American troops scattered across the country if they do not withdraw or some kind of accord is reached for them to stay. Likewise, the Iranians, while not the military equal of the United States do have enough power to endanger every American facility in the Persian Gulf, kill tens of thousands of Americans, and seriously disrupt the world economy, yet leaving the Russians, and Chinese greatly strengthened.

I do not know what will happen over the next few days or weeks, but the President has backed us into a corner with little room for maneuver, diplomatically or militarily. Even long term allies like the Israelis, British, and Australians have not offered support. Neither have the Saudis, the mortal Sunni enemies of the Shia Iranians. Certain pundits have, but not their governments.

This is a watershed moment, things that Americans and the world trusted to remain as they were will no longer be the same, and we will not be the better for it. Things will not get better and they will very likely get worse and very possibly bring about the Armageddon that many of Trump’s followers, as well as certain groups of Sunni and Shia Muslims, and others fervently pray for.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under ethics, Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick: Words Of Wisdom too often Ignored

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am a frequent critic of President Trump, but last Friday when I awoke to the news that he had called off military strikes on Iran at the last minute, I was pleased. His closest cabinet level advisors, including John Bolton, one of the principle authors of the invasion of Iraq were pushing him to launch. There is controversy as to when the President learned the potential casualties of the initial strike, but I am less concerned about that than that he did the right thing, and at the same time began to quiet his language toward the Islamic Republic.

Whether this is enough to take us off the path the war is yet unseen. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, does not seem to be deterred or encouraged by anything Trump does. Much of this is due to the fact that the previous actions of the President and his administration have backed Iran and the United States into a corner that it will take overwhelming political and moral courage to avoid war. The pressure on both men is pushing them towards war, and Trump has the additional pressure of the Saudis and Israelis to do their dirty work regarding Iran for them, much as Israel and many of the same advisors did to President Bush during the run up to the attack on Iraq in 2003. For the moment, President Trump has resisted pulling the trigger that very probably would unleashed a devastating regional war with world wide ramifications. I hope that he continues to do so but he is not the only actor in this play, too many other actors, including Khamenei, the leaders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the Saudi Leadership, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, the Gulf States, the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, as well as various Sunni and Shia surrogates all have a hand in this Hexenkessel of potential war and death.

I have too many friends and shipmates currently stationed in the Gulf to want war there. Likewise, I am still on active duty and my nephew is graduating from Marine Corps Boot Camp this week are still on active duty. A war would be very personal for me and my family. I hope that the President is graced with the moral fortitude, something he has not demonstrated much during his life in order to both preserve peace and American/Western interests in the region. The world cannot endure a war of the kind that will certainly escalate in ways that will engulf the region and possibly the world.

President Trump’s bluster combined with his inaction and accommodation with leaders such as Putin and Kim Jong Un, his unfulfilled rhetoric of regime change in Venezuela, and his continued attacks on American allies do not help his situation right now. He suffers a distinct lack of credibility both domestically and internationally, mostly because of his words, tweets, and outright lies. That does not mean that I want him to fail. In fact I hope that he exceeds my expectations of him. The stakes are too great for him to screw this up.

That does not mean that I will excuse his domestic policies or resist when I see him overreaching his Constitutional authority, or attempt to silence his political, media, or social opponents. But, as Commander in Chief in this volatile and dangerous situation I pray that he doesn’t fuck it up. Of course, the President acts on instinct more than logic, and the adulation of his Cult-like followers over reason. Everything he does is a gamble, I hope that since he is a gambler he knows to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. If he doesn’t tens of thousands, maybe millions of lives may be lost and a true world war begun. An attack an Iran could bring Russian action against American NATO allies in Europe, North Korean actions, or Chinese actions in the South China Sea. That doesn’t include Hezbollah attacks on Israel, or Iranian sleeper agent attacks in the United States.

I pray that the President has the sense to find a way to make a real deal with Iran. For me this is not partisan politics, it is about the country, our institutions, and our future as a nation. A war with Iran will destroy all of those institutions, we will become an autocracy, and Trump might be a tool of others far worse than him.

It is something to think about. Whether I am right or wrong, true patriotism can be complicated and extend to agreements and disagreements on policies and actions.

Theodore Roosevelt wrote:

Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.

Regardless I choose to tell the truth. War with Iran would would be disastrous. Our nation is neither prepared for it or unified, likewise the state of readiness of the U.S. military is abyssal, despite all of the defense budget increases. Most of those are not increasing the readiness of deplorable units or the base structures that support them. The are benefiting defense contractors and their shareholders. Marine Corps General and two time awardee Of the Medal Of Honor wrote in his book War is a Racket:

War is a racket. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

The President would be wise to heed Theodore Roosevelt’s warning, in word, deed, and tweet. Speak Softly and carry a big stick.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Musing on Potential War With Iran

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am a veteran of Iraq, and have participated in maritime operations in the Arabian/Persian Gulf.

I am not comfortable with the steps the administration is taking with Iran, not that I am any fan of the Ayatollahs and their aggressive theocratic-religious-military-dictatorship. While I had always dreamed of a military career it was the failure of the attempt to rescue the hostages taken by the Iranians in April 1980, Operation Eagle Claw that was the tipping point for me to explore my options about joining the military. 1980 was the year I transferred to California State University, albeit to study history, but mostly because Judy, my girlfriend was going there. Once I got there I started checking out the various ROTC programs and enlisted as a simultaneous membership program between Army ROTC and the California Army National Guard in 1981.

