Opinion | American perceptions and the odds of war1 min read . Updated: 08 Jan 2020, 03:31 PM IST
Donald Trump’s initial reaction would suggest that Washington wants to play Iran’s actions down, wag a stern finger, and be done with it
Iran’s missile strikes aimed at US troops in Iraq, in retribution for the US killing of its General Qassem Soleimani, have put the world on edge. American bases at al-Asad in Iraq’s Anbar province and Erbil in northern Iraq, which host a US-led contingent of troops, were hit on Wednesday by a salvo of over a dozen missiles. While Iran has claimed that the attack left dozens of soldiers dead, the US has admitted no casualties so far. Instead, US President Donald Trump appears to have shrugged it off in a tweet, saying “All is well" and “So far so good". Meanwhile, a Ukraine International Airlines jetliner crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran, putting “Ukraine" back in the news, and though Iran has spoken of a “technical fault", there is no clarity over why the plane went down.
The big question is whether the region is on the verge of a flare-up. This may depend on whether the strikes killed anyone. Trump’s initial reaction would suggest that Washington wants to play Iran’s actions down, wag a stern finger, and be done with it. If Tehran judges that it is widely seen to have taken adequate revenge for Soleimani, this may well be the end of the matter. But markets remain nervous, and this could be because Iran has hinted of more attacks to come.
What might Tehran’s goals be? Having taken credit once for the electoral defeat of a US president (Jimmy Carter in 1980), perhaps it figures that a public humiliation of the US could see Trump lose his re-election bid as well. Iran’s economy has been reeling ever since Trump binned its nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions on it, and Tehran may possibly be looking for his exit. If so, then this whole thing would turn into a battle for perceptions of which side has bloodied the other’s nose, and that’s a surefire formula for military escalation.