Direct action is the privilege and prerogative of the stronger party in all human conflicts large and small. A passive-aggressive response is often all that is left to the weaker party. There is nothing noble or ignoble in it when it’s the only option open to the weak, though the strong, who are usually also in control of the major part of the propaganda, will often disparage passive-aggressive responses as “cowardly.”
America has been the undisputed strongest party on the world stage since the collapse of the Soviet Union. With such an advantage it’s easy to become a bully, and America has sometimes been that, particularly since Donald Trump and the Russians usurped the presidency.
For all its overt sabre-rattling, the government of Iran must acknowledge that its response to America’s killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani will have to be circumspect and measured. Total open warfare with the United States is simply not on the table for them, unless they are suicidal, which I doubt they are.
Also, don’t allow the open demonstrations in the streets of Iran give you a false impression about the extent of anti-American feelings in Iran. They are no more symptomatic of the true feelings of the average Iranian than a Trump rally is indicative of the sentiments of the average American. Soleimani wasn’t universally loved in Iran, and many are glad to see him gone, including many in the upper reaches of the Iranian government.
Nevertheless, a face-saving response will need to be made. And herein is the crux of the matter. However better a place the world may be for the passing of Qasem Soleimani, killing him may very well be the biggest mistake of Donald Trump’s life.
Since the early years of the last decade Iran has been a major force in cyber warfare. There are indications that Iran may take vengeance on Trump by backing his opponent in the 2020 presidential election with some seriously world class cyber shenanigans. Such an effort could be a determining factor in a close race. In other words, killing Qasem Soleimani may very well be Trump’s ticket out of the White House and into prison.
Naturally, Republicans will respond with outrage, real outrage this time, no need to fake it. They will be furious that a hostile foreign entity could successfully interfere in American democracy with such catastrophic consequences. They will be prepared to draft legislation to ensure that it never happens again, and with eager Democratic compliance, those drafts will become laws.
We must never, of course, call upon the nation of Iran to cyber attack the 2020 election. That would be wrong. The last time a hostile foreign nation successfully did such a thing it led to the greatest single calamity in American electoral history. Even so, should Iran engineer the ouster of Donald Trump by such means it would prove the crowning irony of the Trump presidency. While I could never in all conscience call for such a thing, should it happen, I certainly plan to enjoy it.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.