No Principles, No Dignity, No Power, No Deterrence
Yigal Carmon MEMRI Daily Brief #198 September 19, 2019
People without principles and dignity do not understand that these are
sources of tangible power that create deterrence. People who evade
projecting those elements of power are doomed to be deterred by those with
dignity and principles - however odious and deplorable - such as Iran,
Russia, and China down to the level of Turkey. They treat the US with
constant verbal contempt and actual provocations, in the knowledge that they
can bait the US with impunity. 1
The attacks of 9/14 on Saudi Arabia's oil plants demonstrate this American
tragedy. The immediate, tactical targets were Saudi, but they could well
have been American CENTCOM targets with a similar level of damage sustained.
Out of the best intentions of sparing America wars, America will inevitably
face both "war and shame". President Trump asked Senator Lindsey Graham "How
did going into Iraq work out?" One would have expected the man who restored
the bust of Winston Churchill to the Oval Office to consider how did the
appeasement policy of Chamberlain work out and what was the cost to the US
in lives a few years later. But even the understanding that in a world where
America is no longer the guarantor of world order, the American economy will
also tank is beyond the qualifications of a great hotelier and real estate
The 9/14 attacks, correctly referred to by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo
as "an act of war", is a harsh humiliating blow dealt to the U.S., signaling
an American multilevel failure:
First, there was a failure of deterrence. The Iranians took a calculated
risk and were proven correct. They view themselves the military regional
equals of the US and via their proxies even beyond the region.
American military officials openly betray their fear of Iranian power and
retaliatory capability on CENTCOM targets and they thus make Trump's boast
that the US is the world's strongest military power, empty posturing In fact
it is Iran that is actually deterring the U.S. from any retaliation. Iran
relies on its proven ability to act in the local theater while its results
have a global ripple effect.
Secondly, it was a failure of U.S. intelligence (military, NSA, CIA and
others). Apparently, there was no early warning about an operation that must
have had dozens of parties engaged in the decision process, the secret
planning and the preparations. Since May 2019, MEMRI has issued several
strategic warnings about the Iranian threats to carry out such attacks,
based on open Iranian sources.
Thirdly, the successful Iranian attack represented an American technological
failure, as not a single cruise missile or drone was intercepted. Iranian
Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif ridiculed the U.S., tweeting "Perhaps [the US
is] embarrassed that $100s of blns of its arms didn't intercept Yemeni
Fourthly, and most disturbingly, it is a case of political failure - no one
in the U.S. administration expected such a bold direct Iranian attack. True,
Iran has resorted to proxies to afford it deniability, but now the Iranian
leadership has realistically gauged American hesitancy and conflict aversion
and believed that Iran could risk making a direct attack, discounting the
possibility of strong American retaliation. Considering the global effect of
this bold attack, so far, the calculated risk has proven to be a sound bet.
Why The Attacks?
The attacks of 9/14 have nothing to do with the war in Yemen; it is about
the U.S. sanctions. Iran is painfully squeezed and tries to ease the
sanctions by applying force - for now only against American allies and U.S.
interests. Iran will continue to do so until the sanctions are significantly
eased, as long as it assesses that the penalty for these attacks is nil or
bearable. This is not rocket science and only requires a basic comprehension
and not secret intelligence.
What Can Now Be Expected?
1. No deterrent American response against Iran should be expected. Knowing
that the U.S. administration will not stand by the Saudis militarily, KSA
spokesmen and leaders have refrained from explicitly accusing Iran, and
have emulated the UAE leaders, who refrained from pointing a finger at Iran
after the attacks on their tankers on June 2019, even when Iranian
complicity had been proven.
2. Further Iranian attacks, based on the same Iranian logic, will take place
in the future as a result of continued U.S. sanctions, and not due to any
reaction by KSA, the U.S. etc. to Iranian attacks.
No American can gain from Iran's humbling of America. Any future president
will have to address the Iranian threat and restore America's power,
deterrence, principles and dignity, albeit at a much higher price. The
powers of evil cannot be tamed by American self-abnegation. This lesson
should have been assimilated in the previous century. With all the justified
aversion to Saudi Arabia due to the murder of Khashoggi, Saudi crimes pale
in comparison to the mega murders committed by the Ayatollah regime in their
ongoing unbridled drive for an Islamic dictatorship. The real threat is
Iran's quest for regional domination and nuclear weapons. Ideally,
presidential contenders should prioritize these long range considerations;
realistically this is not going to happen.
* Yigal Carmon is the President and founder of MEMRI
1 The American loss of dignity was on display in spades when Trump
thanked the Iranians for not downing a manned US plane that flew alongside
the downed American UAV. No wonder that the Iranians were further convinced
of their moral superiority and the justice of their Islamic Revolution