Ta’ziyeh and Tartbir

Featured Image: Qasem Soleimani Funeral Procession, Tehran, January 5, 2020

I had low expectations for the Trump Presidency.  I spent over a decade in New York, and I knew that Trump always wanted more than anything in the world to be Mayor of the Big Apple. The problem was that New York City was always a couple decades ahead of the curve: they hated Trump long before The Apprentice ever aired.  Anthony Weiner’s penis could run in a mayoral election against Trump.  The next day’s New York Post would hail his landslide victory with CARLOS DANGER RISES AGAIN.  Donald Trump did not run for the Oval Office, he settled for it.  And so I expected very little save the entertainment of having a wrestling heel lead the Free World.

I did not care about his Wall.  While I am critical of open borders and demographic changes, fixing those issues is at this point beyond the scope of any President.  I didn’t care about his crass behavior. Embarrassing as he may be, Trump is still smarter than Dubya and better at political infighting than Obama.  There was only one thing I asked from Donald Trump; that he keep us out of new military conflicts and disentangle us from old ones.  If he accomplished nothing save that, I would grant Trump a place as one of the better post-Reagan mediocrities who have occupied the Oval Office.

Wish in one hand, shit in the other.  Guess which one gets full first?

Of course the usual critics are calling this the worst decision of Trump’s career.  (No, we really mean it this time!)  But bad as this looks (and it does look bad) Trump has a remarkable gift for coming out of shitpiles smelling like roses.   The Dissident Right and Dissident Left are largely united in distaste at the Soleimani assassination: the Left questions the timing if not the target.  As for Trump’s loyal supporters…

qassemi wait at the airport

Trump’s testosterone-fueled ranting and saber-rattling is unnerving but not unprecedented. (Remember his nuclear weenie-waggling towards North Korea?)  And if you worry about what he might do next, just imagine how the people facing down a bunch of ICBM silos feel.  Trump, like many bullies and domestic abusers, plays both good cop and bad cop as the situation requires then capitalizes on the fear and confusion such behavior engenders.  His unpredictability is part of the game, and he expects capitulation because he has grown used to it.

But sooner or later most bullies and abusers cross the line. Iran will almost certainly respond to this ritual humiliation with some sort of retaliation.  The Iraqi Parliament has now demanded that the US withdraw its troops.  While at present the Iraqi response is more a sternly worded request than a serious threat, it is clear that the Soleimani strike has cost us much of what little support we still had among the Iraqi people.  And while we are told that Soleimani was wildly hated by the people he oppressed, we were also told the Iraqis would greet us with flowers when we overthrew Sadaam Hussein and regained control of his yellowcake uranium.

Leaked May 2019 Pentagon plans call for a deployment of up to 120,000 soldiers should tensions between Iran and the United States escalate.  Taking and holding Iran would require an estimated 1.6 million soldiers.  Iran has strong natural defenses, a large military and a population of over 83 million people.  During the Iran/Iraq War Iranian forces would send children wearing plastic “keys of heaven” around their necks through minefields to clear the way.  Students protesting the Shah’s regime went out wrapped in shrouds to show they were ready for martyrdom.  Invading Iran will not be like Gulf War 3 or even D-Day 2.  It will be America forced into an extended ground war on mainland Japan.  And we all know how that was averted on our present timeline.  

America has neither the military capability nor the will required to Saddamize Iran’s ruling party.  We lack even the token international support we had for the Gulf Wars.  While Russia and China will try to avoid getting into a shooting war with another nuclear power, both will certainly use our military misfortunes to their benefit.  (And since both are on the UN Security Council there is little chance of the UN legitimizing our efforts at regime change).  So long as Iran appears to be holding back Trump looks like a Chadly Alpha Chad and gets sweet accolades from his fan base.  Should Iran call his bluff things could get very ugly very fast.

Tartbir (bloodletting) Ceremony, Lebanon, 2019

We have been trying to extricate ourselves from Iraq since 2003.  The Soleimani strike has likely put that off indefinitely and will certainly result in more deployments to a country which remains stubbornly ungrateful to its American liberators.  We cannot leave without handing Iran de facto control of Iraq.  Yet our presence ensures continued disruption to oil transport lanes and increases the risk we will become embroiled in a lengthy war which we cannot win.  The Soleimani attack may have been intended to ward off the threat of Iranian hegemony in the region.  It is hard to see how it does not wind up strengthening Iran’s position rather than weakening it.

Qasem Soleimani was certainly responsible for many deaths.  Most effective military leaders are.  Soleimani may have had a hand in the rocket attacks which killed a US contractor.  But that contractor knew the risks when he signed on for a job in a hot zone.  Soleimani may have been responsible for terrorist bombings which killed American soldiers in Lebanon.  Those soldiers were there as part of the filthy corporate wars we have been fighting for decades, and I would not honor them with more pointless but profitable bloodshed.  I do not grieve for Soleimani any more than he grieved for his fallen opponents.  But I see no way in which this attack was anything but a serious unforced error.

One of Shi’a Islam’s defining moments is the 680 Battle of Karbala. During that battle Sunni forces (who believed the Caliph should be elected) slew Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and Third Shi’a Imam.  Today Shi’ites relive that tragedy in ritual dramas (Ta’ziyeh) and self-flagellation (Tartbir).  A red flag promising vengeance flies over Karbala today: Soleimani has taken his place among the martyrs and become an example for the angry and devout to follow.  Our ritual drama has given Iran a new hero to drape in the shroud of righteousness.  It remains to be seen what bloody ceremonies will be held in his memory.

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