General Mattis; Iran continues to sponsor terrorism; Iran, Iran, Iran

Reuters:  U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis says Iran continues to sponsor terrorism. Quoting,

“At the time when I spoke about Iran I was a commander of US central command and that (Iran) was the primary exporter of terrorism, frankly, it was the primary state sponsor of terrorism and it continues that kind of behavior today,”

Some hold opinions that Mattis, along with the Marine Corps as a whole, hold a grudge against Iran.  In 2012, Mattis famously said that the three greatest threats to U.S. security were Iran X3. Quoting the Washington Post,

Soon after Mattis was tapped to lead U.S. forces in the Middle East in August 2010, Obama asked the general to spell out his top priorities. Mattis replied that he had three: “Number one Iran. Number two Iran. Number three Iran,” said a senior U.S. official who was present. The general’s singular focus unnerved some civilian leaders, who thought he should pay attention to a broader range of threats.

 I agree with all but the choice of words. Iran is in an expansionist, revolutionary phase, not unlike the early years of the Soviet Union. Unlike any other state adversary extant, it also exports an ideology, with the gleam of the caliphate, something we were hoping would not recur since the downfall of communism.

Along with many disparate groups, Iran incubated and fueled the Iraq insurgency  that followed  the war. It quickly destroyed hopes for a pluralistic democracy in Iraq. The troops under the command of Mattis suffered terribly. Like the best of commanders, Mattis felt every death a personal loss.

The insurgency will resume after ISIS is vanquished. It’s part of the pathos of history, of Napoleon, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, et al. that the theocracy of Iran believe in the lie of their own special destiny. But is it state sponsored terrorism? In Vietnam, the tactics of a very similar insurgency were branded “asymmetric warfare.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir’s thunderbolt response silences Iran summarizes Iranian actions abroad, attacks on embassies, on the Khobar Towers bombing, etc. He refers to  Iran’s assassinations program, which was very active until the mid 90’s:

Al-Jubeir added: “Iranian agents have links with terrorist attacks in Europe and South America. We did not create these facts. This is the world and this is the proof. We wish that Iran would become a great neighbor. But this depends on both sides. If you want the world to deal with you, then there is a requirement of giving up hostile expansionist policies and return to international norms and practices.”

There have been some pretty complicated intellectual efforts to integrate the word “terrorism” into the continuum of warfare. But a very simple distinction works as well. The word “terrorism” could be inclusive of directed or spontaneous acts that have no strategy behind them other than demoralization of a population — but not much more.

While the 9/11 attacks had some attributes of a decapitation strike, I cannot recall any subsequent incidents of terror, at least in the west, with hints of military strategy.  Al-Jubeir asserts that 2003 terror attacks in Riyadh, claimed by Al Qaeda, implicate Iran. Perhaps they do. The 1998 embassy bombings, claimed by Al Qaeda, were (Washington Post) facilitated by Iran.

Iran is implicated in embassy attacks, assassinations,  use of proxies against American forces, and subversion of neighboring states. But except for the 2003 Riyadh bombings, the special character of the word “terror” is unnecessarily diluted by application to Iran. Perhaps Mattis felt obliged to use the most impactful word. We don’t have a special one for a theocratic state with designs on the entire Middle East.

But what of Saudi Arabia? In (Reuters) Iran rejects U.S. terror claim by Mattis, blames Saudi, foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi is quoted:

“Some countries led by America are determined to ignore the main source of Takfiri-Wahhabi terrorism and extremism,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi was quoted by Iran’s state news agency IRNA as saying.

All monarchies are not the same. While King Salman is supposedly an absolute monarch, Saudi Arabia is more pluralistic than an organizational chart would show. At one time, it was asserted that the House of Saud governs with the assent of the ulama, and that the ulama could cause it to fall. The ulama might be weakening a little, while uptake of western culture broadens. It is still a tribal society, but it’s…slowly…melting.

Saudi Arabia does not officially tolerate terrorism. But there are many wealthy people, who are very astute in moving their money around, even in the presence of official controls. Don’t have a bank handy? We’ll start one. Need an investment vehicle that bypasses exchange controls? No problem. Moving and disguising wealth are almost common skills. Before  achieving cultural modernity, Saudi Arabia became business-multinational.

 Some of the plutocrats involved have blatantly western lifestyles. Out of country, some indulge those carnal pleasures such as can be bought with outré sums. Yet they feel the tug of conscience. They seek to make it right, as once in the west, indulgences were purchased. The expression, understandable by those who know, is “I like to give.” To what is left mysteriously indefinite.

There is no way for the U.S. to stop it. Sanctions would be useless. To change the character of a country requires generations. The House of Saud is in the midst of the attempt to reform Saudi society to at least remove the religious barriers to industrialization. Only after approximations of western attitudes are accepted by the core of Saudi society will there even be the possibility of reform of the ulama itself. And of the Wahhabi madrassa system, which is funded on a more open level.

When that occurs, one of the great “heat engines” of terrorism will finally grind to a halt.

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