Do and Deny
“Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing.” Edmund Burke
“Living on hypocrisy is not a healthy diet for patriots.” Tom Tancredo
“Ostentation is the signal flag of hypocrisy.” Edwin Hubbel Chapin
“This is the modus operandi of Iran’s deep state: engaging while raging against the world.” Jason Brodsky
While working with refugees in Europe over the past few years, I met a young African man named Budo. He was from the Congo. I met him shortly after he arrived as an asylum seeker in Germany. Soon after that, Budo was deported…to Syria. He contacted me, very concerned because he had been dropped off unceremoniously in Damascus, Syria. I asked him how in the world he was deported to Syria. He told me that when he arrived in Germany, having no identification, he quickly saw that the Syrian refugees seemed to be receiving privileged treatment, so he told the immigration officials that he was from Syria. He ended up being deported to the middle of a war zone in Damascus. His plan backfired and his duplicity became his undoing.
This week I am writing about what feels a lot like duplicity in the Persian Gulf. The Iranians have been engaging in what tacticians refer to as the “Do and Deny” tactic: Carry out a destabilizing attack, make sure everyone assumes you did it and then deny you had anything to do with it. The Mullahs in Iran have been engaging in this tactic for almost 40 years. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has deftly exploited carefully-curated reform-minded public personas of presidents and policymakers to deceive the international community for years. What amazes me most is that politicians and intelligentsia are still falling for it, four decades later, with no sign of letting up.
I would like for us to gain a better understanding of what the end game is for the US and for Iran concerning the confrontation at hand. I honestly believe President Rouhani and President Trump when they say that they seriously do not want war. Even the most casual observer would be able to conclude that war for both countries would be catastrophic. The US would destroy Iran’s military along with the current regime that rules Iran. In the process however, there are other players which would step in to fill some gaps while the US would be engaged in battle; namely Russia and China. It would have calamitous consequences.
For a very interesting perspective of the larger picture of what is happening in the Persian Gulf and why, I highly recommend a recent interview with Dr. James Carafano, at Heritage Foundation, the Vice President of the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy. It is a most enlightening article as it sheds light on why the US is involved in the Middle East, especially in light of the fact that the US has become nationally independent of foreign sources of petrochemical resources.
One thing is for certain, in these daily reported events, there is much more than meets the eye and it will be difficult to talk about it all in one simple digest. I will attempt to discuss briefly and clearly what Iran and the US want. I will try to answer the questions: Why are two nations which are so far away from one another at each other’s throats? What could be the potential conclusion of this struggle?
The United States: Why is it even involved?
“The United States is a global power with global interests and global responsibilities. That’s just a fact. It does business, and it cares about things which are important to it all over the world. This doesn’t make it, the world’s policemen, it doesn’t make it the world’s babysitter, it just means that it has to be around the world protecting things that are important to the United States.” The United States’ interests are no different than any other country’s; it just happens to be one of the only countries in the world today who has the capability to project its influence wherever it desires. I am not saying it is good or bad. That is just the way it is.
One of the chief American interests is the international waterways. Many think that this is about oil. It is not. The US would have little problem providing for all its petroleum needs internally. The US could stop buying foreign oil tomorrow, with few serious repercussions. So what is all the fuss? It is in the interest of the US to ensure that international waterways are navigable by its business partners and their countries. Should global waterways be impeded, it could have a devastating effect on the global economy. That is something of key importance to the US, on behalf of itself and its allies. Roughly 40% of the world’s oil is transported through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. Protecting that strait is a global priority.
Iran: What are they upset about? What do they want?
First of all, let me address the question of four decades of duplicity and why it is necessary. Why is Iran creating instability in the region and why is it “sabre-rattling” in the face of its neighbors and the USA? According to James Carafano, “To most people, that would seem to make no sense, but it makes sense from an Iranian perspective. The Iranians are in a tough part of the world. In that part of the world, if you aren’t strong and powerful, you’re basically on the menu.” Iran watchers are conscious of its sophistry, and beyond its posturing and high decibel rhetoric, its words ring hollow. So, as the US pushes back on Iranian influence, in Syria, in Yemen, in Iraq, sanction the Iranians, to the rest of the region who they’re trying to intimidate and overwhelm, they look weak.
They have to push back against the United States. They’ve got to find ways to do that, such as sabotaging these tankers, pipelines and oil production facilities. On the other hand, the Iranians aren’t stupid. The current regime knows that if there was an American/Iranian war, life as they know it would cease to exist.
If you’re a regime and only interested in surviving, the last thing you’re going to want to do is actually pick a war with the United States. They’re in this weird place where they want to do aggressive things and they want everybody to know they did them, so that they can show everybody they’re tough. On the other hand, they want to deny they’re doing them because they also don’t want to escalate with the United States, and they want to try to keep the US from building a coalition to pressure and isolate Iran.