I thought back then at sometime we would go to war with Iran but as years passed I thought that maybe both sides would find a way to peacefully co-exist, at least within limits, especially after my experiences in the Gulf where the regular Iranian Navy chased Iraqi Oil Smugglers into our hands. Of course there was the time some Revolutionary Guard patrol boats harassed our squadron Flagship, an Australian Special Forces Support ship and we sped to her assistance at full speed with guns and missiles armed and ready to go to war. They withdrew and nothing came out of it, but for about an hour it appeared that we would be the first U.S. Navy ship to engage the Iranians since the Tanker Wars Of the late 1980s. The fact is that the Revolutionary Guard Naval Corps operates in a different world from the regular Iranian Navy.

If we go to war, now I know two things about the Arabian/Persian Gulf and the Iranians have built up a formidable asymmetric naval and capability. A large number small submarines, not high tech, but in large numbers hard to kill. Likewise, would deploy large numbers of fast attack boats and craft armed with a variety of missiles and guns for swarm attacks on otherwise better armed and more capable warships. We prepared for those back in 2002, but the lethality of the Iranians has increased, as has their number of anti-ship missile batteries his increased exponentially, as has their number of short and medium range ballistic missiles. While their AirPower is antiquated by American standards they have better and more advanced air defense systems, supplied by Russia. They are also supported by Shia Muslim militants in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and even in Bahrain, headquarters of the U.S. 5th Fleet.

The Iranians have the capability of shutting down the Straits of Hormuz, and their allies in Yemen have showed the capability to attack shipping in the Bab El Mendeb, the Southern entrance to the Red Sea and a vital shipping lane in its own right.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has severely weakened our ties with key allies that routinely contribute Naval and air forces to the security of the Gulf.

Over the past few weeks an otherwise routine deployment to the region by the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, was sped up, B-52 bombers were deployed, and a proposal to send 120,000 troops to the Gulf was revealed. Four merchant ships were allegedly damaged by saboteurs, but no hard evidence points to Iran, and the damage to all the ships was minimal. The embassy staff in Baghdad was reduced over alleged threat increases that the American Commander in Iraq denies. The threats were reported by Israeli sources, much like the evidence that led us into war with Iraq in 2003.

I cannot put my finger finger on it, but something is not right about this situation. We are in no way ready for a major war with Iran, not with the possibility a potential war with North Korea, a trade war with China, and Russian threats to NATO allies or friendly nations in Eastern Europe.

This does not feel right to me. I’ve been around and seen and know too much. Maybe it’s my education military history, and high level Joint Operations education. Maybe it is my nearly 38 years serving in both the Army and Navy, including about 7 years with the Marines. Maybe it’s my long experience working with allies. I don’t know. All I know is that when domestic troubles embroil a national leader, the solution is often found in war. War allows leaders to do things impossible under peacetime constraints.

I can only speculate what is going on, but my hermeneutic os suspicion says to ask “why this administration, why Iran, why now?”

I wish I had the answer, but something doesn’t seem right, and I am worried for the many friends I have serving in the Gulf.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Question is When, Where and How?…not If…. The Inevitability of War with Iran

“War is the unfolding of miscalculations.”  Barbara W. Tuchman

I do not think that there is a sane person in the world that sees any benefit of a war between the United States, Israel and the West and Iran.  But then sane people seem to be in the minority of all those involved in the current escalation of tension regarding Iran,  Israel, the United States, the West and the Arab World.

That being said I don’t think that anyone really wants to go to war even as all of countries involved move military units around the region, stockpile more weapons and issue ever more strident threats against one another.

When the war between Iran and those that oppose it occurs it will be because one of parties involved makes a fatal miscalculation that leads to a regional war with unimaginable consequences.

The immediate parties involved, the Iranians, the Israelis and the Americans have all hardened their military, political and economic stances in the past few months. The Iranians in particular have escalated military tensions by threatening to close the Straits of Hormuz, moving naval units to Syria even as that country devolves into civil war and making attempts or threats on the lives of Israeli diplomats in various countries including the United States.

Israel is reacting in kind to what many Israelis view as an existential threat from Iran in regard to the possibility of Iran producing nuclear weapons and delivery systems that could threaten Israel.  Reports seem to indicate that the Israelis could conduct a pre-emptive strike against Iran any time between the spring and the November elections in the United States.

The United States and much of Europe have imposed an increasing number of economic sanctions on Iran that are taking a toll on Iran’s economy.  Iran is increasing pressure on its own citizens who want more freedom. The Iranian military and the Revolutionary Guards are conducting exercises which are becoming increasingly bellicose including sending warships into the Mediterranean Sea to Syria.  Whether they want war or do not their actions could accidentally trigger a war with terrible consequences to the region as well as the global economy.

At this point I do not see any easy way out of a war which everyone knows is coming but cannot or will not avert.  The question is no longer if? It is when, how and where? Will it be a naval action at the Straits of Hormuz? Will it be the assassination of an Israeli, Iranian or perhaps a Saudi diplomat or leader? Will it be a terrorist attack against Israel by an Iranian ally such as Hezbollah which triggers an Israeli response?  Who really knows? There are so many possibilities that could trigger a regional war that it it boggles the mind.

The media with its 24 hour news cycle which demands fresh news raises the tenor of emotions and passions of the people and nations involved with each passing day.  The fear of war is driving people to the brink of it.  Back in the late 1890s it was called “Yellow Journalism.”

Adlai Stevenson said that “In matters of national security emotion is no substitute for intelligence, nor rigidity for prudence. To act coolly, intelligently and prudently in perilous circumstances is the test of a man, and also a nation.”  But this is not always the case. It is very possible that Israel, Iran or the United States may conduct a “preventative” strike against its opponents.  Otto von Bismarck commented that “Preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.”

One can only hope that leaders and nations will see the truth of Stevenson and Bismarck’s words before the someone makes that one fatal miscalculation.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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