A very brief recap on current events:
- Iranian proxies attack U.S. embassy in Iraq.
- United States assassinates Iranian general.
- Iran sends missiles against two U.S. bases in Iraq.
- United States responds with sanctions, but no military action.
You’re up to speed.
Now, the Iranian attack itself has a few caveats to it.
Many were worried how Iran would respond to the assassination of their general. There were many calls for revenge, for serious revenge. What Iran did was surprisingly mild.
A full one-quarter of the missiles the sent (four out of fifteen) failed.
The rest hit fields or assets of no importance. No one was killed.
Additionally, Iran actually let everyone know the attack was coming. No, they didn’t pick up the phone and call the U.S., but they did send radio broadcasts knowing the Americans would hear it. So there was plenty of time to get out of the way.
A number of analysts believe this was done to avoid escalation. If Iran had actually killed someone, the United States would have to respond. Massively.
This way, it was hoped that the United States would accept the damage and let it go. Iran gets its revenge, and everyone is happy.
And that is how it worked out for the most part. The United States did say that it was imposing additional sanctions on Iran, and it is asking NATO to become “more involved” in the Middle East, but it all looks like de-escalation and diplomacy will win out.
At least, that is how it looks if you’re a Westerner.
The problem is, Westerners have a terrible habit of imposing they way of thinking onto other cultures. And then they don’t understand why those people don’t act the way the West thinks they should.
Now let’s look at this from Iran’s perspective:
After the United States committed an act of war by killing their general (never mind that Iran has killed thousands of people, attacked Americans and other assets. That stuff doesn’t count), Iran demands revenge.
Iran tells the United States where the attack is coming, when, and to get out of the way. The U.S. does so. Iran tells the United States not to follow-up with a responding attack. The United States doesn’t follow up. The United States talks about more sanctions that are, in the end, meaningless to Iran as Iran has plenty of allies in Europe who will help them get around anything the U.S. does because Europe doesn’t want a war in the Middle East and will do anything to prevent it. No matter the consequences.
All in all, Iran has completely called the shots in this scenario. The United States has done exactly what they wanted.
Don’t let’s forget the propaganda Iran has been putting out there. According to Iran, this was a wildly successful attack, some even are reporting many Americans dead.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, “Last night [the Americans] received a slap.”
He also said, “These military actions are not sufficient (for revenge).” For context, he continued by saying “What is important is that the corrupt presence of America in this region comes to an end.”
How this is playing to the domestic Iranian audience is that Iran stood up to the giant United States and made the United States walk away, bloodied.
Now yes, the sane Iranian leaders looked at the situation, knew they had to respond or look like weak cowards, and had to come up with a plan that wouldn’t get their country flattened. So they drew up something that would play well to their audience, but wouldn’t jump things to the next level.
That’s how the playbook tells you how it would go.
The real world works very differently.
Time has a way of making new memories and putting things in a different light.
A few days from now, maybe a week or two, these same sane Iranian leaders are going to start believing their own feldercarb, that they actually pushed against the United States and made it go crying to mommy.
In the United States, a divided electorate, a propagandist media, a public that doesn’t like foreign military action, and an upcoming election make the United States look like something that doesn’t have the appetite for war. Iran knows this. And the more the U.S. fights amongst itself, the weaker it is.
It doesn’t help that Iran sees the U.S. response (more ignorable sanctions) as weak itself.
What would have been an appropriate response? Who knows? Doesn’t matter anyway. The die is cast.
The next move is Iran’s, and they have the advantage now. At least, as far as they see it. And perception is reality. It will drive what they do next.