by Steve Brown
In recent weeks we have seen numerous probing attempts and provocations in and around the Strait of Hormuz — whether false flags or actual events — intended to raise the profile of the US’s unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA, and renewed US sanctions versus Iran. Iran is pushing the issue with the United States, and is apparently offering a sacrificial pawn on the board (or perhaps knight!) by seizing two British oil tankers alleged to be operating illegally in the Strait of Hormuz.
While it is too soon to predict how the United States and its allies Israel and Saudi Arabia (both sworn enemies of Iran) will react, let’s explore the reasons why any US reactionary response will be largely symbolic, even if that involves a token strike versus Iran.
Global alliances have shifted
Turkey has defacto announced its withdrawal from NATO, by its purchase of S-400 missiles. That purchase and collaboration with Russia guarantees its departure from NATO, even if Turkey has not publicly announced such a withdrawal. Furthermore, while Turkey’s military bases host US aircraft and operations, Turkey says it will not allow its bases to be used in any attack on Iran, by the US.
Iraq, an ally of Iran, has likewise stated that it will not allow its territory to be used as a base for attacking Iran.
Next, Imran Khan’s Pakistan has moved away from its alliance with the US to court China. China is Pakistan’s largest trading partner, and China has guaranteed security to Pakistan for Kashmir. Thus, no bases in Pakistan will be provided to the United States for any attack on Iran.
China and Russia have warned Washington too that it must not attack Iran. Iran has guarantees from Russia, China, Pakistan, Turkey, and even Japan and India that its economic future is secure… despite US sanctions.
So, only Saudia remains as a host for US aggression versus Iran. But Saudia has much to lose by hosting US aggression, especially with Russia pushing OPEC+. And even the largely defunct Arab League opposes US aggression versus Iran, from any Saudi base.
Iran will fight back
Next, consider the military force that Iran has at its disposal. From advanced Grad rockets to the Kornet, expect an announcement soon that S-400’s and other advanced armaments will be provided to Iran to ensure its right to defend itself. That, in conjunction with an already formidable array of defensive weapons to secure Iran’s borders and sea lanes will guarantee a formidable defense.
The United States cannot afford another new war
While the Federal Reserve may print the USD at will, a new war – especially a major war versus Iran – will weaken the US economically, despite the gamed casino numbers we see daily from Wall Street.
If the US were to attack Iran, be sure that the oil market will be mightily affected, causing oil prices to surge exponentially. Gold too will surge. Indeed, such an oil and gold price effect may be the prick needed to deflate the multi-quadrillion inflated USD bubble of public debt and derivative speculation that can burst again… just as it burst in 2008-2009. But this time when the financial collapse occurs, and as Donald Trump has warned, the new collapse will render the financial collapse of 2008-2009 to be a picnic.
The US is not capable of defeating Iran in a conventional war
This time, there is no “coalition of the willing” to posture and pretend that the US has many and varied allies engaged in some just cause to rid the world of evil, as it proclaimed in 1994 versus North Korea, and in 2003 versus Iraq. Apparently, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau and Solomon Islands have no real grievance versus Iran right now.
But the possibility exists that France, the UK and Germany will consider Iran enough of a threat around the Strait of Hormuz to impose additional sanctions on the country, and increase Naval military patrols to accompany tankers through the Strait. The increased patrols will increase tensions in the region, but should not result in war unless the US takes the bait of Iran sacrificing a knight to leave the West’s queen exposed, ie a greater war in the Middle East which may involve Iraq, Syria, Israel, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
Last time, just ten minutes prior to pulling the trigger (depending on accounts!) to consummate the Neocon’s dream for war with Iran, Trump had other ideas. Now, let’s review the reasons the United States cannot initiate a ground war versus Iran.
Most likely candidate here would be to stage US air strikes on Iran from Bagram air base. But at this time Afghanistan seeks closer ties with Iran on trade; for example, to trade with India via Iran’s Chabahar port.
