Sunday, January 5, 2020
In his 2019 State of the Union address, Donald Trump warned:
An economic miracle is taking place in the United States -- and the
only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous
partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation,
there cannot be war and investigation. It doesn't work that way!
the quote slightly differently: as Trump saying that
the only things that could stop America (by which he meant himself)
are partisan investigations and stupid wars. Trump has blundered his
way into both now.
After the Democrats won the House in 2018, it was inevitable that
they would start investigating the Trump administration's rampant
corruption and flagrant abuses of power, something Republicans in
Congress had turned a blind eye to. It was not inevitable, or even
very likely, that Trump would be impeached. Speaker Pelosi clearly
had no desire to impeach, until Trump gave them a case where he had
run so clearly afoul of national security orthodoxy that Democrats
could present impeachment as fulfillment of their patriotic duty.
On closer examination, it's possible that the only war Trump was
thinking of in the speech was one of Democrats against himself, but
he had waged a successful 2016 campaign as the anti-war candidate --
a challenge given his fondness for bluster and violence, but one made
credible by his opponent's constant reminders that she would be the
tougher and more menacing Commander in Chief. But as president he's
followed his gut instincts, and escalated his way to approximate war
with Iran: not his first stupid war, but the first unquestionably
attributable to his own folly.
The simplest explanation of how Trump got into war against Iran
is that he basically auctioned US foreign policy off to the highest
bidders, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia. (One should recall that
Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson is also Benjamin Netanyahu's
fairy godfather.) Israel and Saudi Arabia wanted Trump to tear up
Obama's anti-nuclear arms agreement with Iran, so he did. They wanted
Trump to strangle Iran with extra sanctions, so he did. They also
wanted Trump to directly attack "Iranian-backed" militias in Iraq
and Syria, so once again he did their bidding. That belligerence
and those escalations have gotten us to exactly where we are, and
it was all totally unnecessary, if only Trump had attempted instead
to build on the good will Obama originally established. Granted,
Obama could have gone further himself toward opening up cordial
relations with Iran, but he too was limited by Israel and Saudi
Arabia -- indeed, the letter of his agreement was meant to satisfy
Israeli and Saudi demands that Iran halt nuclear weapons efforts,
and indeed was the only possible approach that achieve those demands.
The only thing that opposition to the treaty proves is that the
demands weren't based on serious fears -- they were nothing but
political posturing, meant to scam gullible Americans.
The only other explanation I can think of is that Trump has an
unannounced foreign policy agenda, which basically inverts Theodore
Roosevelt's dictum: "speak softly but carry a big stick." Perhaps
Trump realizes that America's "stick" isn't nearly as intimidating
as it was during the era of the Roosevelts, so he's compensating
by shouting, often incoherently. Even if he doesn't realize the US
has lost the respect and trust it once enjoyed -- in decline due to
years of increasing selfishness and numerous bad decisions, further
exacerbated by Trump's "America first" rhetoric -- the frustration
of defiance must boil his blood. Whatever insight he once had about
investigations and wars has long since been buried in the hubris of
his rantings. That loss of clarity makes him even stupider than
usual, leading him beyond blunders to crimes, against us and even
The result is that once again we're praying, and not for the
redemption of the inexcusable behavior of the Trump administration,
but for the greater sanity of Iran's leaders, the discipline not
to play into Trump's madness. Unfortunately, Americans have never
shown much aptitude for learning from their mistakes. Indeed, the
only people who have ever learned anything from war were those
who lost so badly their folly could not be shifted elsewhere --
e.g., Japan after WWII. Iran's eight-year war with Iraq wasn't a
full-fledged defeat, but Iranians suffered horribly, and that has
surely dampened their enthusiasm for war. On the other hand, the
sanctions they already face must feel like war, without even the
promise of striking back.
