The fuss over President Trump’s decision to kill Iranian General Qasem Soleimani is causing the usual hair-on-fire reaction among the media and foreign policy elites. Everyone is playing the parlor game of wondering how Iran might respond, and how we might respond to Iran’s well-develop capacity for “asymmetric warfare.” I got to wondering what my late professor of international relations Harold W. Rood (d. 2011) might think of the scene. Prof. Rood disdained all of the usual cliches of strategic matters in favor of a simple question: “If there’s going to be a war, who is going to win?”
Since Iran has been in a state of war against the United States for 40 years now, it is a question that ought to be asked more often, though it is considered wholly retrograde to do so. Perhaps President Trump—no grand strategist—his nonetheless crystalized this question for the first time since the Iranian revolution. (See “On the Question of Trump Versus Iran” from last June for a fairly accurate forecast of the current moment.)
I found a recording of a brief talk Prof. Rood delivered to the Philadelphia Society back in 1980 on how to understand grand strategy. You might think that the US-USSR confrontation of the Cold War is fundamentally different than what we face with Iran now, but if you listen with only a little imagination, you can apply it easily to today’s scene. Plus it is a classic example of Prof. Rood’s marvelous method of indirect instruction, where his historical examples and observations about anomalies lead the listener to make his or her own conclusions. Needless to say, this short podcast doesn’t “milk the soft power dividend” at all—it’s hard power all the way!
You know what to do: listen here or download from our hosts at Ricochet.