Iranium ConFUSION Part 2: What we Know, What we Know we Don’t Know, and What we Wish we Knew
If you’re a Trump supporter, you’re going to hate this article and love it; likewise, if you are a Trump hater. I am going to lay out evidence that Trump is either the biggest moron of a president the US has ever had but also my own 4-D chess explanation that would make him cunning if true. Which is true, I have no idea; but I will lay out equally strong arguments for either view, and you can decide for yourself.
First, let’s start with what we do know because Iran and the US both agree on these points.
Here are the facts we know:
Merchant oil tankers were attacked. By all appearances, there was no intention of sinking them because the mines (or missiles depending on whose story you accept) were targeted above the ships’ waterlines, and damage to the ships was minor.
Iran shot down a US drone. Both Iran and the US agree that Iran shot down a US drone. Iran claims it could have shot down a more-than-fully-crewed anti-submarine Poseidon P-8 aircraft but chose for humanitarian reasons to only shoot down the drone. The US does not disagree with that. According to Iran, the Poseidon was the original target.
The value of the drone given in the press has ranged from about $150,000,000 to a quarter of a billion. The difference may be the base cost of the drone versus that cost plus the cost of all the equipment this particular drone was outfitted with. Either way, it was a pricy target.. These drones normally fly so high they are not easy to shoot down, giving some evidence of Iranian takedown capability. The drone was similar to a 737 in wing span.
After shooting down the drone, Iran warned it would severely attack the US if any military counterstrike was launched against it:
“Firing one bullet towards Iran will set fire to the interests of America and its allies” … armed forces general staff spokesman Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi told Tasnim News Agency. “The Islamic Republic has never and will never start any wars,” Shekarchi added, and threatened further, “if the enemy commits the smallest of mistakes, it will face the biggest revolutionary reaction from Iran in Central and West Asia, and it will certainly not survive the battle.”
Trump chose to retaliate, regardless of Iran’s threats, with a military strike against Iran but then called the strike off. Neither side disagrees with this.
“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it,” Trump tweeted on Friday morning.Vox
Trump originally claimed Iran might have acted by accident or mistake as his justification for avoiding any response to Iran’s takedown of the US drone, but Iran chose to make it clear that its aim was intentional so as not to allow Trump that excuse for backing down and to make clear it will not hesitate to defend itself or retaliate for US actions, whether US actions are a mistake in crossing over a line or intentional provocation. No IRGC officer was too quick to the trigger. Iran says it intentionally fired at the drone after it failed to respond to hails to leave Iranian airspace and shut off its GPS and navigational/marker lights.
No US ally has come to the United States’ side on this. No one has even supported the US view about where the drone was located. However, Russia has clearly sided with Iran’s view of the events. No US ally, other than Iran’s enemies, has supported the US on its sanctions against Iran either.
The Iranian nuclear reaction. To show it is not intimidated by any of this and in reaction to Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the JCPOA, Iran announced that it raised its production of enriched uranium above the limit allowed by the JCPOA. No government has called Iran’s claim into question.
Iran, contrary to US claims, has not violated the JCPOA by increasing enrichment because the agreement allows that, if one party fails to live up to its commitments, Iran is free to go back to enriching uranium; and the US chose to intentionally and overtly breach the agreement while EU partners in the deal have not been able to provide the level of trade the agreement promised to Iran.
Iran has vowed the path via diplomacy is closed forever as a result of the US adding sanctions against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top Iranian officials.
Here are the claims we don’t know to be facts:
Shipping attacks were by Iran. While Iran freely admits it attacked the US drone, it categorically denies it attacked any oil tankers. The US has presented extremely blurry night videos (equivalent to 1990s technology) of people who appear to be dressed like they are from the Middle East removing something almost invisible from the side of a ship that looks exactly like one of the tankers that was hit. The US claims this was a magnetically attached limpet mine that failed to explode being removed by Iran who was trying to get rid of remaining evidence.