PS: I wrote the above, and most of the comments below, on
Saturday, before this story broke: Riley Beggin:
Iraqi Parliament approves a resolution on expelling US troops after
Soleimani killing. As I wrote below, this would be the best-case
scenario. Since Iraq appears to have no control over what US forces
based there actually do, the only way Iraqis can escape being caught
in the middle is to expel the Americans. Moreover, it's hard to see
how Trump could keep troops in Iraq without the consent of Iraq's
government. Note that this won't end the threat of war. The US still
has troops and navy based around the Persian Gulf, from which it can
launch attacks against Iran. But expulsion should extricate Iraq from
being in the middle of Trump's temper tantrum.
On the other hand, Mike Pompeo has already rejected Iraq's vote,
saying, "We are confident that the Iraqi people want the United States
to continue to be there to fight the counterterror campaign." See
Pompeo sticks up for US presence as Iraq votes to eject foreign
Here are some links on Trump and Iran:
The US has no friends left in Iraq.
Trump's Iran war has begun. One thing that bothers me about this
and similar pieces is the repeated assertion that "neither side wants . . .
a full-scale war." It's quite possible that no one in a position of
real power in Iran wants such a thing, as the US has undoubted power
to literally destroy every inch of Iran, killing nearly all Iranians
and leaving the country an uninhabitable wasteland. But it clearly is
the case that there are some Americans, in or close to the government,
who want nothing less than full-scale war against Iran, and they have
been bankrolled by Israel and Saudi Arabia, who see an American war
against Iran as furthering their own "Middle East ambitions."
Neither the US nor Iran appears to want a full-scale conflict, meaning an
extended US bombing campaign inside Iran's borders or a ground invasion.
Such a conflict would be devastating to both sides. However, when two
enemies like these start openly shooting at each other, neither side
wants to be seen as the one who blinks first. The result is a cycle of
attacks and counterattacks, which has the potential to spiral outside
of anyone's control.
The closest recent analogy may be the Egyptian-Israeli
Attrition, over the Suez Canal between the 1967 and 1973 wars.
Egypt vacillated between armed attacks and peace proposals, and
eventually regained the Canal and the Sinai Peninsula through the
1979 Camp David Accords. That's a case where the indecisiveness
of the border skirmishes lead to a larger war, and the threat of
further wars led to the US-brokered agreement. However, US-Iran
is a fundamentally dissimilar conflict. A closer conflict model
might be the UK-China Opium Wars of the 1840s, where an imperial
power, protected from counterattack by thousands of miles, waged
war on the periphery of a country it couldn't conquer and occupy,
to secure commercial demands meant to enrich itself and to weaken
and impoverish its opponent. Same thing happened between the UK
and Iran, only there Britain was able to secure the concessions
they desired -- most profitably, control over Iranian oil -- with
more pedestrian measures: bribes. Also recall that Iranian enmity
against the US started with the CIA coup in 1953, which restored
foreign control over Iran's oil, most of which went to American
companies. American enmity against Iran started in 1979, when the
revolution reclaimed Iran's oil for its people.
The embassy attack revealed Trump's weakness [01-01]: "By abandoning
diplomacy, the president risks war, humiliation, or both -- and has put
himself at Iran's mercy." This was written before the assassination of
Soleimani, so could arguably be charged with taunting Trump to show how
tough he really is -- or how dumb he really is. That's always a risk to
dwelling on how much America's military-based influence has declined of
late -- especially with presidents who'd rather be seen as tough than
as smart. (McGeorge Bundy made that distinction between Johnson and
Kennedy, but the split between Trump and Obama is even more glaring.)
On the other hand, America's military looks weakened because it's been
much overused since 2001. While the damage it has wrought all across
the Middle East and North Africa is staggering, the people who fight
us now are by definition the ones who have survived the slaughter,
who have learned the limits of "shock and awe," and who have been
hardened against further threats. Trump's flaks have described the
mass murder as establishing a deterrent, but deterrents are mental
constructs; examples are mere atrocities. True that the US could kill
many more people: with nuclear weapons, tens or even hundreds of
millions, but that would make it impossible even for us to deny
what kind of monsters we've become. (And make no mistake, America's
wars abroad are driven mostly by domestic politics, by self-image.)
