The Morning Jolt

National Security & Defense

The Lesson from the Escalating Tension with Iran

An Iranian flag flies at the Sorough oil field in 2005. (Raheb Homavandi/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The American government’s options for “shadow war” with the Iranians; a revealing and honest answer from Donald Trump in his Meet the Press interview; and various notes from a week in South Carolina, where it’s not too early for billboards for Democratic presidential candidates.

What the U.S. Needs to Do to Iran

The Iranian regime is an abominable one. It’s abusive to its citizens in a wide variety of ways, it’s the world’s biggest state sponsor of terror, and it’s aggressive and destabilizing to the region. The rulers of Iran deserve every bit of punishment, karma, and misfortune that can be arranged to come their way. The day the Iranian regime falls will be a great one for the United States of America, even if a more democratic Iranian government is still likely to desire a nuclear program and ballistic missiles.

But the collective United States public has barely given a moment’s thought to the consequences of a steadily escalating military conflict with Iran, and while the United States military is prepared for anything, it’s far from clear that the country as a whole is similarly prepared.

The Iranian regime likes to hit civilian targets, sometimes far from its shores. The largest terrorist attack in Latin American history, a bombing of a Jewish social-services center in Buenos Aires in 1994, was carried out by operatives working out of the Iranian embassy. In 2015, a prosecutor and chief investigator of the attack, still working the case, was found dead after “committing suicide” the day before he was supposed to testify to the Argentine congress. Three years later, Argentine prosecutors revised their assessment and declared the chief investigator had been murdered.

Iran’s fingerprints on are on terrorist attacks or planned terrorist attacks in Albania, Denmark, France, India, Iraq, Kenya, Thailand, and of course, Israel. Iran is also responsible for the Khobar Towers bombing that killed 19 U.S. servicemen in Saudi Arabia in 1996.

U.S. courts ruled that Iran was legally liable for the 1998 bombings of American embassies: “Prior to their meetings with Iranian officials and agents Bin Laden and al Qaeda did not possess the technical expertise required to carry out the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.” A separate U.S. court ruling found Iran responsible for the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000: “Iran was directly involved in establishing Al-Qaeda’s Yemen network and supported training and logistics for Al-Qaeda in the Gulf region.” Last year Mohammad-Javad Larijani, the secretary of the Iranian judiciary’s High Council for Human Rights, discussed the 9/11 hijackers on Iranian television and revealed “our government agreed not to stamp the passports of some of them” when al-Qaeda members passed through Iran on trips between Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. This helped the hijackers stay off terror watch lists and avoid scrutiny when they entered the United States.

The lesson of all this is not, “Do not attack Iran because they could respond with terrorism.” The lesson is, “Do not attack Iran unless you are prepared for them to respond with terrorism.”

Jim Sciutto’s recent book The Shadow War focuses on Russia and China, but the philosophy that book describes is also being used by the Iranian regime: Figure out where the United States’ threshold for war is, and then attack America in all possible ways short of crossing that line. And then maybe probe to see how far you can cross it before a military retaliation. We’re not likely to go to war over rockets landing near U.S. oil company installations in Basra, Iraq or military bases hosting U.S. forces near Baghdad, nor Iranian mines attached to oil tankers, nor sabotage at oil installations.

The good news is that the United States can fight a shadow war of its own. Eli Lake lays out the options for our side, perhaps most notably, cyber-operations against just about any military target or Iranian infrastructure. Before the invasion of Iraq, the American military and its partners in the intelligence agencies did receive approval to crippled that country’s military and government communications systems, disrupted all phone service, and contemplated doing the same for the country’s entire financial computer systems.

Iran is insisting that they have not suffered any significant cyber-attacks since shooting down the U.S. surveillance drone. One wonders if the American government is tempted to enact a cyber attack that is impossible to ignore, like a widespread outage of phone service, the Internet, or electrical power.

The Honesty of Donald Trump

Whether you like hearing this or not, this president lies a lot. Sometimes he lies about big things. Sometimes he lies about bizarrely petty topics, like whether he accidentally called Tim Cook of Apple “Tim Apple.” One of Trump’s recurring habits is describing implausible scenarios where he is the smartest and wisest man in the room, thinking of key points that others overlooked:

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We had something ready to go, subject to my approval. And they came in. And they came in about a half an hour before, they said, “So we’re about ready to go.” I said, “I want a better definition –”

CHUCK TODD: Planes in the air? Were planes in the air?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, no. “We’re about ready to go.” No, but they would have been pretty soon. And things would have happened to a point where you wouldn’t turn back or couldn’t turn back. So they came and they said, “Sir, we’re ready to go. We’d like a decision.” I said, “I want to know something before you go. How many people will be killed, in this case Iranians?” I said, “How many people are going to be killed?” “Sir, I’d like get back to you on that,” great people these generals. They said, came back, said, “Sir, approximately 150.” And I thought about it for a second and I said, “You know what? They shot down an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it. And here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said go ahead.”