Iran claims the US drone was in its airspace. The US denies this, but it admits the drone was very close to Iranian airspace. In the very least, pushing the outside of the envelope increases the risk mistakes will be made about the precise location, leading to armed conflict. This is one of the concerns brought up when Trump started crowding additional military hardware into the gulf.
Iran claims the fact that the drone’s parts were recovered on an Iranian beach supports its claim, but a plane can be blown into pieces and fall straight into the sea and still have ocean currents or wind carry its parts to the closest beach. It can also be mortally wounded but still somewhat capable of flight and fall along a glide path that puts it miles from where it was shot. So, the location of the drone’s parts, after the shooting, proves nothing.
Of course, maybe the drone wasn’t the issue, maybe the P-8 was, and Iran picked the drone to get even for the violation of its air space by the P-8 in a way that would cause no human harm. In that case, the US may be telling the truth about the drone while saying nothing about the P-8’s location in Iran’s air space. If that is what happened, it was big of Iran and highly respectable. (I don’t like Iran, but credit is due where credit is due if that was the case.) Iran had every right to shoot the US drone down if the US violated its airspace as US capabilities are too great for anyone to venture that a violation was a mistake.
The US has shown some uncertainty about drone location. Some unnamed sources in press reports claim Trump called off his retaliation strike because of uncertainty being revealed after his call for a strike about the actual location of the drone.
Iran claimed Trump forewarned them about a retaliatory military air strike. According to Reuters,
Iranian officials told Reuters on Friday that Tehran had received a message from U.S. President Donald Trump through Oman overnight warning that a U.S. attack on Iran was imminent…. “In his message, Trump said he was against any war with Iran and wanted to talk to Tehran about various issues…. He gave a short period of time to get our response.”
The claim is the president used a threat of retaliation to try to get Iran to the negotiating table The US disagrees, but one Russian source says Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) activated its air-defense systems in Syria, which indicates it did hear an attack was coming. If this claim by Iran is true, Trump broke his own pledge to never telegraph military ops.
Claims in Yahoo! News, CNN, the New York Times and Washington Post say the president launched a cyberattack as an alternative to his retaliatory air strike. That was particularly carried out against an Iranian a military unit the US blames for mining ships.
AP reported the US also attacked computer systems that control Iran’s rocket and missile launchers. All sources remained anonymous. Iran denies any such strikes happened, and the Pentagon neither confirms nor denies them. The president neither confirms nor denies them either.
The United States launched cyberattacks on Iran Thursday, targeting computer systems that control the nation’s rocket and missile launchers. A physical attack was planned for the same day, following Iran’s destruction of an unmanned US drone; President Donald Trump called off that strike, however.
Three officials who spoke anonymously to the Associated Press said the cyberattacks were part of a contingency plan created in the weeks leading up to the strike….
Personnel from US Cyber Command launched the offensive on Iranian military command and control systems, and according to Yahoo News, a spy group with ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps was also targeted [which] has over the past several years digitally tracked and targeted military and civilian ships passing through the economically important Strait of Hormuz, through which pass 17.4 million barrels of oil per day. Those capabilities, which have advanced over time, enabled attacks on vessels in the region for several years.
Much is still unknown about the scope of the attacks, including how much damage the Iranian systems incurred. According to the New York Times, the success of the attack on the control systems could only be gauged if the US were able to observe Iran try and fail to launch a missile….
Fars News Agency called US news reports about the strike a “bluff meant to affect public opinion and regain lost reputation for the White House.”Vox
Trump, on the other hand, has tried to claim moral high ground by saying he called off his retaliatory strike because of sudden concern about the number of Iranian people that would die in the US strike. By saying that, he has put himself in the position of looking like he didn’t bother to ask that all-important question prior to ordering the strike. Supposedly, Fox television personality Tucker Carlson talked the president down from attacking Iran. Hence, Carlson got the scoop and heaped praise on the president before the attack was even announced for resisting the urge to attack. Carlson claimed the president was being manipulated into the attack by neocons in his administration.