On the other hand, the US still has much leverage diplomatically.
The Iran deal that Trump tore up is ample testimony to how far Iran
was willing to sacrifice its sovereign rights to appease the US and
Europe. It's equally clear that North Korea would shelve its nuclear
arsenal in exchange for an economic opening -- basically the same
deal that the US happily offers South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, even
Communist China and Vietnam. The problem is that Trump has no clue
how "the art of the deal" really works. His only mode is bullying,
which does little more than create resistance, while exposing the
real limits of his power.
The assassination of Suleimani escalates the threat of war:
"President Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal nearly
two years ago started the US down this path with Iran."
Iran just outplayed the United States -- again [12-31] (not that
I give a shit what Boot thinks on this).
Trump's Iran aggression deserves full-throated opposition. Related:
Anti-war protesters organize around US following killing of Iranian
general. By the way,
we had a protest in Wichita, which drew about 150 people. Also,
look at this.
Trump thinks attacking Iran will get him reelected. He's wrong.
Trump's attacks on Obama were the purest form of projection. They reflect
his cynical belief that every president will naturally abuse their powers,
and thus provide a roadmap to his own intentions.
And indeed, Trump immediately followed the killing of Qasem Soleimani
by metaphorically wrapping himself in the stars and stripes. No doubt he
anticipates at least a faint echo of the rally-around-the-flag dynamic
that has buoyed many of his predecessors. . . .
But presidents traditionally benefit from a presumption of competence,
or at least moral legitimacy, from their opposition. Trump has forfeited
his. He will not have Democratic leaders standing shoulder to shoulder
with him, and his practice of disregarding and smearing government
intelligence should likewise dispel any benefit of the doubt attached to
claims he makes about the necessity of his actions. Trump has made it
plain that he views American war-fighting as nothing but the extension
of domestic politics. We should believe him.
Martin Chulov/Ghaith Abdul-Ahad:
Iran ends nuclear deal commitments as fallout from Suleimani killing
Iraq's worst fears have come true -- a proxy war is on its doorstep.
Some other recent Cockburn columns:
Trump and his team are lying their way to war with Iran.
Trump tweets threat to commit war crimes in Iran.
Trump's Soleimani assassination: It's all about the oil. Actually,
the article doesn't make much of a case for that -- not that control
of Iranian oil wasn't the prime consideration in the 1953 CIA coup in
Iran, or in Britain's numerous interventions over the previous century.
But the most immediate effect of war around the Persian Gulf is the
effect it has on driving worldwide oil prices up, which makes it a
bonanza for oil companies all around the world. On the other hand,
peace with Iran would risk flooding the market with cheap Iranian oil,
which would hurt profits everywhere else.
Iran loses its indispensable man: "The killing of Qassem Soleimani
robs the regime of the central figure for its ambitions in the Middle
East." I'd take this argument with several grains of salt, as the US,
Israel, and Saudia Arabia have long made a habit of exaggerating Iran's
"ambitions in the Middle East," and have had considerable success at
getting the US media to repeat their claims. His killing would only
make a critical difference if: he had substantial autonomy in directing
Quds Force operations outside of Iran, and his successors are inclined
now to change their strategy and tactics. It's hard to imagine the
assassination of any US general (at least since US Grant) making such
a difference. If anything, it's more likely that the vacuum will set
off a contest to see which of his possible successors will be the
most militantly vengeful.
The dangers posed by the killing of Qassem Suleimani. In 2013,
Filkins wrote a previous profile of Suleimani:
The shadow commander.
Graham E Fuller:
US foreign policy by assassination.
The Soleimani assassination: "The long-awaited beginning of the
end of America's imperial ambitions."
