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Pentagon In Chaos Over Response To Iraq Expulsion Of US Troops

An unsigned letter signaling what appeared to be a withdrawal of troops from Iraq threw Washington into chaos on Monday, after Defense Secretary Mark Esper disputed its authenticity.In the letter, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. William H. Seely III said the United States is preparing to withdraw troops from Iraq after the Iraqi parliament voted to expel the American military from the country following the deadly attack last week that led to the death of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

“We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure,” Seely wrote in a letter to an Iraqi military official, according to Washington Post reporter Mustafa Salim.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Monday that the letter is “inconsistent with where we are now,” according to defense reporter Paul McCleary.

After that first statement, Esper returned to tell reporters that the letter was real but that it was never meant to be seen as it was a draft.

The letter signaling the United States’ possible decision to pull troops from the country belies Donald Trump’s warning that if Iraq did vote to expel American troops, he would hit the country with “very big sanctions.”

“We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. Long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it,” Trump said Sunday night from Air Force One, according to the New York Times.

Trump added, “If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”

NBC’s Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel, who has covered wars across the world, said that expelling American troops from Iraq is “what Soleimani always wanted.”

“Maybe Iran gets its revenge without spilling a drop of blood,” Engel tweeted.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) echoed Engel’s sentiments. In a series of tweets on Monday, Merkley said that Trump’s attack, “strengthened the role of Iranian militias in Iraq, expanding Iranian influence — the exact opposite of our goal of reducing Iran’s influence in Iraq.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Trump Orders Airstrike Killing Top Iranian Military Leader Soleimani

Iraqi TV reported Thursday night that Qasem Soleimani, the leader of a special unit in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, has been killed. Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also reportedly killed.

While it was initially unclear whether the reports were true and who was to blame, the Pentagon eventually confirmed that, at the direction of President Donald Trump, it had carried out the strike. It said Soleimani had been planning attacks on U.S. diplomats and service members. Trump himself tweeted out simply an image of an American flag before the killing had been reported by the Pentagon, which many observers had interpreted as confirmation of the United States’ role.

“At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization,” the Pentagon statement said.

Ahmed al-Assadi, an Iraqi militia spokesman, told Reuters: “The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani.”

“The gloves are off,” warned Karim Emile Bitar, a professor of international relations, said on Twitter. “This could trigger a major escalation in the entire region, the consequences could be devastating.”

“Senior Iraqi politician tells me ‘apparently’ Soleimani is dead,” tweeted Robin Wright, a joint fellow at U.S. Institute of Peace “This is an astounding escalation between the US and Iran — which will ripple across the entire Middle East.”

Tensions have been rising between the United States and Iran in recent days, as hundreds of Iran-supporting protesters assaulted the American embassy in Iraq following a U.S. strike.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) offered an early comment on the news from Congress:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a close ally of Trump and a foreign policy hawk, told Banco: “We need to get ready for a major pushback. Our people in Iraq and the Middle East are going to be targeted. We need to be ready to defend our people in the Middle East. I think we need to be ready for a big counterpunch.”

IMAGE: Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani (L) stands at the frontline during offensive operations against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba in Salahuddin province March 8, 2015. Picture taken March 8, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Trump Faces Crises In Iraq And North Korea — After Alienating Allies

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Two separate crises roiled President Donald Trump on the first day of the year of his re-election campaign.

The U.S embassy in Baghdad is recovering from an assault that grew out of a pro-Iran protest. Some protesters stormed the grounds and set fires. Hundreds came to the facility over two days to protest American airstrikes on the Iran-supported militia group, Kataeb Hezbollah, in Iraq and Syria that killed at least 25 people. That strike came in response to an attack on an Iraqi base that killed an American contractor, according to the U.S.

And now, the Pentagon has announced it is sending 750 troops to Iraq in response to the embassy assault, and thousands more a reportedly preparing to be deployed. It is, apparently, a classic case of escalating tension, and it’s not clear where it will lead.