It’s also possible that Trump suddenly learned the US was not so certain about the US drone’s position as one report claimed. Trump may have given the humanitarian explanation on the basis that it looks better to risk your reputation by admitting you didn’t ask about human costs before ordering the strike but cared deeply about those costs than to look like you were quick to the trigger by rashly ordering a strike when you were wrong about the very reason for making the strike.
Poor military support of US claims. Claims have been made that the US military was slow to release a flight path for the drone and that the flight path that was released had minor labeling errors that the military had to quickly correct, making the work look a little hurried or sloppy. (I’ve not seen any indication of what these purported errors were.) Either way, a map presents no proof. It is not evidential data. It is merely a claim in picture form.
Commentary regarding the facts and claims:
Since the oil tankers were attacked well above their waterlines, it would appear no one wanted to damage the Persian Gulf with a major oil spill and that the intent was not to sink the tankers. Either someone wanted to raise the cost of oil by inserting risk into the oil market or to create turmoil for the US, even though these were not US ships, or this was a false-flag operation intended by some entity that hates Iran to draw the US into a war with Iran or intended by the US to justify a war with Iran.
If it was a false-flag operation, someone needed to make it look like Iran made the attacks. Night vision videos certainly give things an excuse to be blurry enough to make actual facts almost impossible to ascertain.
I find it odd that anyone actually removing a mine that didn’t explode, as the videos claimed to show, would take a boat fully loaded with people right up to the unexploded mine to remove it, knowing duds frequently explode when handled, and that it only takes one or two people to remove a magnetic mine. It is even odder that they would have all the people on the boat congregate as close as possible to the unexploded mine while it is removed or that the people would want to congregate close to the mine. The Iranian military is either incredibly stupid about the risk of a dud exploding, or it considered its people completely expendable OR someone wanted a lot of people that looked like they might be Iranians in the picture.
If the goal was a disruption in the oil market, adding risk premiums to prices could seriously impact the US economy by turning upside down trillions of dollars in interest-rate swap derivatives. Already deeply troubled Deutsche Bank is deeply involved in such derivatives, compounding the financial risk with a bank that is already a great risk to the world. Increasing the price of oil could also be a huge boon to oil producers in the US if they don’t have a lot of operations at risk in the Persian Gulf and benefit from higher prices without any of the overseas risks.
The mines did not have much impact on the ships and have had even less impact on the price of oil — such as, say, sending oil up to $200 a barrel. So, if that was the intention, the plan completely failed. As of today, Brent Crude and West-Texas Intermediate remain right about where they were before the attacks ($63 a barrel and $57). The attacks have had little to no impact on the US economy or the global economy. The US stock market has largely ignored the tanker attacks and the drone attack. The lack of effectiveness calls to question this motivation for the attack unless it was just a failed idea.
The attacks could be an effort by Iran to say, “Since the US is placing sanctions on us that attempt to cut Iran off from its vital financial lifeline, we will make sure the US cannot ship oil.” In that case, why not attack US ships, instead of its own customers’ ships? Why not attack oil shipments destined to the US? And, in that case, the attacks have still failed to have their designated effect, again calling that explanation into question in several ways.
Of course, if the intention was to try to foment a war by the US against Iran or to create a pretext for such war, they have certainly succeeded in escalating such tensions (if by a non-US party acting on its own to foment war) but to a lesser extent in creating the pretext (if by the US via a US ally), given that no one seems to be believing them.
One thing is clear: Iran is not the least bit hesitant to fight back against the US, and its measures against the US (if the drone was in Iran’s airspace) are, indeed, measured — bold but restrained — given they could have attacked the US P-8. Iran would appear to be not seeking to escalate the situation, but also saying clearly, “We won’t back down to bullying.” (If this was a situation of bullying by intentionally flying into Iran’s air space in order to provoke a response.)
Any reasonable person also has to ask, “Was Trump not properly briefed on this incident before he ordered a retaliation strike — either on the location of the drone or about the human cost of his planned retaliation strike?” Did Trump forget to ask about the human cost before ordering the retaliation strike?
