"Taxing Our Endurance" In a Region That Defies Peace
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“Taxing Our Endurance” In a Region That Defies Peace

by | published April 6th, 2019

For 444 days, U.S. citizens and government officials waited with bated breath.

Beyond the stress of it all making time slow to a crawl, those 444 days remain the longest hostage crisis in recorded history.

Some of you may remember November 4, 1979. I know I do.

Tensions in the Iranian region had been rising for months, and it was only a matter of time before things came to a head.

And that came with the overthrow of the American embassy in Tehran and the taking of 52 hostages.

A situation like this was something everyone feared.

The Iranian Hostage Crisis has been cited as a catalyst for President Carter’s downfall.

The Iranians proved that when they released the hostages only minutes after President Reagan was sworn into office.

Now, I was sent to Iran in the 1980s, as a direct result of the 1979 revolution.

Before 1985, the focus of my intelligence work had been either Southeast Asia (following my counter-intel work in Vietnam) or in Europe and elsewhere against Soviet interests.

But three decades ago, the Shatt al-Arab was my introduction to what spying meant in a region that remains a powder keg today.


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Iran vs. Iraq During the Cold War

On September 22, 1980, Saddam Hussein launched his troops across the Shatt in an attempt to capture main Iranian oil production. The other side of the water was just emerging from a religiously-inspired revolution that toppled the Shah, brought to power Ayatollah Khomeini, but was thought to be left weak as a result.

The problem was, nobody bothered to tell the Iranians that.

What transpired was a brutal stalemated conflict.

Massive military casualties on both sides, vast destruction of oil fields, indiscriminate use of chemical weapons by Iraq, and a huge number of civilian deaths. Upward to a million dead total, most of them in Iran.

Even today, about one of every two Iranian families had somebody killed or injured during the period between the 1979 Revolution and the end of the Iran-Iraq War on July 20, 1988.

Given the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the American hostages held, there was support for Iraq in the early stages of the war, despite the rather clear fact that Saddam Hussein had invaded Iran.

Initially, American satellite and other intel was provided to the Iraqi army as it moved across the Shatt.

Later, several events took place (which are still classified and I cannot comment upon) that prompted the U.S. Intelligence Community to provide support for the Iranians.

It is now more than three decades later.

We have been in Afghanistan longer than any war in U.S. history and as a nation are still coming to grips with the Iraqi campaign.

With apologies to Cicero, this certainly seems a region that is “taxing our endurance.”


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Iran is far from the only country right now that’s not pleased with the U.S.

Increased threats from both the U.S. and China in the battle for territory in the South China Sea is only the latest in this highly-disputed region.

It’s a game of cat and mouse, in a way.

The U.S. Navy ships in the area move too close to Chinese ships, and the U.S. military sends bombers over the region.

Beijing retaliates with its own battleship movements too close the U.S. ships, and moves a huge amount of missiles to the area.

It’s those missiles that have us worried now.

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The U.S. vs. Iran in 2019

And it’s not over yet. Not by a long shot.

President Trump is showing every indication of leading us to a war with Iran.

We’ve been at loggerheads with Iran for the last year, since new American sanctions were announced.

And the rest of the world was not impressed when the Trump Administration initiated sanction exemptions to Iran’s biggest oil imports, leading to a supply glut and crashing oil prices.

But a war with Iran would not be isolated. It could easily spread throughout the Middle East, to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.

I could have told you that even if I hadn’t spent years in government policy.

A big problem here is the lack of long-term thinking.

Sure, sending the military into an invasion of Iran could sound like a good idea in the short term, in an attempt to collapse the current Iranian regime.

But we could end up in a stalemate where hundreds of lives are lost in the same way we ended up in Afghanistan.

Anti-American sentiment in Iran is approaching levels we haven’t seen since 1979.

I’d hate to see the kind of trouble the U.S. could stir up in 2019.

Sincerely,

Kent

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