At the same time, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has uncorked a new round of aggressive rhetoric of his own. Kim has said he is ready to take “shocking actual action.” He has promised the release of a “new strategic weapon” in response to unproductive talks with the United States, undermining Trump’s claims that the nuclear threat from North Korea has been eliminated.

“If the U.S. persists in its hostile policy toward the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], there will never be the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and the DPRK will steadily develop necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons for the security of the state until the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy,” Kim said, USA Today reported.

It’s never clear how seriously to take North Korea’s rhetoric — it’s often overblown and purposefully provocative. But it is a genuine signal that, as experts have argued since the beginning, Trump’s attempts at diplomacy with the rogue nation have amounted to very little and have done nothing to alter Kim’s strategic interests.

Likewise in Iran, Trump’s failure is also on display. He tore up the Iran deal President Barack Obama had established with no good justification, insisting that being tough on the country could induce it to accept even more punishing terms. But the international community largely rejected Trump’s abandonment of the deal, leaving the United States isolated on the issue. And Trump seems no closer to a new deal with the country than he ever was.

Now we find ourselves in yet another series of escalating punches and counter-punches with Iran, and the body count is rising. When tensions rose with Iran earlier in 2019 over attacks on an oil tanker and a U.S. drone, I feared that then-National Security Adviser could use the situation to engineer a full-scale conflict with Iran. That fate was avoided, and Bolton has since been ousted, but the ratcheting up of violence and provocation on both sides could lead Trump on the path to war even if he genuinely wants to avoid it.

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, observed:

So after 3 years of no international crises, @realDonaldTrump is facing one w Iran b/c he has rejected diplomacy & another w N Korea b/c he has asked too much of diplomacy. He will face both w little allied backing, less interagency process, & amidst impeachment. Happy New Year.

— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) December 31, 2019

Some noted that “diplomacy” is too generous to describe Trump’s treatment of North Korea. Laura Rosenberger, the director of Secure Democracy, said that the term “pageantry” is more apt.

But another point in Haass’s tweet is worth paying attention to. He noted that, in Trump’s North Korea and Iran foreign policy, he largely alienated American allies and the interagency staffers who typically shape U.S. diplomacy. As is readily apparent, going his own way hasn’t proved to be a successful method. But it also means it will be much hard to turn to these partners and tested strategies for diplomatic help now because he cut them out at the beginning. Trump has also dramatically undercut his own credibility by prematurely declaring victory in both North Korea and Iran.

“A very predictable consequence of the lack of Trump’s showmanship in place of any policy or strategy on North Korea,” noted Rosenberger of Kim’s aggressive talk. “Buckle up.”

The twin crises, of course, are arising when Trump is uniquely vulnerable.

“The timing of these new challenges is critical,” wrote David Sanger in the New York Times. “Both the Iranians and the North Koreans seem to sense the vulnerability of a president under impeachment and facing re-election, even if they are often clumsy as they try to play those events to their advantage.:

Why John Bolton Is The Most Dangerous Man In The World

When National Security Adviser John Bolton demanded military plans to oust the government of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, Trump demurred, reportedly saying his national security adviser was trying to pull him “into a war.”

When Bolton demanded “regime change” in Iran and the Pentagon produced a plan to put 120,000 troops into the region, Trump demurred again.

“He is not comfortable with all this ‘regime change’ talk,’ which to his ears echoes the discussion of removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before the 2003 U.S. invasion,” one unnamed official told the Washington Post.

When push comes to proverbial shove, Trump balks at shoving.

When U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido attempted to lead a popular uprising on April 30, Trump did not lend his voice to the call. As Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited the alleged danger of Russian involvement, the president rubbished his message saying Vladimir Putin was “not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela.”

The uprising failed, and Bolton moved on to Iran.

Last week, Bolton warned the Tehran government that “any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.” On Wednesday, Trump spoke of negotiations, saying, “I’m sure that Iran will want to talk soon.”

The national security adviser wants war, but his boss doesn’t want to be a war president. Trump’s combination of bluster (“bomb the shit out of them”) and antiwar rhetoric (“Bush lied”) is a political asset he doesn’t want to squander. Bolton’s job isn’t in any danger, because to Trump, tough talk is good politics. Insults, threats, sanctions, and covert operations are fine—as long as they don’t lead to an actual shooting war.