If he wasn’t briefed properly, was that because his advisors were itching to create a reason to strike Iran or, at least, were so enthusiastic in their belief that the US needs to attack Iran that they didn’t bother to fact check carefully? Either situation is highly dangerous because, as I pointed out in my first article on the Iranian conflict with the US, Iran is a far more formidable foe than any other nation the US has fought with in the Middle East — other nations that the US still has not fully beaten years later … and, in some cases, decades later. That’s just a cold, hard fact.
Is this an example of John Bolthead and Mike Pompous doing their best to rush the president into a war with Iran? Bolthead has always championed the idea that the US must go to war with Iran.
Senior administration officials said Trump’s neocons — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton and CIA Director Gina Haspel — predictably had favored a military response. But top Pentagon officials cautioned that such an action could set off a spiraling escalation that could draw in American forces in the region.Zero Hedge
Immediate response to an attack on US property, especially if the attack were unmerited, might be within the president’s powers and might not require initial approval by congress because it could be construed as falling under the president’s emergency war powers (even though it wouldn’t be any emergency at all if the US was illegally in Iran’s air space). It would, at least, give all the president’s men some room for that argument. Maybe the president, as Carlson claimed, didn’t take the bait at the last minute. In which case, he had better be firing some top brass very soon for baiting him.
This situation tends to make Trump look boxed in by his own administration. If this was an attempt to box the president into war, he narrowly avoided falling for it; but he didn’t go there. If it was a US false-flag operation, it’s still Trump’s fault for giving so much power to war hawks like Mike Pompous and John Bolthead, both fully known for their overt desire to bring regime change to Iran and, in the very least, attack and destroy its nuclear facilities. These are things we don’t know, but should see evident signs of soon if that is what happened because it’s a treasonous offense if done intentionally by whomever was involved, if Carlson is right.
Even Trump acknowledged,
John Bolton is absolutely a hawk. If it was up to him he’d take on the whole world at one time, okay? But that doesn’t matter because I want both sides.NBC News
Fair enough on wanting to hear both sides, but as Truman said, “The buck, stops here (with the president).” It starts with Trump who created the team by appointing these two to high positions of supposed diplomacy.
Any leader’s number-one job is assembling a team to accomplish the leader’s vision. Trump boasts of being a great leader, but his track record for assembling a great team is the worst I’ve ever seen. He put Goldman-Sachs in charge of all things financial in the White House, put Krack-head Kudlow in charge of his grand tax plan, and put Super-Insider Jerome Powell in charge of the Fed, and he’s put military generals, who pass through the White House like it is a revolving door, in charge of all intelligence, and he’s put the two worst warmongers in the US in charge of all diplomacy!
It is ABSOLUTELY the worst team even imaginable from my perspective and is clear proof that Trump drained the swamp right into the White House, making him far from being the anti-establishment president he claims to be. I wouldn’t have put Bolthead in charge of lighting the presidential cigar, much less in charge of lighting wars or negotiating peace treaties! (Look who blew up the talks with North Korea — Bolthead who has always been gunning for North Korea.) So, there is no free pass if a military strike on Iran was a narrowly avoided mistake.
Many of Trump’s supporters have repeatedly claimed that, in putting such people in charge, Trump is playing 4-D chess by holding his enemies close. This present highly combustable mess in the gulf that just cost us a pricy drone and could have taken us into all-out war with Iran (and that clearly still may take us into war with Iran) was Trump’s decision even IF these are the machinations/guidance of the president’s men.
Trump also chose to get more deeply involved in the Venezuelan civil war and only got mad about that involvement because Bolthead picked a loser to back. So, again, not evidence of 4-D chess. Trump wants to make sure he wins any wars the US is wrongfully involved in. He didn’t express any anger over getting involved in Venezuela but just regret in supporting something that went nowhere. He simply doesn’t like to lose.
