IRGC chief offers U.S. advice on national defense strategy

“The world has become bigger than the US and the US no longer the first in anything,” IRGC chief Major General Hossein Salami said.

Hossein Salami, deputy head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard (photo credit: REUTERS/MORTEZA NIKOUBAZL)
Hossein Salami, deputy head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard
Usually Iran’s leaders rant about American “arrogance” and how Iran’s axis of “resistance” is going to overturn the Americans. On Saturday Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps chief Major General Hossein Salami had more somber and constructive criticism for his American adversaries. “For years the Americans have not been able to strike a balance between the costs and outcomes of their measures..They are stuck in a downward spiral and the world has for decades witnessed no recording of a political victory for them.”
Salami, sounding more like a professor lecturing Washington about Clausewitzian strategy, emphasized that US strategy has transitioned from grand strategy to diminishing returns through focus on short-term tactical and operational achievements. “The world has become bigger than the US and the US no longer the first in anything,” Salami said.
His discussion could have been a paper at any of the plethora of think tanks that ring Washington. In short, he was arguing that the short era of American hegemony that emerged after the Cold War is quickly coming to an end. “America can’t succeed in striking a balance between its political interests and military power,” he argued. The US has wasted vast amounts of treasure in the Middle East and only ended up funding its adversaries. The IRGC should know well, since it has benefited most from US policy failures in Iraq and elsewhere, gobbling up influence countries as the US flip-flopped.
America’s defense strategists agree with Salami. US national defense strategy envisions a shift away from concentrating on the minutiae of counter-terrorism, to confronting large states such as Russia and China. The Department of Defense put out a statement by Air Force Lt. Gen. David Allvin, director of strategy, that examines the official National Defense Strategy. It examines the “reemergence of great power competition from Russia and China, dealing with the threats emanating from Iran and North Korea, and maintaining vigilance to combat terrorism.” Former US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Joseph Dunford has presided over this strategy in his term from from 2015 to 2019.
Iran feels very confident in its policies today. Salami was attending a ceremony at the former US embassy in Tehran and spoke about how the 1979 revolution in Iran led to the decline of US influence in the region. In his view Iran has pursued a clear and consistent strategy for decades, while the US has done the opposite, leading to a weakening of America’s position.
He also accused the US of fueling the same extremism in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, that it ended up having to fight. This was likely a reference to the US supporting the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s in cooperation with Pakistan, only to have to go into Afghanistan after 9/11 to eject the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. Salami, who listens to US President Donald Trump’s speeches, said that Trump had accused the Obama administration of allowing ISIS to takeover parts of Syria and Iraq. He then noted the US had to go into Iraq and Syria and fight ISIS, which he said the US had helped create.
Iran now believes that all it has to do is sit and wait for the US to dig a hole for itself in the Middle East and eventually the US will leave places like Syria and Iraq. Napoleon Bonaparte said “never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” Iran is now weighing that scenario, wondering if it is worth trying to provoke the US and America’s allies, or wait and see. Iran’s supreme leader and its clerics have already decided to accuse the US of fueling protests in Iraq and Lebanon, two areas that Iran is concerned about. It doesn’t want to lose its prestige in those places where it maintains two important allies, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq.
But Salami is confident Iran can outplay the Americans, having embarrassed the US in the Gulf by attacking oil tankers and striking at Saudi Arabia and downing a US drone. Rising tensions with Israel may be on his mind, but Salami seemed less concerned about Jerusalem.
Salami is a calculating voice today in Iran. At a speech in Eshtehard on Friday he reminded an audience that he came from a rural area where said he was raised with qualities of “honesty, integrity, kindness and fairness.” He noted that while America, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UK are enemies of Iran, they are matched by enemies such as poverty and deprivation for the poor. In Salami the US has a complex adversary, one that appears to understand American strategic challenges more than Washington has understood them in recent years.