Welcome to our brave new world, which is starting to look like the bad old world. In the last week Iranian backed militias have launched three rocket attacks at American forces and positions including the American embassy, killing a US contractor, and injuring US service personnel. The reaction of the Biden administration has been to label the attacks an “Outrage” but that the US will not lash out, but consider options, Come on man. Iran has in the past tested the resolve of the United States, recently under Trump. The result with Trump was withdrawal from the JCPOA, the Iran deal, which cost them billions due to renewed sanctions. When they attempted to force their point once again by staging an attack on our embassy in Baghdad, their lead terrorist was killed by a drone strike. In June of 2019 Iran shoot down a US Drone over international waters in the Strait of Hormuz. The US responded by a cyber attack which shut down the Iranian Air Defense Grid. Last year the number of attacks increased but the number of rockets fired in each attack decreased. The attacks also were of very little effect since they mostly missed hitting anything of value with no US casualties.
Today we see death and casualty causing impacts as well as an increase in accuracy. The good news is they are not using their more sophisticated weapons and not using the mass barrage technique of the past. How long will it be before they use larger more sophisticated missiles and aim to cause mass death. If there is no response, it will not be too long. Our allies I am sure are cautioning against the cowboy diplomacy of the past and the Biden administration is more then happy to oblige. While claiming to be assessing and contemplating they can continue to just sit back and do nothing. How will this work out?
In the past, during the cold war there was a military doctrine known as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) that was thought to keep the US and the Soviet Union from using nuclear force. We may not be talking about stopping a nuclear war (yet), but the concept of deterrence is valid. An excellent book from those days is “Arms and Influence” by Thomas C. Schelling. The first chapter in his book is titled “The Diplomacy of Violence.” Schelling speaks of the difference between compelling a foe or coercing them. Joe Biden is familiar with compelling someone as we saw with his threat to Ukraine to fire a prosecutor or lose US aid. Coercion is different, since it is making someone do what they do not want to do under threat of violence. Compelling Iran to stop supporting militias in Iran or to stop exporting terrorism in the region is a futile quest. Coercing them with threats of violence has limited effect but can still be effective if the amount of hurt inflected or perceived to be coming is sufficient to slow down an action. Claiming they were in Iranian waters the boats and crew were taken captive. Secretary of State Kerry apologized for the incident and thanked Iran for releasing the crew. Obama pointe the incident out as a success for diplomacy. Iran continued to size tankers in the gulf and demanding ransom. Most recently they sized a Korean tanker in January claiming it was polluting the gulf. Iran just announced it was releasing the tanker after South Korea released 1 Billion dollars in assets frozen by US sanctions.
The Biden administration must learn how to deal with terrorist regimes, or the violence will increase and consume the region and the world. One teaching of life comes from William F. Buckley who said, “Idealism is fine but as it approaches reality the cost becomes prohibitive.” No government or political institution can stand if it is based solely on ideology that makes no room for change.