The Venezuela action and the dubious two strikes in Syria over chemical weapons that were never clearly verified make it appear Trump is as willing to take the US deeper into conflict as any president before him or is easily manipulated by his advisors. So, he has not been the anti-war president when he is constantly risking greater conflict.
All of that said, we clearly don’t know who or what is behind all of this, and there is another explanation I’m coming to.
Trump’s own explanation of his retaliatory strike is just as frightening. He claims he ordered a military strike on Iran before he thought to carefully check into the facts about how many would die. Isn’t that a question all presidents ask before setting a strike in motion? Did the president order preparations for a specific strike and only as an afterthought (his claim) ask about how many people would die? Who asks that question last?
So, do we take the president at his word that he only and fortunately thought at the last minute to ask about how many people would die, or do we admit he’s lying about that and covering for something else with that story? He could be covering for misstatements he made (based on faulty intelligence) about the location of the drone. If that is the case, he should just come clean about the US being in the wrong about its drone location. He should find out quickly why the drone was where it was and should fire those responsible for nearly getting us into a war. After all, it’s long past time for US intelligence to have improved itself over the intel it gave in the Iraqi situation. Bad intel to the president about the drone’s location has to be held as inexcusable.
It would be bigger of the United States for the president to admit US intel was wrong (and not at all uncommon for Trump to make such a claim) and would over time engender more trust than to lie about it, which only perpetuates the impression that US statements and intelligence can never be trusted and that the US is trying to create a war (as someone clearly was trying to do if the US was in the wrong place and was giving fake intelligence about it).
The evidential lack of good evidence
I Immediately doubted the US drone positioning statements because of the fact that Bolthead and Pompous are so obviously looking to create a war with Iran and because the presented “evidence” that it was Iran smacked of Colin Powell’s evidence for “yellowcake” and Iraqi “WMD.” In fact, the quality of the “evidence” was even worse!
If I had been in Trump’s position, even without Bolthead and Pompous running diplomacy, I would have been grilling the military for clear proof of the positioning of the drone, especially in light of how misguided previous presidents were by their own intelligence-gathering services before calling for any retaliation, especially after all the claims Trump has made in the past two years against US intelligence agencies.
Here we were once again — nearly gone to war (ILLEGALLY WITHOUT CONGRESSIONAL DECLARATION OF WAR … AS USUAL) over an incident that was not a matter of national security at all because of a hyped-up situation based on a blurry video as proof that Iran is blowing up tankers in or near the Persian Gulf.
That is exactly the dangerous tinderbox that Democrats have been saying the president was creating with Iran — a situation where mistakes can create a regional war in the most fired-up region of the world. If Trump had followed through on his drone-response plan, Iran would have immediately gone full war because the president was planning to blow up all kinds of Iranian military hardware. The war would have been full on overnight!
As we had already seen with the drone, there is not a chance in the world Iran would sit around and wait to see how much military strength they lost before the US was done retaliating. It would have started firing at all of the US navy that is gathered over there and all of its air power in self-defense, and where is the solid evidence that Iran was wrong about the drone’s location or that Iran was involved in attacking tankers? We have LESS evidence than Colin Powell presented for war with Iraq, and Iran is a more formidable foe than Iraq, which was already largely contained.
The Bolthead conspiracy angle
Before I get into my own 4-D chess angle on Trump’s behalf, I need to lay out the other possible conspiracy angle. What if this was a highly classified operation where the flight teams were instructed to be in the wrong airspace by people working in consort with someone like Bolthead and possibly without Trump’s knowledge in order to antagonize Iran into an attack?
One possibility for the president’s shifting stories that all make him look bad is that he’s trying to sort through this mess on the fly to figure out the truth himself, having been, as Carlson claimed, nearly baited to the wrong action by people in his own administration.
I think Bolthead’s fervent anti-Iran/pro-war history shows he might go that far, now that he finally is in a position to get the US into the war with Iran he has always openly advocated, and he certainly has the military connections to do so. He also has the closeness to the present to convince people he is carrying out the president’s instructions.
