Monday, March 30, 2015

General Mattis and the Path not Taken

Alternative histories can be instructive - if for no other reason than they reinforce the importance at inflections in time which leaders hold the levers of power. "The Big Man Theory" is not a parlor game, it is how the world works.

Usually, alternative histories in the second decade of the 21st Century involve either the WWII era or the US Civil War. Let's flop that a bit and instead play it a little closer.

Run our own little wargame where at certain decision points, as a nation, we:

- Did not let a vacuum exist where Iran and her lead proxy Hezbollah did not have the white space to step in to preserve the Assad regime in Syria, and instead Russia took that point instead; keeping Iran and her proxies out. Better yet - before the Islamic State grew from just another militia, some other power became the lead anti-Assad force, or none did. As a result, Assad crushed his opposition before the death toll went in to six figures? Bloody civil war as all are and it would not be pretty - but an Assad in power would be a status-quo outcome, but not a raging medieval nightmare spreading a violence of slit-trench executions and barrel bombs that we have now.
- What if we actively went after the arms shipments to the Yemeni Shia rebels early and with vigor, and helped keep them to just a small threat in the mountains? No combined Sunni Arab army massed to slaughter a Shia rebellion wholesale. Not another ink-spot of growing Iranian influence.
- What if instead of Quds Force commander Major General Qasem Soleimani being turned in to a hero in al-Anbar, he was killed by some roadside bomb on in an helicopter crash along with a batch of Iraqi Shia death squad leaders?
- What if we joined in supporting the Sunni Arab nations and Europe to push for harder sanctions on Iran, as opposed to having the USA take the Iranian position on the way to getting a nuclear weapon?

Well, sometimes that isn't the way history turns in a representative republic. You vote for a world view, and you get it good and hard.
Ret. Marine Gen. James Mattis, who oversaw U.S. forces in the Middle East from 2010 to 2013, was among the most insistent voices inside the military pushing for a policy focused on punishing Iran and its proxies.

Mattis lobbied for more interdictions of ships and planes carrying Iranian arms to battlefields such as Yemen and Syria, said former defense officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss policy deliberations. And Mattis pressed for more covert actions to capture or kill Iranian operatives, especially after the foiled 2011 plot by Iran to kill the Saudi ambassador at a Washington restaurant.

The former defense officials said plans to punish Tehran were often sidelined over concerns that they could disrupt negotiations to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

“The Iranians showed that they could intervene everywhere even as they were negotiating on the nuclear issue,” said Ilan Goldenberg, who served as the Iran Team Chief in the Pentagon. Mattis’s pressing on the issue caused him to fall out of favor with the White House and ultimately led to his leaving command early, the former defense officials said.

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