The showdown with Tehran enters its rhetorical stage

If one ignores the last 42 years, and just focuses on the last couple of months, Iran started the current fight by using one of its proxies, under Qasem Soleimani’s command, to attack U.S. troops and then, when that failed, to try a repeat of its 1979 embassy takeover, this time in Iraq. Trump countered by killing one of Iran’s most important military figures, a man responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. troops and hundreds of thousands of civilians across the Middle East. Barring a couple of failed rocket attacks that Iran launched early in the weekend at a U.S. airbase and into Baghdad, the fight has now entered the rhetorical stage.

Iran announced that it has 35 American targets in its sights:

[Gen. Gholamali] Abuhamzeh, commander of the Revolutionary Guards in the southern province of Kerman, foreshadowed a possible attack on “vital American targets” located in the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation of Soleimani’s death.

“The Strait of Hormuz is a vital point for the West and a large number of American destroyers and warships cross there,” Abuhamzeh said according to a Reuters report, citing Tasnim news agency.

“Vital American targets in the region have been identified by Iran since long time ago ... some 35 U.S. targets in the region, as well as Tel Aviv, are within our reach."

We'll get to the threat about the Strait of Hormuz in a minute. For now, the add-on about Tel Aviv is a reminder that Iran is an opportunistic bully that has never lost sight of its desire to liquidate the Jewish state. Israel, after all, had nothing to do with killing Soleimani. Not that it didn’t want to, of course. In 2015, when Israel had the opportunity to do so, President Obama blocked it by warning Tehran. Tehran's current threat, though, is just Iran's usual and relentlesss press for another Holocaust.

Never one to ignore trash talk, President Trump responded with an unusually focused, almost poetic, threat that harks back to 1979, when Iran declared war on the United States:

Sen. Lindsey Graham has already hinted what at least some of those 52 sites could be:

Graham’s mention of the oil refineries is significant. Thanks to Trump’s having reinstated sanctions against Iran – and having made it clear to other nations that the U.S. will punish them if they violate sanctions – Iran’s economy is in shambles. The only thing propping it up now is oil.

And unlike the situation in the preceding 42 years, America need not worry too much about Iran’s oil, for Trump’s policies mean America is a net energy exporter. We’re therefore no longer vulnerable to the usual Iranian threat to block the Strait of Hormuz. Moreover, because Israel is now a major player in the natural gas world, any Iranian threat to block the flow of liquefied natural gas in the Strait is also lessened. While attacking the Strait of Hormuz would be a problem, it would not be a disaster.

Iran has another weakness that America does not. Notwithstanding Progressive complaints about things being bad in America, that’s just not true. America is enjoying sustained economic growth and, aside from the small number of protesters on the street, Americans are busy going about their daily life. In other words, America can absorb some disruption.

Iran, however, has an angry, disaffected populace. Throughout Iran, in response to galloping inflation and high unemployment, people are protesting.

Nor are these protesters the professional protesting class that one sometimes sees in the Middle East. (Remember Rage Boy, the avatar of angry Islamic protesters?) Instead, they are the ordinary working people who keep a country humming: shopkeepers, truckers, teachers, farmers, bus drivers, railway workers, homemakers, etc.

Although it’s not always easy to know details about police action in Iran, it’s clear that the mullahs are responding to the protests with increasing ferocity. According to The Independent, in November alone the government killed at least 304 protesters and injured thousands more – with most suspecting that the number of dead is actually much higher. In addition, the government admitted to arresting more than 7,000 people, but again it’s reasonable to believe that the total number is higher. This is a sign of fear, not strength.