Representatives of the leadership of the U.S. military would not give the president a military option and simply forget to include the casualty estimate, and there is no way the ‘generals’ had to go back and check information as important as that. This is not a “take him seriously, but not literally situation.” Perhaps Trump forgot or didn’t pay attention during the initial briefing about the attack.

But it is worth noting that for all of Trump’s dishonesty, sometimes he can be shockingly honest, in ways few presidents are, in the sense that he often answers the first thought that comes to his mind, whether that first thought is in his interest or not:


Are you prepared to lose?


No. Probably not. Probably not.


Very hon — I mean, you joke —


It would be much better, it would be much better if I said, “Yeah.”


You’re, you’re —


It would be much easier for me to say, “Oh yes.” No, I’m probably not too prepared to lose. I don’t like losing. I haven’t lost very much in my life.

When Trump fans declare the president to be an honest man, I suspect it’s because of comments like this. For a man with 24-7 Secret Service protection, he can still at times be remarkably unguarded.

South Carolina Notes

I spotted two big billboards in I-95 South and one on the road to Hilton Head promoting Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, declaring she has “a soldier’s heart.”

Thanks to everyone who attended the book event in Sun City — turnout was great, and it wasn’t just the free food.

I don’t want to turn into the “This recent news event shows why you should read my book,” but the first few chapters of Between Two Scorpions envision a terror attack in Europe with evidence pointing to Iranian responsibility, and various European governments and some portions of the American government not wanting to believe the evidence, because they’re so invested in rapprochement with the Iranian regime and preserving the nuclear deal.

Between Two Scorpions is already up to 16 reviews on Amazon, so if you’ve purchased it and read it and enjoyed it — or even just one of those three — please take the opportunity to share some thoughts on the Amazon page. I am told that’s one of the best ways to support books you love and bring it to the attention of potential readers. So far all of the reviews are positive, and some of the comments indicate I hit exactly the notes I wanted to hit: “What do you get when you take a little Dennis Miller, a little Piers Anthony, a little Robert Heinlein, throw them in a blender, the sprinkle on some Tolkien? You get Jim Geraghty, and this book.” “This book has a great plot, which is actually believable, as well as dynamic characters and just the right amount of grit. Loved it! Especially the short philosophical discussions that illustrate a great degree of insight into what makes people tick.” “I wasn’t sure I would like this book, but I was intrigued by Geraghty himself, so I gave a shot and was pleasantly surprised. Not your typical spook story, well written and fast paced.”

The lengthy and wide-ranging chat with Jonah Goldberg on The Remnant is now posted!

ADDENDUM: I aim to feature a big thriller roundup in tomorrow’s Morning Jolt, looking at Mark Greaney’s Agent in Place and the Gray Man Series, Matthew Betley’s almost-here Rules of War (which features a Chick-fil-A action scene), John A. Daly’s Blood Trade and forthcoming Safeguard, and Brad Thor’s almost-here Backlash. A quick preview of my assessment of Backlash — not only does it live up to the hype, it’s really striking for how different a story this is from the previous Brad Thor thrillers.

Most Popular


What Do Republican Voters Want?

The latest entry in the post-Trump conservatism sweepstakes was Marco Rubio’s speech at the Catholic University of America in early November. The Florida senator made the case for a “common-good capitalism” that looks on markets in the light of Catholic social thought. “We must remember that our nation ... Read More

The Houellebecqian Moment

We are living in the imagination of Michel Houellebecq. The bête noire of French literature has spent decades deploring the erosion of Western mores that he believes resulted from the sexual revolution of the 1960s. His last novel, Submission, revolved around the election of a theocratic Muslim to the French ... Read More

‘Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself’

It was just one more segment to fill out the hour, and thereby fill the long 24 hours of Saturday’s cable news on November 2. Or so it seemed. Navy SEAL Mike Ritland was on the Fox News program Watters World to talk to Jesse Watters about trained German shepherds like the one used in the raid that found ... Read More
White House

Impeachment Woes and DACA Throes

This excerpt is from episode 176 of The Editors. Charlie: Yesterday was the day on which the rain stopped and the sun hid behind the clouds and the eyes of the nation turned in unison toward Capitol Hill for the first day of public hearings in the impeachment of Donald Trump. The results of that first day were ... Read More