Some are propounding that this is a new attitude by the Iranians. I am personally not convinced. Ever since the Ayatollah Khomeini’s overthrow of the Shah of Iran, America has been its chief enemy. I would dare say even more so than Israel, which nobody really seems to understand why the Iranians hate the Israeli’s so much. Israel is over a thousand miles away, the Palestinians are Sunni Muslims, not Shi’ite and they share little affection for one another.
So why are the Iranians doing all this? They must, in order to stay in power. The religious intelligentsia must paint a uniquely Iranian eschatological picture which characterizes Iran as a global power. It is a key element to its Islamic meta-narrative. Iran is not just interested in surviving. They desire to create a hegemony among first, the Shi’ites and then eventually amongst all of the Umma, the people of Islam. In order for this to happen, they know they must be at the table as a power player on the global stage. This is why the possession of a nuclear weapon is imperative for their plan to be realized.
The Iranian leadership is walking a fine line between annihilation and success. They know it. The rest of the world is still divided on the addition of Iran into the nuclear weapon family.
Where could all this lead?
As I stated above, though the situation is extremely fragile and war could break out at anytime, I do not think it will. Iran’s aggressive attacks against oil tankers coming out of Saudi Arabia, attacks on Saudi oil pipelines and most recently the two super petrochemical production facilities are designed to demonstrate to the world that Iran is not a force with which to be trifled. Even so, they are committed to not admitting that they had anything to do with the attack. “Do and Deny,” the hope being that nobody will trifle with them based on their bravado and on the image that they are prepared to go to the mat should anyone consider reprisals.
It is a “cat and mouse game” of mammoth proportions. It is allowing the Iranians to hold the fate of the 21st century global community in their hands. And like an elementary school beauty queen, they are eating up the attention.
What are the odds of military confrontation?
From my perspective the measured response is that soon we will see a counter strike of some kind take place, but not by the US (read… wink, wink.) It will be a surgical strike that will be designed to degrade Iranian capabilities to protect themselves. The US will deny any involvement. It will increase hostilities and will most likely prompt yet another proxy attack of some kind that Iran will insist that they have nothing to do with.
The US will most likely deepen its position by sending US forces to the Middle East as a defensive posture. It will continue to seek the support of its allies, many of which will continue to evade the issue and will play the “we’re not convinced card,” even though the Iranians will wink and nod to their faces. There will be another mysterious attack on an Iranian oil facility or even nuclear production facility and nobody will take responsibility for the attack. The US will deny it had any involvement.
This entire conflict will turn into a junior high “see who blinks first” antic. It could be funny if the stakes were not so high. Meanwhile, the Russians and the Chinese will surprise everyone through their intervention somewhere along the way. They would love nothing more than to see the US become deeply absorbed into yet another Middle Eastern war of attrition.
What you can look for in the near future is a mysterious explosion of an Iranian military base, weapon cache or nuclear plant. It will look like an accident and the world will look on with surprise. They will wonder who did it, while knowing deep down inside who did.
Next week we will discuss sanctions, what they hope to accomplish and how they are currently impacting Iran. We will examine the viable strategies and what their ultimate effects will be.
“Nothing is better than listening to a lie, when you already know the truth.” Lies look as good on others as they do on us. My prognosis may not be incredibly encouraging, but it seems feasible to me. This is an important subject for us because the situation is going to get worse before it gets better. Even though I do not believe that war is imminent, it is a possibility.
Nobody knows what the true ramifications are of even the measured responses. Global economic responses are fickle. Even the threat of war can trigger a global economic collapse that few of us want to experience. When/if that happens we need to be ready. My proposals for action below are not based on a dooms-day event, but rather on what I would call a reasonable preparation for any potential crisis.
Here are some practical ways that you can be prepared for whatever may happen.
- Get out of debt. Debt is going to catch up with a lot of people, including the government. Your only hope is to become debt free. When the economy goes sour many people will be caught in the trap of 2009 and it will be a difficult storm to weather.
- Save up three months of your salary as a buffer.
- Keep a week or two amount of food stocked in your home. I am not trying to convince you to be a survivalist. It is just pretty common knowledge that the average city in the US has about three days supply of food on the shelves in stores across America. You might even want to store up a little for your neighbor or a poor family near you.
- Have an alternate form of transportation available to you. Maybe a bike or a horse!
- Have an alternate form of energy available to you, perhaps a solar panel or two for keeping your primary communications alive.
- Have a first-aid kit, battery powered LED lighting, ability to clean water and communications handy.
These are basic suggestions that are wise as we attempt to prepare for any possible emergencies. Following through with them would help you thrive in one of many different kinds of crises, natural or man-made. Life is priceless; provisions save lives.
The main thing we can do is to be good neighbors and to learn to live with our communities. Crises are a terrible time to get to know your neighbors for the first time. Roll your barbecue grill out to your front yard and call your neighbors over for dinner. It may do more to help you weather a looming storm than anything else you might dare to do.
Go back and read my past articles on the JCPOA and the Iranian situation. It will help you understand better what is happening right now.
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org