With a cratering economy, a rioting population, and the loss of one of its most effective leaders and killing machines, Iran has very little resilience. One more thing: While its fighters have always shown a martyr’s willingness to die, militarily, Iran is militarily weak compared to the US. The UK's Express has a helpful chart showing how huge the difference is:

To end on a humorous note, Iran did manage to attack the U.S. in one small way today (language warning):

If one ignores the last 42 years, and just focuses on the last couple of months, Iran started the current fight by using one of its proxies, under Qasem Soleimani’s command, to attack U.S. troops and then, when that failed, to try a repeat of its 1979 embassy takeover, this time in Iraq. Trump countered by killing one of Iran’s most important military figures, a man responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. troops and hundreds of thousands of civilians across the Middle East. Barring a couple of failed rocket attacks that Iran launched early in the weekend at a U.S. airbase and into Baghdad, the fight has now entered the rhetorical stage.

Iran announced that it has 35 American targets in its sights:

[Gen. Gholamali] Abuhamzeh, commander of the Revolutionary Guards in the southern province of Kerman, foreshadowed a possible attack on “vital American targets” located in the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation of Soleimani’s death.

“The Strait of Hormuz is a vital point for the West and a large number of American destroyers and warships cross there,” Abuhamzeh said according to a Reuters report, citing Tasnim news agency.

“Vital American targets in the region have been identified by Iran since long time ago ... some 35 U.S. targets in the region, as well as Tel Aviv, are within our reach."

We'll get to the threat about the Strait of Hormuz in a minute. For now, the add-on about Tel Aviv is a reminder that Iran is an opportunistic bully that has never lost sight of its desire to liquidate the Jewish state. Israel, after all, had nothing to do with killing Soleimani. Not that it didn’t want to, of course. In 2015, when Israel had the opportunity to do so, President Obama blocked it by warning Tehran. Tehran's current threat, though, is just Iran's usual and relentlesss press for another Holocaust.

Never one to ignore trash talk, President Trump responded with an unusually focused, almost poetic, threat that harks back to 1979, when Iran declared war on the United States:

Sen. Lindsey Graham has already hinted what at least some of those 52 sites could be:

Graham’s mention of the oil refineries is significant. Thanks to Trump’s having reinstated sanctions against Iran – and having made it clear to other nations that the U.S. will punish them if they violate sanctions – Iran’s economy is in shambles. The only thing propping it up now is oil.

And unlike the situation in the preceding 42 years, America need not worry too much about Iran’s oil, for Trump’s policies mean America is a net energy exporter. We’re therefore no longer vulnerable to the usual Iranian threat to block the Strait of Hormuz. Moreover, because Israel is now a major player in the natural gas world, any Iranian threat to block the flow of liquefied natural gas in the Strait is also lessened. While attacking the Strait of Hormuz would be a problem, it would not be a disaster.

Iran has another weakness that America does not. Notwithstanding Progressive complaints about things being bad in America, that’s just not true. America is enjoying sustained economic growth and, aside from the small number of protesters on the street, Americans are busy going about their daily life. In other words, America can absorb some disruption.

Iran, however, has an angry, disaffected populace. Throughout Iran, in response to galloping inflation and high unemployment, people are protesting.

Nor are these protesters the professional protesting class that one sometimes sees in the Middle East. (Remember Rage Boy, the avatar of angry Islamic protesters?) Instead, they are the ordinary working people who keep a country humming: shopkeepers, truckers, teachers, farmers, bus drivers, railway workers, homemakers, etc.

Although it’s not always easy to know details about police action in Iran, it’s clear that the mullahs are responding to the protests with increasing ferocity. According to The Independent, in November alone the government killed at least 304 protesters and injured thousands more – with most suspecting that the number of dead is actually much higher. In addition, the government admitted to arresting more than 7,000 people, but again it’s reasonable to believe that the total number is higher. This is a sign of fear, not strength.

With a cratering economy, a rioting population, and the loss of one of its most effective leaders and killing machines, Iran has very little resilience. One more thing: While its fighters have always shown a martyr’s willingness to die, militarily, Iran is militarily weak compared to the US. The UK's Express has a helpful chart showing how huge the difference is:

To end on a humorous note, Iran did manage to attack the U.S. in one small way today (language warning):