On January 9, the front pages of all newspapers featured articles on Iran striking back at the United States Armed Forces. For instance, The Yomiuri Shimbun article was entitled, “Iran Takes Revenge on American Forces With Ballistic Missiles.” It read:
According to the DOD, the strikes took place around 1:30 a.m. on January 8 (local time in Iraq). The targets were al-Asad airbase west of Baghdad, the capital city, and a base near Erbil in northern Iraq.
As of now, the American media has not reported on damage to American citizens. President Donald Trump tweeted, “Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good!” on January 7 (American time). He sent Iran the cautionary message that, “We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far!”
According to The New York Times (electronic version), al-Asad is an American military base in western Iraq also used for the takeoff and landing of unmanned aircraft (drones) and reconnaissance planes. The forces of the Netherlands, a member of the coalition, are also stationed there in recent years.
The base near Erbil in the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq is used as a center for mopping-up operations against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in northern Iraq and eastern Syria.
The IRGC released a statement on January 8 saying it struck al-Asad with dozens of surface-to-surface missiles to take revenge for the killing of Soleimani. The statement said an American counteroffensive may lead to a more painful and destructive response, suggesting the possibility of further strikes.
Soleimani was commander of the Quds Force, an elite force in the IRGC. The IRGC implements sophisticated extraterritorial operations in the Middle East and performs tasks such as training Shia militia members in Iraq. Trump designated the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization in April 2019.
Soleimani had close ties with Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who swore to take revenge for Soleimani’s killing.
A former American military commander described Soleimani’s importance as, “[He’s] the architect of Iran’s plan to conquer the Shia Crescent (an area spanning from Iran to Iraq, Syria, and southern Lebanon) in the Middle East […] Soleimani took the lives of over 600 American soldiers in Iraq alone, as well as many coalition army members, Iraqi allies, and people in other countries such as Syria.”
I believe Trump had Soleimani killed to demonstrate that he can kill anyone he wants, whenever he wants to. This message was of course aimed at North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un.
In response to the Iranian ballistic missile retaliation, on the following day Trump stated there were no causalities and the U.S. would not wage a military counterattack, which avoided escalating the situation. There was no risk of full-out war between Iran and the U.S. Khamenei is fully aware Iran would likely suffer a devastating attack in a true war with the U.S., the world’s biggest military superpower. I think there were no American casualties in the Iranian ballistic missile attacks because Iran gave Iraq prior notice and targeted only places where there would be little human damage, such as hangars where people are not usually stationed. There would certainly have been casualties if Iran shot more ballistic missiles at sites with many American soldiers, with no prior warning.
The Iranian government-run television network broadcast the ballistic missile launches and said more than 80 “American terrorists” were killed. This seems a way of satisfying the Iranian people, who are thirsty for revenge. An attack that harmed numerous Americans would lead to all-out war, and possibly to nuclear facilities being destroyed at once. It is also fully possible that Israel – Iran’s bitter enemy – would take advantage of the opportunity presented. I think Iran would feel the most unbearable humiliation if it were harmed by Israel. Considering this, the retribution by the Iranian government was a military action carefully balanced between its people and the U.S.
Trump’s primary concern right now is winning the November 2020 election, and he plans to leverage the North Korea issue to achieve this. Three American-North Korean summit meetings have been held so far, including the first-ever meeting in Singapore in June 2018, and the following meetings in February 2019 and June 2019. Despite this, no steps are being taken to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. It seems likely Trump will take some kind of measure against North Korea, but this will benefit him more closer to the election. I think Trump is taking an increasingly firm stance since the New Year according to his plan. However, placing overly direct pressure on North Korea is dangerous now that it is a nuclear state.
I am invited each year to a New Year party at the Bellagio Las Vegas, where I have the chance to talk with a former U.S. Air Force brigadier general. He said the U.S. Armed Forces already have a decapitation strike planned against Kim that could be carried out at any time with Trump’s signature. However, this strategy has yet to be implemented.
It is presumed that North Korea has already equipped short-range and intermediate-range ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, and has entered the stage of using them in actual combat. However, it lacks sufficient atmospheric reentry technologies for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which have ranges of more than 10,000 kilometers and could reach the American continent. After being launched to a fairly high altitude, the missile falls at increasingly fast speeds, and the warhead portion must have extremely powerful heat-resisting properties. I think Trump’s true desire is to somehow stop North Korea from testing ICBMs and miniaturized nuclear weapons before it overcomes these difficulties and becomes capable of striking the U.S. The U.S. is more concerned about North Korea than Iran, which has not successfully developed nuclear weapons.
Another issue is the motives of Israel, which is friendly with the U.S. Israel is threatened by Iran, not by North Korea. Israel’s previous “offense” was in 1981, when Israel attacked and destroyed an atomic reactor, where the Saddam Hussein administration was carrying out nuclear development, in the name of “anticipatory self-defense.” I wonder if Israel demanded that the U.S. remove Iran’s nuclear facilities, and perhaps Israel suggested it would attack Iran’s nuclear facilities in the same fashion if the U.S. could not do so. It seems Soleimani was killed based on the thinking that pressuring Iran would also put pressure on North Korea.
The U.S. used its MQ-9 Reaper drone to launch missiles at two cars, including the one Soleimani was riding in, on their way from Baghdad International Airport in Iraq on the early dawn of January 3 (local time). They killed Soleimani and a leader of Kataib Hezbollah (a Shia paramilitary group). I think this was Trump’s way of showing Kim that he could identify and kill the occupants of a vehicle. This was a clear message that the U.S. will remove Kim if he carries out miniaturized nuclear weapon and ICBM launch tests. After the Soleimani killing, news reports say the people of Pyongyang are scared of American drone attacks, which may be exactly the effect Trump wanted.
