In July 55 BC, in the midst of his campaigns to civilize Gaul, Julius Caesar was troubled by the Germans. They would cross the Rhine, wreak havoc, and then disappear back across the mighty river, whose depth and swift currents made the Germans regard it as an impregnable barrier.
To teach them that it wasn’t, Caesar had his engineers construct a bridge across the Rhine. As Caesar recounts in Book IV of his commentaries on the Gallic War, they did this in an astonishing 10 days. Caesar and his troops crossed over, stayed for a few days in German territory, ‘burned all their villages and other buildings, and cut down the grain in their fields’. They then crossed back over and destroyed the bridge.
The point, which was not lost on the Germans, was that the Romans could go anywhere they wanted, whenever they wanted, and there was nothing the Germans could do about it.
Last week, Donald Trump demonstrated something similar to the Iranian mullahs when he introduced Qasem Soleimani to the payload of a couple of MQ-9 Reaper drones. The Americans, they now know, can go anywhere, anytime, and can pick off anyone they like with pinpoint precision. At 1:00 a.m. Baghdad time on January 3, Soleimani is sharing a latte with his pal Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, presumably dreaming about the American diplomats they are going to kill. 1:01 a.m., poof! No more bad guys.
To alter the image: for the mullahs, the elimination of Soleimani was a teachable moment. It was like that famous scene in The Godfather when the movie producer Jack Woltz wakes up and finds the head of his prize racehorse oozing gore onto the duvet. Woltz had insisted that he would not put Johnny Fontane in a movie, despite the entreaties of the Corleones. The horse’s head changed his mind.
There are three takeaways from the vaporization of Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. One concerns the mullahs and official Iranian spokesmen. They are jumping up and down, wailing like incensed toddlers, but their histrionics are meaningless. Or rather, what they mean is that the mullahs, like Caesar’s Germans, and like Jack Woltz in The Godfather, understand that they have been issued an offer they can’t refuse.
A few days ago, Operation Martyr Soleimani, in which Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched 22 ballistic missiles at the Ayn al-Asad airbase in Iraq, demonstrated that they have folded. The Iranians are capable of carrying out precision attacks. They demonstrated that in their drone assault on the Saudi oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in September. But their faux attack on the al-Asad airbase was notable for its impotence. Material damage was slight. There were no casualties, apart that is, from the myth of Iranian resistance.
The second take away concerns the mainstream media in the US and elsewhere. The pink dust of Soleimani hadn’t settled before they were shouting about Donald Trump having started World War III. How did you make out in World War III? It was quiet here on the East Coast. I am still not sure how much of the media’s hysterical emoting (it cannot be called ‘reporting’) was due to simple ignorance and how much was due to ineradicable hatred and underestimation of Donald Trump. On the world stage, Iran is a bit player, especially now that the United States does not need Middle Eastern oil. Really, Iran is an exotic curiosity, a country with a magnificent past that has been captive of an insane theocratic ideology for the past 40 years. Iran is not the staging ground of World War III, just a brutal and pathetic backwater.
The ignorance didn’t stop there, of course. There was — and continues to be — a cataract of handwringing speculation about the legitimacy of President Trump’s order to eliminate Soleimani. The adults in the room instantly understood that 1) Soleimani was an extremely high value target and 2) that the president was perfectly justified in taking him out. But that was only the adults. The vast Romper Room has been whining away, demonstrating their ignorance of the president’s constitutional powers when not actively siding with the Iranian madmen. The public has taken note, but it is not clear that the media has taken note of the public’s dawning epiphany.
What I say about the mainstream media is doubly true of the Democratic establishment, but that is almost a necessary truth since, like Hesperus and Phosphorus — the evening star and the morning star — they are two names for the same thing. ‘How dare Donald Trump act without consulting us!’ the herd of grandstanding parasites moan. But as many dispassionate commentators have pointed out, the president was perfectly within his rights as Commander in Chief to order the elimination of a terrorist actively plotting against US interests and citizens.
The third take away concerns Donald Trump and his legacy. In acting decisively in response to the sighting of Soleimani and his henchman, in acting with caution and deliberation in response to Iran’s calculatedly feeble response, President Trump has showed both that you attack the United States or its people at your peril and that America is getting out of the nation-building neocon regime-change business.
The elimination of Soleimani was not a prelude to deeper US involvement in the Middle East. It was a farewell letter. Always admitting the fickleness of contingency, it nonetheless looks as though Donald Trump will go down as the man who catalyzed the United States economy, who brought unemployment down to historic lows, who goosed real wages, especially at the lower levels, who made important inroads against the stultifying miasma of the the regulatory state while also resuscitating the US military, curbing illegal immigration, and — just now — extricating the United States from foreign involvements that help no one but our enemies.
President Trump’s opponents cannot forgive him his victories. But it has become increasingly clear that it doesn’t matter. Hollywood, like Chuck Todd and Nancy Pelosi and Bill Kristol, can whine and yelp and snivel all they want. The world increasingly turns a blind eye to their narcissistic antics. As the old Arab proverb puts, the dogs are barking but the caravan moves on.