And while the US could stage air strikes from Bagram, to launch a ground attack from this region would be a virtual impossibility. That is, due to mountainous terrain and firmly entrenched and well-armed IRGC mountain troops, neighboring.
Furthermore, it is exceedingly likely that Dostum/Ghani would forbid any attack by the US on Iran from Afghanistan, that would result in a major new war. And note that Dostum is pushing for the removal of US troops from Afghanistan, including its air bases.
As a matter of conjecture, it is likely that the US presented Dostum / Ghani with an enticing “deal” to host US forces for staging their new war on Iran. And while initially accepting Trump’s deal, it is thought that with such high stakes for Afghanistan it would have ultimately been rejected. (An interesting bit of propaganda along these lines appears here.)
There is noise too from Trump about withdrawing from Afghanistan, but that eventuality is highly unlikely.
The “Hermit Kingdom” proves even more problematic for the US than Afghanistan, for attacking Iran. There is little infrastructure, no existing US air base, only a “secret base” proposed by various alt media sources. While such a base could be used for US harassment vs Iran, to initially stage a new US war versus Iran from Turkmenistan is exceedingly unlikely. Especially so, since Turkmenistan (a former Soviet republic) has very close relations with China, and China has already warned the US to refrain from attacking Iran.
Imran Khan has sought close ties to Iran, and agreed to mutual border protection.
US State is so concerned with Khan and his shifting alliance to Iran and China, the department recently released a counter to allegations re deteriorating US – Pak relations.
Based on its history and current leadership, Pakistan will not allow the United States to use Pakistan as a base for a ground war versus Iran.
United Arab Emirates
The US RQ-4 shot down by Iran on June 19th was launched from the UAE via a US military base there. This base is alleged to be devoted to US action versus ISIL, but is thought to be a major US base for reconnaissance on Iran.
The UAE is hostile to Iran, but has no land bridge with Iran, being directly across the Strait of Hormuz. Its location on the strait would certainly close the Strait in a full-blown US war, for which the UAE would be blamed as an accomplice. The UAE has trade relations with Arab states too, that prevent it from being used as initial staging for a US war of aggression versus Iran.
It may be reasonably conjectured that the UAE agreed to allow US harassment strikes on Iran from its airfield there, but then withdrew that agreement abruptly.
Saudi Arabia is an ally of the US only for financial reasons, and a sworn enemy of Iran. Recently Saudi Arabia turned to China in an attempt to broaden trade and diversify its economy. Saudi Arabia must look to the future despite its cold war with Iran, and maintain reasonable relations with other Arab states.
Besides having no land mass directly adjacent to Iran, and based on its history, for Saudi Arabia to host US troops capable of undertaking a ground war of aggression versus Iran seems unlikely. However, the Crown Prince is a noted war hawk and apparently not averse to wars of aggression (example, Yemen) so reports of Saudi Arabia hosting a new US air base and hundreds of US troops in Saudi Arabia may present an opportunity for the US to threaten Iran by its military presence there.
Iraq has a significant history with the US military and has lost many thousands of its people to war and sanctions imposed on it by the United States. Even though the US has a significant presence in Iraq and many US bases still present there, the Iraqi government has on numerous occasions expressed its desire that the US’s 5,200 troops leave the country.
Recently, the call for US troops to leave Iraq has become more vocal and pronounced. Analyst consensus is of course that the US continues to occupy Iraq as a means to counter Iran’s influence in the country and elsewhere.
Iraq has a strong majority who now favour Iran, for trade, political, and cultural reasons. Iraq has significant trade with Iran, and Iran leverages that trade in oil and electricity.
Many militias operate in Iraq, supportive of Iran, and anti-US. These militias are well-armed and battle-tested, and for the US to stage a ground war versus Iran from Iraq would be quite alarming to the populace generally, likely resulting in serious retaliation in Iraq, versus US forces.
So, while the US still has a significant presence in Iraq, a US attack and war on Iran based in Iraq would likely result in serious and immediate setbacks for the US.
