3 Reasons To Reject Trump’s Iran Smokescreen
On Friday, an American airstrike at Baghdad’s airport took the life of Qasem Soleimani, a high-ranking and popular military figure who served as the head of the Iranian Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces. U.S. President Donald Trump is claiming he ordered the killing of Soleimani in order to stop a war, not to start one.
And yet, I’m having a hard time swallowing that spoonful of political pablum, for three major reasons.
Airborne and In-Transit
First, there were already troops on their way to the region before the killings were carried out. According to CNN, the Americans sent reinforcements from the 82nd Airborne earlier in the week, ostensibly to help deal with protests at the U.S. embassy in Iraq should the situation worsen. If you were thinking you’d like to drop a bomb on one of your most irksome adversaries halfway across the world, having a contingent of your own soldiers already in transit to Iraq to deal with any fallout is convenient, to say the least.
However, there should be no illusions about whether it was a coincidence — the assessment of risks and options factored in an assassination attempt days before it happened. Though they didn’t want a repeat of the storming of their embassy in Iraq by protestors, as happened on New Year’s Eve, it’s now clear the deployment was also made with other considerations in mind. The Americans wanted to be ready to respond again if the Iranians and/or Iraqis chose to strike back immediately after al-Muhandis and Soleimani were killed.
Attack the Narrative
Secondly, a early attempt was made to frame the post-assassination public relations war over the attack taking place on Iraqi soil. At the time of the troop deployment to Baghdad earlier in the week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a written statement to inform the public of the Trump administration’s move. “As in all countries, we rely on host nation forces to assist in the protection of our personnel in country, and we call on the Government of Iraq to fulfill its international responsibilities to do so,” he said.
Calling the Iraqi government to account in advance was a (weak) attempt to lay groundwork for justifying both the location and the targets of the strike. Killing al-Muhandis has predictably led to calls for the U.S. to leave Iraq, and the images of mourning citizens chanting “Death to America” at the funeral procession in Baghdad on Saturday. However, there doesn’t seem to be any hope of the U.S. government controlling the narrative.
The Iranians consider the airstrike to be a declaration of war. Few believe the evidence-free assertions made by the U.S. that “imminent and sinister attacks” in the region were thwarted by the strike. America has a new problem on its hands, one that is entirely of its own making.
Third, and probably most importantly, Trump wanted the American media to be talking about something else when news broke about this week’s inevitable bombshell in the impeachment proceedings — documentary evidence that the President ordered the illegal freezing of Ukranian aid money above the objections of his officials. The emails that revealed this information had been released earlier with the incriminating sections heavily redacted. Now that that truth is out, and people are starting to ask why the emails were censored in the first place, new pressure is being brought to bear on the President along with louder calls for witnesses and documents to be permitted at the upcoming Senate trial.
This blatant attempt to change the channel on impeachment was one of the final cards Trump had left to play. Fuming throughout the holiday season about how impeachment was proceeding, livid at Speaker Nancy Pelosi for refusing to forward the House’s charges to the Senate before Christmas and robbed once again by Pelosi of control over the narrative, he felt compelled to do something to demonstrate clearly that he’s still the man in charge.
His control over the military is unquestioned, and so as Commander-in-Chief he took the opportunity to work out some of his frustrations. Some may say this interpretation is too simplistic and doesn’t give this President enough credit for taking action to defend America against foreign enemies.
That line might work for a President not currently impeached for being a domestic enemy to the United States, more interested in personal gain than defending the flag.
Starting 2020 with a Bang
This week, the foreign and domestic interests of Donald J. Trump collided spectacularly, leaving the country he leads with newly-aggrieved antagonists girding for war both inside and beyond its borders. Without doubt, the year 2020 brings new perils for this president and this nation. What comes next?
Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht Ravanchi, captured it best when referring to military action. He may as well have been referring to the U.S. Senate:
“The response for a military action is a military action. By whom? When? Where? That is for the future to witness.”
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