On Sunday, the Trump administration launched airstrikes against the Kataib Hezbollah militia’s forces in Iraq and Syria, killing 24 people and wounding 50. This was reported as a US retaliation against the Kataib Hezbollah, firing on an Iraqi military base, wounding four American servicemen and killing an American contractor.
The US response was completely out of line with the initial attack and occurred without any attempt by Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to justify it. They invoked the phrase, “Iran-backed forces” and then bombed troops over 200 miles away where they wanted to strike anyway. And what’s important is the U.S. struck Shia militias who were previously made official part of the Iraqi defense forces. In other words, the U.S. just attacked and killed dozens of Iraqi military personnel.
“Really hard to overstate how badly Trump has bungled things in the Middle East,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted. “One of the only good things going—anti-Iran street protests in Iraq—have now morphed into anti-U.S. protests thanks to Trump’s mishandling of Iran policy!” Another analyst pointed out that by abandoning diplomacy, the president risks war, humiliation, or both—and has put himself at Iran’s mercy. Yes, he is being played by the Mullahs.
On Tuesday, following funeral services for the dead militiamen, thousands of supporters of Kataib Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militias stormed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, shouting “death to America.” Outraged by the U.S. attacks, many of Iraq’s top clerics and politicians are now demanding the withdrawal of all-American troops. On Tuesday, Abbas Kadhim, director of the Iraq initiative at the Atlantic Council tweeted that, “I expect the days of the large American diplomatic & business presence in Iraq to be numbered.” Liz Sly, The Washington Post’s bureau chief in Beirut, predicted an endgame reminiscent of Saigon in 1975. “After today,” she tweeted, “how do the Americans trapped inside the embassy leave except by helicopter?”
In a statement, [former PM] Abdul-Mahdi said Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had called him about a half-hour before the U.S. strikes Sunday to tell him of U.S. intentions to hit the bases of the militia suspected of being behind Friday’s rocket attack. Abdul-Mahdi said he asked Esper to call off the U.S. plan. The entirety of Iraq’s leadership seems to be of the same mind, and even rejected the US plan to strike when they were tipped off immediately before it happened.
One byproduct of the major US strikes on Sunday is sure to be that more and more of the Iraqi population will view the Americans, and not the Iranians, as the foreign occupiers. This dramatic escalation by Washington is only likely to push more popular support toward the Shia PMF and strengthen the movement in parliament to have US forces legally expelled, especially with the demise of the ISIS threat. It further weakens what was once a compliant, pro-US Iraqi government trying to push back on Iranian influence in Iraq.
The truth is, after each escalation, Trump’s predicament worsens. He simply can’t afford a war—which would likely boost oil prices and damage the economy—especially in an election year. Yet he also can’t pursue real diplomacy, at least not without provoking a confrontation with the GOP’s hawkish foreign policy elite. He’s caught between his desire to avoid being like George W. Bush and his desire to avoid being like Barack Obama.
He is in effect at the mercy of Iran’s Mullahs. Given the crushing sanctions America continues to impose, Iran has every incentive to make America bleed. Its proxy armies offer it numerous opportunities to do so. And every time it does, it offers Trump the unenviable choice of launching a potentially catastrophic third Middle Eastern war or being exposed as a paper tiger.
When it comes to Iran, Trump has shifted Republican foreign policy away from war without shifting it towards diplomacy—the only stable alternative to war. So, he’s caught in a kind of purgatory. The American embassy compound in Baghdad, now covered in pro-Iranian graffiti and strewn with broken glass, is the latest symbol of that purgatory. It probably won’t be the last attack.
Pompeo was in Iraq on Saturday (a day before the ‘response’). Clearly, he was heavily involved in the planning for this. The worst part of this ‘response’ by the Trump administration is the fact that they targeted the Kata’ib Hizbullah forces near the Al Qaim border crossing with Syria in Iraq.
