Team Obama never understood the reality of the Iranian hardliners or their exigent threat to the United States.
Still, we've gained a new insight into this philosophy over the past couple of days. It has come in the form a Twitter showdown between New York Times columnist Bret Stephens and former Obama national security council spokesman Tommy Vietor.
It began when Stephens asked Vietor whether, as a Kuwaiti news outlet reported this week, the Obama administration had indeed warned Iran of an impending Israeli strike against Qassem Soleimani three years ago. Suleimani is the 20-year head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' external action unit, the Quds Force.
Vietor's responses were quite pathetic.
To begin, Vietor implied that any action to take out Soleimani would have been unjustified because the general is an "Iranian political leader."
When Stephens pushed back on this description, Vietor tried a tougher stance.
We were well aware of the dangers posed by QS and the IRGC. Obama sanctioned them repeatedly, among other deterrents. But an assassination of QS by Israel would be destabilizing to put it mildly.— Tommy Vietor (@TVietor08) January 10, 2018
Let's be clear, when it's Soleimani, you're dealing with a blood-drenched terrorist mastermind. Not a politician.
In turn, when you offer "Obama sanctioned them" as a representation of effectively countering Soleimani, you are either a complete moron or utterly delusional.
I'm going with the latter here.
Yet this is deadly serious stuff. To understand why Vietor's apparent defense of Soleimani is so problematic, we need only consider present reality.
First off, as the head of the Quds force, Soleimani leads Iranian efforts to blackmail or destroy any and all of the regime's political opponents. From Saudi Arabia to Lebanon and Iraq to Yemen, and the graveyard of Syria, Qassem's crew are the tip of the Iranian spear and mortal enemies of American interests.
History also informs why Vietor's understanding is so defective.
After all, Soleimani was also responsible for the campaign of destruction that killed and wounded thousands of U.S. soldiers and others in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, the Quds force supported and directed attack teams with thousands of explosively formed penetrators. These "EFPs" punched through U.S. armored vehicles and shredded those inside. But to truly understand what these weapons did, one need only read David Finkel's The Good Soldiers.
In that book, Finkel recounts the story of 26-year-old Specialist Joshua Reeves whose vehicle was hit by an EFP. When Reeves arrived at the medical station, "He wasn't breathing, his eyes weren't moving, his left foot was gone, his backside was ripped open, his stomach was filling with blood ..." Finkel recounts the desperate efforts of doctors and nurses to save Reeves. And for a time, they succeeded.
Unfortunately, Reeves' injuries were too severe and he died on the way to a more advanced facility. His death came on the same day that his wife had told him that she had given birth.
Don't get me wrong, emotion and anger are poor guides for good strategy.
Nevertheless, Reeves' story is just one of many hundreds that mark Soleimani for his relationship with America. In that context, the fact that an Obama national security council staffer would seek to defend Soleimani against attack or to describe him as a political leader is astonishing. Indeed, considering that Vietor would have held a top secret clearance and thus knew what Soleimani was up to, it is truly sad.
Need more convincing? Then consider what happened in 2011, when the good politician decided to try and blow up a Washington, D.C. restaurant to kill then-Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. The Quds force plan only failed because the individual they recruited to carry out the attack was actually a Drug Enforcement Agency informant. When the informant told the IRGC handler that civilians would also die in the explosion, the handler responded "if the hundred go with him, fuck 'em."
Now-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis described in polite terms how the Obama administration responded to the attack plot, but let me put it more simply.
They did as much as light does at the event horizon of a black hole (absolutely nothing).
And that's the whole game here. Vietor and the rest of team Obama were so absorbed by their belief in their boss' messianic ability to turn revolutionary theologians into partners that they happily turned a blind eye to Soleimani and his cronies. And today's Middle East, with Iranian interests advancing on multiple front offensives, testifies to the high price of team Obama's delusions.