A Dark, Dangerous Moment

January 7, 2020 8:29 p.m.

Multiple reports say that Iran (not just proxies or Iran-backed militias in Iraq) has launched a volley of missiles targeting a number of bases in Iraq which house US troops. There’s very little information available about what damage these attacks have caused or whether there are casualties or fatalities. The White House has signaled a possible Presidential address to the nation tonight. It’s hard to imagine anything and I mean anything positive coming from that, to put it mildly.

Let me share a few thoughts on this.

First, one can imagine a few different scenarios to these attacks and ones that Iranians would largely be able to choose. (You can’t totally chose what happens when you start firing missiles; but you can mainly plan the results.) One possibility is a broad series of attacks which do relatively little real damage and are intended as such. Another is a major attack meant to inflict a lot of damage on US installations, to make the US bleed, in other words.

If it’s the latter we’re all in a lot of trouble. If by later this evening we’re seeing reports of numerous US military fatalities it’s unlikely that we won’t react in kind and then we’re just in a very bad descent.

If it’s the former, there’s a good argument for strategic restraint. This talk of going on the air with a major presidential address before we know the answer to those questions is highly, highly worrisome. We need to hope that somewhere in the President’s orbit there are some people in a position to counsel some restraint and patience.

We’re the great power. We don’t need to be in a rush.

This is from a respected regional policy hand currently out of government. If this is accurate it suggests we’re looking at he former option.

This all starts with the terrible decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and try to wage economic warfare against Iran. The degeneration over the last year stems from that decision. For the moment, though, what’s done is done. What really matters is just what the Iranian military did tonight (which we don’t know the answer to) and how the US responds.

The US does not need to rush. We don’t need to react to every provocation. We already hurt Iran really, really badly. They’re going to respond. The question is how. If they do launch a face-saving barrage with little real damage that can be a place to stop. We need to be looking for off ramps and thinking seriously about where we want this to go.

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