Iran: Was Putin the Puppet Master?

During the recent bout of saber-rattling between President Trump and Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, one voice became temporarily, and conspicuously, silent: that of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Spirited Reasoners now have cause to wonder whether the “early warning system”—the one Trump credited with saving the lives of American and Iraqi troops after Iran launched missiles at two U. S. military bases—might have been the behind-the-scenes intervention of a certain Russian puppet master.

Last summer, after Iran downed a U. S. military drone, Putin warned that a war between the United States and Iran could have catastrophic consequences. Then, after Trump claimed responsibility for the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani early this month, Putin traveled to Syria—a close ally of Iran—in a rather unusual move, perhaps to demonstrate Russian support for both countries. What was lacking during that visit was what Spirited Reasoners would have otherwise expected: a statement of condemnation by Putin against the actions of President Trump.

When Iran decided to launch missiles aimed at U. S. troop installations in Iraq, the world held its breath, wondering if we were about to witness the start of all out war. Then we heard the miraculous news. Not a single U. S. or Iraqi soldier was killed or even wounded.

We were all happy and relieved. But then we wondered. Did things really happen that way?

After the anticlimax was announced, Trump credited the successful operation of an “early warning system.” Maybe so. But it seems ludicrous to believe that our military is in possession of technology that can direct thousands of troops away from incoming missiles. After all, modern missiles are quite capable of being directed and redirected in real time. In other words, there is nothing to prevent Russian-made missiles from changing their direction in flight once they determine (photographically or otherwise) that U. S. troops are being moved.

What is far more likely is that a diplomatic deal was struck behind the scenes, one bearing the fingerprints of Vladimir Putin. Having watched his two friends—Trump and Khamenei—paint themselves into their respective corners, Putin came forward with the solution. Russia would tell Iran where to fire a few missiles. Meanwhile, Russia would tell the United States where those missiles were about to be fired, giving us plenty of time to move all troops out of the target zones. Afterward, leaders on both sides would declare victory to their respective constituents.

So, what’s the big deal? Isn’t it a good thing for us to play second fiddle to Vladimir Putin, especially when he is able to broker a peace deal behind the scenes?

Yesterday, a Russian warship “aggressively approached” the USS Farragut in the Arabian Sea. Putin seems to be making a statement. “I helped you out. But now you know the Middle East belongs to me.”

Spirited Reasoners wonder whether one long-term implication of Trump’s foreign policy ignorance will be continuing Russian expansion.