Fred Henneke, Attorney & Counselor-At-Law
Yesterday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (“IRGC”), the Iranian military/para-military organization, shot down an unmanned unarmed United States surveillance drone, There is controversy over where the drone was when it was shot down; we say over international waters, they say over Iranian waters. Where the attack took place has some legalistic import, but otherwise it is irrelevant. At the last minute, President Trump called off a retaliatory strike against Iranian military sites based on the number of anticipated civilian casualties.The President felt it was disproportionate to strike against civilians when the Iran strike did not involve persons.
How did he United States find itself in this precarious situation? A little review might be helpful.
Ever since the Shah abdicated in 1979 and the Ayatollah Khomelni became the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, the United States and Iran have been competing for predominance in the Middle East. A major issue was Iran’s desire for nuclear weapons. In 2015 Iran, on the one hand, and the United States, along with France, Germany, Britain, the European Union, China and Russia on the other, entered into an agreement designed to halt for ten years and greatly limit Iran’s ability to acquire nuclear weapons. In return, Iran had certain sanctions lifted, and received a large sum of money that had been held in the United States for various infractions by Iran. Most importantly, the agreement opened Iran’s economy to Western trade, investment, etc. The agreement was not perfect; the inspection process was not totally transparent, the Iranian ability to develop nuclear weapons was not permanently prohibited, and it did not address the Iranian missile program or its involvement with terrorists and Middle Eastern sectarian violence. The Iranians were free to keep stirring the pot.
In 2017 President Trump announced that the United States would no longer adhere to the provisions of the agreement. He reimposed sanctions on the Iranian economy that had been lifted by the agreement and imposed additional sanctions for Iran’s missile program and support of terrorists. The other American partners in the agreement continued to keep their agreements for the most part The sanctions imposed by the United States began to seriously negatively impact the Iranian economy. To further ratchet up the pressure on Iran, the President earlier this year declared the IRGC a terrorist organization, which automatically imposed certain sanctions against that organization, and declared that the United States would impose sanctions on any company or nation that purchased oil from Iran, which would totally destroy the Iranian economy.
Earlier this year, the United States developed actionable intelligence that indicated heightened threats by Iran against American in the Middle East.. In response, the President send additional troops to the Middle East, moved a Navy carrier group into the eastern Mediterranean, and ordered all dependents and non-essential personnel out of our embassy in Iraq. Then earlier this month, four oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, we contend by the IRGC or other Iranian forces. And now this attack on a drone..
Here is my take on the situation. The sanctions are really starting to bite the Iranian economy and the people are suffering. The Iranians, formerly Persians,are a proud people and became used to Western goods and luxuries under the Shah. Not so much lately, but still more Western that most of the Middle Eastern nations. The opposition to the theocratic government is becoming more vocal and insistent. Iran desperately wants to negotiate a new agreement that lifts the crippling sanction but cannot be seen as begging or knuckling under to the US. They want the other partners to the agreement – France, Russia, Germany, etc. – to be at the table. The problem is – how do you get the US there?.President Trump has them buffaloed. What I perceive is their strategy is to goad the United States into a military confrontation that compels the other nations to intervene and is opposed by a large percentage of Congress and the Americans, resulting in negotiations with the Iranians as equal participants. Kinda like a Hail Mary pass in the last minute of the fourth quarter. If my hypothesis is correct, since President Trump did not rise to the bait over the drone, what will the Iranians do next?
Historically, the situation reminds me of the US-Japanese confrontation right before Pearl Harbor. To punish the Japanese for their invasion of China, and advances into Indo-China, President Roosevelt cut the Japanese off from all oil, rubber and other military supplies which the Japanese did not have domestically. Out of desperation on the part of the Japanese came the attack on Pearl Harbor. I hope history does not repeat itself.
Finally, much has been made, and is being made, over President Trump’s last minute decision not to retaliate against Iran with the resultant loss of civilian lives. The hand wringing, tea leaf readers are besides themselves. Why wait until the last minute to reverse an earlier decision? What could that mean? The answer is Nothing. In every such situation, there is always a Go/No Go moment for the ultimate decision maker. Same was true in the decision to take out Osama ben Laden, to initiate D Day, to set up a blockade around Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis, etc.
And, for the record, I think the President got it right.