Air crews are highly trained not to make such mistakes as Iran and now Russia claim this drone did. Air crews are also trained to take orders and not question them at the level of refusing to carry them out and to maintain absolute silence about classified instructions. Moreover, it would be a travesty if Trump’s explanation is actually the right one — that he learned at the last minute too many people would die. That would make him a moron for not asking that most obvious question before initiating any response.
Either Trump is too dimwitted to know how stupid he just made himself look and how perilous he just made our present footing in the Middle East look by turning on a dime publicly when he said he was going to attack and then countermanded his own plan at the last minute, or Trump suddenly learned our drone was in the wrong place or our P-8 was or that something was wrong with the picture he had been presented. In which case, we have an even worse situation that the president is working through.
My own “Trump is playing 4-D chess” possibility
To show that I’m fair with Trump, I’ve seen my way to a different way to thread all of this together than the Carlson presentation that claimed Trump was played and was foolhardy and rushed toward retaliation without considering the cost. And here it is, as I promised in my last article on this subject:
Remember that claim that Trump contacted Iran to forewarn them of his retaliatory strike. Here is where this comes into play. Either that was the stupidest thing any president ever did, if true, putting the United States’ own pilots at risk because Iran would be ready for them, or it was a cleverly concocted ruse.
Consider that ruse possibility along with the claim that Trump ordered a cyberattack as an alternative because the two dovetail perfectly. Intriguingly, the president, who always seems ready to tweet about anything, has maintained total Twitter silence on the cyberattack claims. All the sources on this have been anonymous (as usual in the press these days). Perhaps an intentional leak for military reasons.
The only official position was as follows:
“As a matter of policy and for operational security, we do not discuss cyberspace operations, intelligence or planning,” [Pentagon spokeswoman Elissa] Smith said.Vox
Cyberattacks could mark a new front in escalating tensions with Iran. “This is the modern version of what the US Navy has to do to defend itself at sea and keep international shipping lanes free from Iranian disruption,” Thomas Bossert, a former senior White House cybersecurity official in the Trump administration, told the Washington Post. US Cyber Command was granted new powers by Congress this May…. The Trump administration has warned industry leaders to be vigilant for retaliatory cyberattacks emanating from Iran.
So, what if Trump, as a planned military ruse, warned Iran he was about to launch an airstrike against Iran in retaliation for the drone attack, with no intention of actually doing so? Of course, he would need to make that believable by doing something like pretending it was a threat to get them to the negotiating table. What if his real intention was to get Iran to fully activate all its air defenses? In that case, he gave up nothing by warning Iran.
As the Vox article noted (not a publication with any friendship toward Trump), the only way the US would know if a cyberattack against Iranian air defenses was successful would be if those systems tried and failed to launch a missile … or perhaps if they were simply activated and a virus planted within them was, then, able to report back. Consider that may also mean the only way the US could successfully take out Iran’s air defenses by cyberattack is if those defenses were activated. Viruses don’t usually function in equipment that is off and not always in equipment that is on standby.
Now, suddenly you have a president who is not a fool for warning Iran the US was about to attack. You have a president who let some message out to Iran (maybe looking like a leak via Oman) that warned Iran they were about to be attacked by air in order to get them to bring all their air defenses online so as to plant (or activate) a computer virus throughout their air defense systems, both taking those systems out and making sure Iran knows they have been taken out.
Did Trump make himself look stupid because he is stupid, or did he make himself look stupid in order to make sure Iran had all its defenses fully activated so the US could be assured of taking them all out in one fell swoop while letting Iran know the deed was done and that the retaliation was deep and that it was as humanitarian as Iran’s own retaliation had been? No human lives lost. Air defenses all down.
That, in turn, would leave Iran knowing it is now totally vulnerable if it tries to do anything else; and Iran would never admit such an attack was a success because that would make it totally vulnerable to an air strike by Saudi Arabia, Israel or other enemies of the state.
So far … we don’t know … but it is something to think about.
Read the first article in this series if you missed it: