The irresponsible media commentary following America’s assassination of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani demands noise-reduction. Here are the material geopolitical facts.
America pursues its Iran foreign policy through the straitjacket of its global its global priorities:
1. America’s overriding global strategic imperative is to prevent any hostile nation emerging with enough power to deny it absolute control of that nation’s regional seas.
2. After 20 years of Middle East wars, America does not have the resources or appetite to fight a new Mideast war and contain China.
IRAN’S GEOPOLITICAL INTERESTS
1. The 1980s Iran-Iraq War convinced Iran that it needed to be powerful enough to prevent foreign interference in its affairs.
2. Iran’s only way to secure that power is to expand westward to the Mediterranean Sea.
3. The 2003 fall of Iraq gave Iran a free hand to expand its influence west to Iraq.
1. America must deny Iran control of Iraq to prevent Iran from becoming powerful enough to deny America control of critical Mideast energy sea lanes.
2. Because America must avoid another Mideast war, it employed crippling financial sanctions rather than military action to contain Iran’s westward expansion.
3. These sanctions have lowered Iranian standards of living, causing protests which threaten the Iranian government’s survival.
4. Increasingly desperate, Iran has tried to increase its bargaining leverage over America by increasing the American cost of sanctions by:
a) Bombing a Saudi oil refinery; and
5. The Mideast balance of power depends on America’s allies believing it will come to their aid when threatened.
6. America’s failure to respond to Iran’s Saudi oil refinery bombing upset Saudi Arabia and threatens the American credibility which underpins regional stability.
Consequently, America had to meaningfully respond to Iran’s second provocation (Iraq embassy attack) to preserve regional ally confidence in it while also not inducing war with Iran.
Killing Sulieman threaded that foreign policy needle.
Iran has limited scope to escalate consequences on America.
American sanctions have crippled its economy. Its subsequent currency crash has destroyed its war-making piggybank.
And, of course, Iran can’t be certain that escalation won’t draw pugnacious America into an uncertain war it can’t afford.
America’s fiscal priorities and limitations guarantee that it won’t initiate conflict absent unreasonable Iranian escalation.
Iran wants sanctions relief but can’t give up its expansionary policy.
America wants cessation of Iran’s westward expansion, so can’t end sanctions.
Neither side can afford war.
So Iran and America will engage in benign tit-for-tat exchanges, avoiding more serious conflict escalation.