The U.S. estimated there was little risk of full-out war with Iran, even if it did retaliate at first. The U.S. must have strategized that an Iranian reprisal would provide a pretext for destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities, which Israel strongly hopes for. The situation did not progress that far, but I think the killing of Soleimani mostly achieved Trump’s objectives.
Wars occur in every era, and attacks are deterred by offensive capabilities. This is because peace is maintained only though a balance of power. However, Japan is shackled by Article 9 of the constitution and cannot have sufficient military power for deterrence. If nothing changes, Japan may end up as an autonomous region of the expanding China. This would mean the Pacific Ocean is divided between China (the west part) and the U.S. (the east part), which is a threat to the U.S. as well. Japan and the U.S. must have a strong partnership, and Japan must strengthen its deterrence.
I believe Trump will definitely be re-elected this year. If so, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should revise the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) regulations again to allow a fourth presidential term and extend his term of office until 2024, the same as Trump. Then, Abe should amend the constitution twice over the next four years. The first revision should clearly specify the role of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), as described in the LDP’s proposal. The second revision should include removing the second paragraph of Article 9 to clearly transform the JSDF into a national defense force. Some people may say this should be done in one single revision, but considering the current public opinion, the creation of a national defense force would not pass in the first national referendum. I think we must show that constitutional change is possible by clarifying what the JSDF does, and then get citizens on board before moving into the next phase. Japan absolutely must become a country with a military that can defend itself so we are not swallowed up by China. Nuclear weapons are also an important issue. Japan is within range of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, and the “nuclear umbrella” protecting Japan does not actually exist. It seems exceedingly unlikely that the U.S. would wage a nuclear counterstrike against North Korea. Together with constitutional revision, Japan must abolish the Three Non-Nuclear Principles and conclude a nuclear sharing agreement with the U.S. to maintain a nuclear balance in East Asia.
China’s military and geographical expansion, as well as North Korea’s nuclear weapons, are significant threats to Japan that must be dealt with right away. Despite this, many Japanese citizens have studied mistaken textbooks and are accustomed to incorrect media reports, so they are indifferent to these issues and do not believe in the possibility of an undesired war. However, wars break out in the real world not only when one’s country wants to fight, but also when one’s opponent desires war, which leads being easily brought under the power of the opponent. We are finally talking about constitutional change during the Abe administration, 75 years after the end of World War II, and we must not miss this chance to make the JSDF into a national defense force.
The January 12 issue of The Yomiuri Shimbun contained an interview with French historian and anthropologist Emmanuel Todd, who quickly predicted the collapse of the former Soviet Union. An excerpt follows from this article, entitled, “The British and American Compass Needles are Still Wavering.”
Globalization, based on the market economy, has widened disparities between the rich and poor in the United Kingdom and the U.S. Laborers have suffered in particular. Trump is moving away from globalization with his “America First” policy, as is the U.K. (which is against immigration from Europe) with Brexit, its movement to leave the European Union (EU). This is undoubtedly a shift to nationalism.
Brexit and Trump’s election also represent the public’s rebellion against the established order.
The middle classes in the U.S. and U.K. who support the established order are strongly opposed to Brexit and Trump. Britain will leave the EU at the end of January after 3.5 years of confusion, but we cannot say the issue is settled. Trump’s impeachment trial this year can be seen as one sign of this opposition in the U.S.
There are also hierarchical differences in education at play behind the divisions in British and American societies. Members of the middle class, who have completed higher education, benefit from globalization. They tend to look down on workers with only secondary education. One example is when presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables.” It seems like the American and British middle classes speak out against nationalism by saying, “All holders of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees must joint together.”
Amidst fierce internal strife in Britain and the U.S., the needles of the compasses are still wavering.
Question 2: The future of Sino-American conflict
The awareness of the elite figures who set America’s global strategies has changed with Trump’s inauguration. They are fearful that China might supersede the U.S. dozens of years from now. My conclusion is that the U.S. will work to check China’s hegemony. Sino-American conflict is shifting from trade issues to geopolitical issues related to the world order.
The Trump administration’s anti-China strategy is to nip hegemony in the bud, but it is highly difficult to predict how this conflict will play out.
Question 3: The fate of Europe
The EU has become a regional organization ruled by Germany, its biggest economic superpower. Germany’s power will only gain prominence when Britain leaves.
Germany’s tactics are logical, but it rushes ahead madly into wars it cannot win with no strategic prospects. This is illogical.
Birthrates are falling and populations are ageing throughout Europe as whole, and there are growing disparities between the affluent north, represented by Germany, and the poor south, exemplified by Greece. I believe Germany is waging an economic war against the south.
The illogical Germany was the cause of two wars in the 20th century fought mainly in Europe. Today, I feel anxious and wonder if Germany is traveling down the path to a third act of self-destruction.
Question 4: Fluctuating ideas of sexual difference in humans
Sexual difference is as inherent to humankind as life and death. We can change our appearance through surgery, but we cannot truly change our sex.
The vigorous discourse denying sexual differences poses a danger to contemporary identity. People know longer understand what they are – if they are male, female, human, etc. The cause for this is individualism that has gone too far.
As nation-states have weakened through globalization, people are losing groups to which they can belong. The people of today are confused and can no longer discern the conditions of being human.
I am concerned. If doubts about identity cause this danger to intensify, one way to resolve it is to make enemies, appeal to emotions, re-organize groups of belonging, and start wars.
People in Japan must learn our correct history that is worthy of pride to avoid the future that Todd predicts under the fourth question above. We must promptly revise the constitution to achieve this and to become a nation capable of independent self-defense.
December 12 (Thursday), 6:00 p.m.