The Al Qaim border crossing is an important red line for Israel and their allies in the U.S. State and Defense Departments. It represents the normalization of commerce between Syria, Iraq and Iran over time. This is the so-called Shia Crescent which is the stuff of nightmares for Benjamin Netanyahu. And the U.S. has been hopping mad for months since now caretaker Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdel Mahdi opened the border because it undermines U.S. presence in Syria.
When Al Qaim/Al Bukamai was opened it was only a matter of time before a major skirmish would occur over it. Israel staged a series of air attacks previously using U.S. assets and air bases to launch them back in September. Now, we have the convenient excuse for attacking these forces (200 miles away) which are part of the Popular Mobilization Units, PMU, which Pompeo despises by ‘retaliating’ for a rocket attack on the K1 base near Kirkuk where one U.S. mercenary was killed and a handful of others injured.
Trump must know that escalation from here ends with U.S. forces coming home in body bags as PMU forces themselves, go off the reservation during this power vacuum in Baghdad and attack U.S. troops directly. But I think this is exactly what Bibi and Pompeo want. This attack was a clear provocation to escalate and give Israel and the neocons all the ammunition they need to force Trump into the wider conflict with Iran they’ve been angry about not getting for six months now.
Pompeo/Netanyahu failed with the Global Hawk incident back in June. That operation got John Bolton fired as National Security Director. Now we have a clearly disproportionate strike designed to inflame passions of Iran-backed Shia forces. And it looks like it worked.
It will put Trump in a real bind with his base during an election year and an impeachment process Speaker Nancy Pelosi is purposefully dragging out to build a stronger case. Between Pelosi and Pompeo, Trump is being boxed into a Israel’s war.
What stronger case could there be at this point if Trump were to not declare war or fire back on US troops getting attacked in Iraq or Syria? He’s derelict as Commander-in-Chief. It’s part of their stupid Ukraine narrative that Trump withheld aid weakens our national security.
Secretary of State Pompeo has been nothing short of a disaster and has consistently undermined Trump’s intent to get the U.S. out of the Middle East and solve the myriad of open geopolitical wounds around the world.
This move simultaneously strengthens Iran’s Mullahs but also increases the risk of war with Iran (which is exactly what Pompeo/Netanyahu have been scheming). But, it doesn’t serve Trump or the U.S. at all.
There will be further retaliation against US troops and assets. U.S. troops are now less safe, and less effective in fighting ISIS – and more isolated in Syria. And very soon, because of this action, they will be ‘kicked out of Iraq’! US will in effect have no bases left in Iraq, while simultaneously considering ‘war with Iran’!
Just think about it, if they declare war on Iran, the US will need bases to attack Iran from by land! (You can’t win a war with airplanes and bombers alone! Vietnam proved that.). With no bases in Iraq, and almost nothing left in Afghanistan; and poor relations with Turkey – tell me Mr. Pompeo how is the US supposed to go to war with Iran? And let’s not forget that US bases in Qatar (where CENTCOM is based) are also under strain because Saudi Arabia is turning Qatar into an island with no capacity for land-based re-supplies. This move by Pompeo further isolates the US and makes any long-term strategic goal – more elusive. Its idiotic.
Any rational analysis of the consequences of this decision will likely lead to Pompeo being fired. Trump was sold on an action plan that may have made him look strong domestically, but in fact made no strategic sense. Under Trump, the US has systematically alienated every alliance it has painstakingly cultivated in its fight with ISIS in the region – the Kurds, Iraqi Militias and Military … even the Iranians. And if they don’t start a war with Iran, the net outcome will be that Iran will be further strengthened by this and the US weakened. If he does start a war with Iran, it will be expensive, and lead to economic and political suicide i.e. the weakening of the US strategic position. Either way its bad.
He’s in a quandary which has only worsened now with this action on Sunday.
Its worth repeating one more time what Senator Chris Murphy said: “Anti-Iran street protests in Iraq have now morphed into anti-U.S. protests thanks to Trump!”
This won’t end well. Trump is an idiot – he is being played. Obama was smarter.