Prominent Iraq War supporters think Soleimani killing was a great
Falih Hassan/Tim Arango/Alissa J Rubin:
A shocked Iraq
reconsiders its relationship with the US: "The killing of General
Suleimani, intended as a shot against Iran, could accelerate an
Iranian objective: pushing the United States military out of Iraq."
This is probably the best-case scenario: Iraq tells the US to remove
its troops, if not necessarily to close its embassy. The government
in Iraq is already unpopular, and siding with the US when Trump is
ordering bombing within Iraq is bound to be massively unpopular.
War with Iran.
A second airstrike against Iranian targets in Iraq: what we know:
"The attack comes one day after a major escalation in US-Iranian
Why Trump assassinated Soleimani and what happens next.
Trump just declared war on Iran: "There is no other way to look
at the killing of Qassem Soleimani."
Trump once again proves himself clueless on Iran and North Korea.
It's time to worry about war with North Korea again. "The logjam stems
from the fact that both leaders are, in their own ways, delusional." I
didn't link to this last week, because Kaplan likes to parrot much of
the conventional Washington blather on North Korea, but North Korea and
Iran are linked in several critical ways: both nations have long been
isolated from any contact, let alone normal trade, with the West; that
isolation in both cases started with acts of war, which the US has never
made any effort to resolve; both have sought to force an opening through
the intimidation of building themselves up as nuclear powers; the US
regards both regimes as utterly abhorent, so refuses any reconciliation
without regime change, which they hope to achieve by impoverishment and
starvation. There are minor differences: notably that North Korea has
been isolated longer, and has developed a serious arsenal of weapons
that could inflict real damage, both on neighbors and as far away as
the continental US; and that US "allies" Israel and Saudi Arabia have
been more aggressive at pushing the US to escalate the conflict with
Iran -- not that Japan and, until recently, South Korea haven't been
hostile to North Korea, thereby reinforcing American instincts. The
US feels entitled to judge other countries, and to punish the ones it
disfavors with sanctions, thinking them somehow more merciful than
outright war. That may make sense when the sanctioned nation refuses
even to negotiate, but both North Korea and Iran have both made it
clear that they want more normalized relations with the US and others.
Trump's refusal to offer any sanctions relief even after three summits
is perverse and self-defeating, which is why Kim is tempted to return
to his previous threats and taunts. Trump's treatment of Iran is even
more contemptuous. Maybe in his business experience, Trump suffers no
consequences when he imperiously demands submission from suitors, but
the world doesn't work like that. The US sanctions regime doesn't let
North Korea or Iran simply take their business elsewhere.
Biden: Trump is 'incredibly dangerous and irresponsible' as the 'walls
The US can only lose in war with Iran. I take it as axiomatic
that no side can win in war. The most you can say is that some sides
lose more than others, but in the long run that evens out as well.
But one thing to note here is that the US has a lot more to lose
than Iran (currently impoverished by cruel sanctions) has -- perhaps
as large an asymmetry as the differences in destructive power.
Fox News is already accusing Democrats who question Trump of being
aligned with Iran. E.g.,
Sean Hannity calls for Trump to discard rules of engagement with Iran
and "bomb the living hell out of them".
As Sanders and Warren vow to block war with Iran, Biden and Buttigieg
offer better-run wars. That seems a little unfair, as the salient
point Biden and Buttigieg are making is that they offer leadership
smart enough not to make such blunders (although they could have been
clearer on the point). But the fact is nobody knows how to run wars
better. The common denominator is always what Donald Rumsfeld called
"the military we have," and efforts to make that military smarter,
more agile, more sensitive, more responsive, more principled, have
After Mossad targeted Soleimani, Trump pulled the trigger.
Extreme inequality will fuel Middle East turmoil and uncertainty into
the new year. Posted Dec. 12, so before the latest specifics, but
relevant nonetheless. Author also wrote
Resolving Lebanon's crisis.