Syria has no land border with Iran. In spite of Syrian objections, the US does host air bases to protect the terrorist region of al Tanf, and in Manbij. US harassment air raids on Iran could be launched from these bases, but a ground war could not be launched from Syria without a massive expansion of US bases there. Such an expansion would constitute a move that would surely be militarily resisted by Syrian security forces and their significant allies.
What Options Does the US Have Versus Iran?
Being a major military power, the US does have limited military options versus Iran, in addition to economic sanctions already imposed, while noting that an attack could certainly provoke the Russian or Chinese leadership to aid Iran. While the United States has never ‘won a war’ — and only in the case of Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, and North Korea has the US ever been forced to flee its chosen theater — as Greer points out, there is a difference between outright losing a war, when compared to not winning one.
Even if a war is not won, the result may benefit western powers, as it has (arguably) in the case of Israel-Palestine, Vietnam, Korea, Laos, Lebanon, Cambodia, Panama, and perhaps even Iraq, if imposed western participation in Iraq’s oil business and production is considered.
For the US to consider Iran to be among the “attack-worthy” group noted above, the US must first consider Iran to be weak enough (economically and militarily) to be worth attacking — since an outright quick US military victory versus Iran is an odds-on impossibility. The US must also consider the response of either Russia or China to be muted, as trade and diplomatic relations continue to sour exponentially with both countries.
Neither scenario above (militarily/economically weak) really applies in Iran’s case, so any attack on Iran must be largely symbolic and unlikely to result in massive retaliation; or to provoke the Russian or China’s leadership to intervene militarily, to assist Iran in its defense.
According to the western press, the targets chosen for Trump precisely one month ago on June 19th were three military and radar installations within Iran, the destruction of which would have resulted in relatively few deaths. Will those same targets be on the cards for the US military again? We shall see.
Should Trump fire cruise missiles at those targets or bomb them from the air, it is highly likely that Russia’s or China’s leadership (China still receives significant amounts of oil from Iran) will quickly provide Iran with upgraded air defenses and possibly even warplanes. And as this author has already suggested, the latter is the greatest concern for Washington in the face of a US-led attack on Iran.
Indications that the United States will attack Iran or not, even in a limited air strike, will likely appear on social media with the usual attack dogs – Bolton and Pompeo – rattling their sabers and exhorting the usual nonsense about the “danger” Iran poses to the west… or not. So far social media is quiet on the subject, but Trump may hold his counsel and engage in a surprise move. We shall see who is surprised!
This author speculates, perhaps incorrectly, that the US will take no action versus Iran for now, assuming the UK’s oil tankers are released promptly within the next few days… probably subsequent to a joint US-UK statement/demand. Should the tanker seizure drag on, I believe the odds of a limited US strike versus Iran will rise exponentially by the day. That’s because the UK is of course a NATO participant, and the US could thus consider seizure of British ships to be militarily actionable.
What of Iran’s Motives?
The culture that invented the game of chess never makes a move without careful and calculating consideration. Iran has been forced to play black for decades now, and has done so with skill, alacrity, and will take the initiative whenever possible.
Whether Iran has sensed a particular point of weakness in the West at this time, or Iran has hidden agreements in place with significant allies to come to its defense in the event of an US attack, is of course unknown.
That Iran may be holding a surprise move in check with support from its allies must be of extreme concern to the US Hegemon. And eventually that concern must be all of ours, when the hegemon inevitably fails to intimidate and control the board with its white advantage, and its queen is taken.
Steve Brown is the author of “Iraq: the Road to War” (Sourcewatch) editor of “Bush Administration War Crimes in Iraq” (Sourcewatch) “Trump’s Limited Hangout” and “Federal Reserve: Out-sourcing the Monetary System to the Money Trust Oligarchs Since 1913”; Steve is an antiwar activist, a published scholar on the US monetary system, and has appeared as guest contributor to theDuran, Fort Russ News, and Strategika51.