History is filled with the terrible retribution inflicted on America's foes when those enemies underestimate the United States.
Consider Imperial Japan, which totally underestimated the United States. Hitler thought we could manufacture cars but never have the ability to produce tanks, an air force, a two-ocean navy and the willpower to fight and win. The Soviets told the West: "We will bury you." And Osama Bin Laden's ashes will never be found.
So when US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warns Iran that their role in supporting the terrorist murder of some 1,400 Israelis by Hamas has the potential to result in immensely serious "consequences," he is attempting to ensure that Tehran does not make the fatal mistake of underestimating the United States.
Looking on the surface, it might be easy to do so. Japan saw that the U.S. Congress debated and delayed for months before finally instituting a military draft in 1940. Hitler saw the American-based Nazi Bund convene a rally at Madison Square Garden. We currently have a president whose ability and political will have openly been questioned. The House of Representatives is in disarray. We are facing a multi-trillion dollar debt. Surely we must be distracted and incapable of action.
All the more reason that Graham's warning, which included "tak[ing] down an oil refinery" for every hostage killed. "The only way you're gonna keep this war from escalating is to hold Iran accountable," Graham recently stated.
On October 22, Graham said: "We're here today to tell Iran: We're watching you. If this war grows, it's coming to your backyard." And to make a point, he made that statement from Tel Aviv, as part of a delegation of ten U.S. Senators. "There won't be two fronts, there'll be three," he added, allowing the recipient of that message to ponder what and where that third military front would be.
Such a comment would be empty were it not for the fact that two U.S. Navy carrier strike groups are steaming on patrol in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Defense analysts say they are there gathering intelligence and patrolling the region, projecting American military power.
With two U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups operating in unison, there are 12,000 American sailors not far from the current conflict, and they come armed with the latest in weaponry. Somewhere, someone in Tehran has a memory: Iran's regime must be considering the actions of President Ronald Reagan in 1986, and of President Donald Trump in 2020, when his administration eliminated Qasem Soleimani, who was commander of the Qods Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, by a drone strike. Many commentators then predicted that the region would "explode." It did not. Quite the contrary. Iran, seeing that the U.S. "meant business" -- not by words but by actions -- backed down immediately.
Reagan, for his part, in 1986 ordered an aerial attack on Libya in retaliation for that country's agents bombing a West Berlin nightclub, killing three people, including a U.S. serviceman, and injuring almost 300 people. Reagan had the evidence dead to rights. Libya had sponsored multiple terrorist attacks, and while Reagan's decision to act did not constitute an act of war, he had the support of a functioning Congress. U.S. military aircraft engaged in a twelve-minute operation over Libya that targeted areas near Tripoli and Benghazi, and focused on military targets as well as Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's residential compound. It sent a clear message that there were lines you do not cross when dealing with the United States.
Over time that line has become blurred and too often ignored. Lindsey Graham has reminded the world, and ourselves: never underestimate an America roused to anger.
Lawrence Kadish serves on the Board of Governors of Gatestone Institute.