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Operation Kayfabe: How Trump and Iran avoided war while both claiming victory

Nebojsa Malic
Nebojsa Malic

is a Serbian-American journalist, blogger and translator, who wrote a regular column for Antiwar.com from 2000 to 2015, and is now senior writer at RT. Follow him on Twitter @NebojsaMalic

is a Serbian-American journalist, blogger and translator, who wrote a regular column for Antiwar.com from 2000 to 2015, and is now senior writer at RT. Follow him on Twitter @NebojsaMalic

Operation Kayfabe: How Trump and Iran avoided war while both claiming victory
For a moment there, as missiles were flying, it looked like a US-Iran war was inevitable. Then, just as suddenly, both sides walked away. What happened? The key to figuring it out might just lie in professional wrestling.

Last night, Iran launched two volleys of missiles at two bases in Iraq that house US troops and equipment, calling it revenge for the drone strike that killed General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force. US President Donald Trump called him a “terrorist” and a “monster,” but Iranians considered him a beloved war hero, and there was no way the IRGC could let his death go unavenged. 

Trump, however, threatened to strike 52 targets in Iran – the same as the number of US embassy staff taken hostage after the 1979 revolution – if any “Americans or American assets” were harmed. Throughout Tuesday, the US president kept oddly quiet on Twitter, choosing only to amplify the anti-Iran messaging of the most hawkish senators, and let the Pentagon and State Department chiefs take the lead in saying there will be no withdrawal from Iraq. It seemed like any Iranian action would guarantee a war.

Democrats, media talking heads and antiwar activists alike were absolutely convinced that Trump was getting into a war with Iran. Everything pointed to it. Any hope that the situation could de-escalate seemed like wishful thinking. Some Hollywood celebs were even pleading with Tehran “please do not kill us,” and asking the Iranian government to hold out till November so Trump can be voted out of office.

Also on rt.com ‘No lives lost’: Trump holds fire on ‘big missiles,’ talks peace after Iran’s strikes on US bases in Iraq

So when the US president walked up to the White House podium and addressed the nation on Wednesday – only to announce that his response will be more sanctions and calling for greater NATO involvement, rather than unleash the might of the US military – a lot of people were were left confused, to say the least. 

That’s because the American chattering classes forgot what in retrospect seems like a very important detail from Trump’s biography: before he ran for president, before he had a hit reality TV show… he was a superstar of professional wrestling. That’s not surprising, because they believe themselves too elite and too educated for that lowbrow form of entertainment – but Trump’s base does not.

Unlike the internationally known sport, professional wrestling is a specifically North American form of performance art, in which everything is staged but everyone pretends it is real and true. There is even a specific term for maintaining this pretense before the general public: kayfabe.

What if Trump’s threats of bombing Iranian heritage sites or refusing to withdraw from Iraq – even though he campaigned on doing just that – were all part of kayfabe, an act intended to gull the gullible into believing it was all real? Moreover, what if Iran was in on the act and chose to launch the missiles at largely empty warehouses, while giving Americans ample warning via the Iraqis ahead of time, so as to avoid any deaths? 

It sounds unbelievable, right? Yet there is no denying that it is precisely how events played themselves out. 

Also on rt.com Iran didn’t want to kill US troops with its strike, it wanted to make point to Trump about its missile tech & resolve. It did that

Speaking on Wednesday, Trump used standard rhetoric about Iran to bury two very important points that pundits largely missed. One is that the US is now energy independent and therefore far less vulnerable to events in the Middle East than in the 1970s, during the Arab Oil Embargo or the Iran hostage crisis. The other was his direct repudiation of the ‘Albright doctrine’ of US interventionism established in the 1990s with a glib remark. 

“The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean that we have to use it,” Trump declared. 

Those two things, I am fairly confident, were not kayfabe. Expect both to be largely ignored by the chattering classes, though, as they focus on who “caved” first and slowly get back to routine. 

What matters at this moment is that the war that seemed inevitable did not actually happen. The IRGC got to tell the Iranian people that their brave soldiers avenged “martyr Soleimani” by smiting the “Great Satan.” Trump got to tell the American people that, since no lives were lost, he could shrug it off as insignificant and walk away. Both of them ended up looking triumphant, while their hysterical critics and doomsayers ended up looking like fools. And let’s remember, in politics and pro wrestling alike, perception is everything.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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