Some hope it’s a “good cop/bad cop” routine, designed to get Trump to the global stage of negotiations. But that is not how Bolton thinks. He has never suggested that any negotiated settlement between the United States and any adversary is worth pursuing.

When Trump came to office, official Washington hoped generals like Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster would act as the “adults in the room.” In Washington-speak, the phrase expressed the bipartisan hope that Trump’s non-interventionist instincts, grounded in domestic politics, would be curbed.

Now, the dynamic has flipped. Now the generals are gone, replaced by Bolton and Boeing lobbyist Patrick Shanahan. As Bolton pursues regime change in Venezuela and Iran, the only restraining force is Trump himself.

It’s a thin orange line. Will it hold?

Trump’s Obama-like determination to stay out of wars shouldn’t be underestimated. Hillary Clinton, who advocated strongly for Timber Sycamore, would never have abruptly withdrawn 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria as Trump did in December.

While Obama refused direct U.S. involvement in Syria, he did acquiesce to the CIA’s $1 billion covert arms transfer program, code-named Timber Sycamore. The goal was to aid the “moderate” rebels, who, unfortunately, did not exist. The program flooded the country with weapons, many of which wound up in the hands of Al-Qaeda and its offshoots, funded by U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf.

Trump ended Timber Sycamore in the summer of 2017. His withdrawal order in December 2018 not only triggered Mattis’ resignation; it also deprived Bolton of real estate from which he planned to confront Iran. Bolton has been trying to walk back Trump’s order ever since, with some success. Approximately 400 U.S. troops remain in the country.

On Venezuela, it was Trump who started talk of “military option” in August 2017 before Bolton had even joined his administration. Bolton escalated confrontation, with the help of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, repeatedly saying “Maduro must go” and that his “time is up.” Trump, pondering the reality that U.S military intervention can only undermine the goal of ousting Maduro, now resists the option he put on the table.

The problem for the war-wary Trump is threefold.

First, Bolton is, objectively speaking, a warmonger. He has favored attacking Iran and North Korea, just as he favored attacking Iraq in 2003. The disastrous consequences of the invasion have had no effect on his impermeable thinking. He doesn’t want any advice on his schemes, and he doesn’t get any. If the policy doesn’t work, he changes the subject, not directions.

Second, because Bolton’s policies are developed in private, without the usual input from other sectors of the government, especially the military, they are underinformed and unsustainable. In Venezuela, Bolton failed to understand Venezuelan political realities leaving talk of military intervention as the only face-saving option.

Third, and most important, Trump’s regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, are also seeking to goad the U.S. into taking action against Iran, their regional rival.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought authority to attack Iran in 2011, only to be thwarted by the opposition of President Obama and his own security Cabinet. Obama is gone and Trump has given Netanyahu everything he wanted: an embassy in Jerusalem and recognition of the Golan Heights. Why not a unilateral attack on Iran to degrade its infrastructure?

Saudi Arabia is openly calling for war. After four oil tankers last week suffered damage from some kind of attack, the United States and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran. Why? The New York Times reported that “Israeli intelligence had warned the United States in recent days of what it said was Iran’s intention to strike Saudi vessels.” The Times said the information came from a “senior Middle Eastern intelligence official.”

An Iranian parliamentary spokesman described the attacks as “Israeli mischief.” To date, there is no conclusive evidence about who was responsible.

Nonetheless, the Arab News, a Saudi outlet owned by the brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), is now calling for “surgical strikes” on Iran.

It is one thing for Trump to privately rebuke Bolton. If and when Netanyahu and MBS ask for war, Trump will have more difficulty saying no—which is what Bolton is counting on.

It is no exaggeration to say Bolton is the most dangerous man in the world. It is a title he will only lose if Trump wants it.

Jefferson Morley is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at The Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon. He is the editor and co-founder of JFK Facts, a blog about the assassination of JFK. His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton.

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.