Killing Soleimani was worse than a crime: "It was a blunder."
Always the optimist -- well, at the launch of a war, anyway.
Trump faces swift backlash for killing Soleimani as Iraqi Parliament
votes to expel US troops. Note especially this:
Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has made some shocking revelations
that put the assassination of Soleimani in a completely different light.
He told the Iraqi parliament on Sunday that he "was supposed to meet
Soleimani on the morning of the day he was killed, he came to deliver
me a message from Iran responding to the message we delivered from Saudi
If this account is true, Trump -- perhaps deliberately -- acted to
scuttle an effort to reduce tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Nathan J Robinson:
How to avoid swallowing war propaganda: "Cutting through bad
arguments, distractions, and euphemisms to see murder for what it
Trump's tweets about Obama using war with Iran to win reelection are
very awkward now: "In order to get elected, Obama will start a
war with Iran." So, if he believed that worked, is Trump "wagging
the dog" now?
Trump's predictions not only turned out to be false, but the irony is
that instead of starting a war, the Obama administration's diplomacy
resulted in the multilateral Iran nuclear deal. Now that he's president,
however, Trump has gone down a very different path, unilaterally pulling
the US out of the nuclear deal, pursuing a "maximum pressure" campaign
aimed at crippling Iran's economy, and assassinating the head of the
country's paramilitary forces.
It's no secret by now that many of Trump's attacks on his political
foes are projection. He's spent months accusing former Vice President
Joe Biden of corruption, despite the fact that Trump himself is arguably
the most corrupt president in American history. He called Obama "a total
patsy" for Russia even though he's never been able to bring himself to
say a cross word about Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also attacked
Hillary Clinton for purportedly silencing women who accused her husband
of sexual misconduct at the same time Trump's lawyer was making illegal
hush payments to women to cover up affairs.
Missy Ryan/Josh Dawsey/Dan Lamothe/John Hudson:
How Trump decided to kill a top Iranian general. One problem with
having an egotistical moron as president is that it's awfully easy for
underlings to steer him in ill-considered directions.
David E Sanger:
For Trump, a risky gamble to deter Iran: "The goal was to prove American
resolve in the face of Iranian attacks." The effect was to challenge Iran
to show greater resolve in the face of even larger American attacks.
With Suleimani assassination, Trump is doing the bidding of Washington's
most vile cabal.
9 big questions about Qassem Soleimani's killing, answered by an expert:
interview with Suzanne Maloney, deputy director of foreign policy at the
Trump vows to target '52' sites if Iran retaliates for Soleimani death.
I don't know about you, but I associate this class of threat with Nazi
Germany, which promised to kill a hundred random people for every German
soldier killed in their occupation of the Balkans. I can't think of any
other examples, although Israel approaches that ratio, at least in Gaza.
I've long said that American neocons suffer from Israel-envy, as they
try to incorporate more and more elements of Israel's occupation strategy
into American foreign policy (e.g., targeted assassinations).
Mohammad Ali Shabani:
Donald Trump's assassination of Qassem Suleimani will come back to haunt
The real risk of assassinating Soleimani.
Trump lit a fire by exiting the Iran deal & poured gasoline on
it by assassinating Soleimani.
Qassim Suleimani's killing will unleash chaos: "Revenge is not a
Democrats warn of the dangers of war while Republicans fall in line
after the killing of Iran's Qassem Soleimani. I thought Warren's
blame-Soleimani-first tweet was lame, then I read Klobuchar's: "Our
immediate focus needs to be on ensuring all necessary security
measures are taken to protect U.S. military and diplomatic personnel
in Iraq and throughout the region." Not even Sanders, whose opposition
to an Iran war was unequivocal, said the obvious: "what the fuck are
American troops doing in Iraq in the first place?" The only Democratic
tweet to make a key point was by Tim Kaine, blessed with the clarity
of hindsight: "Trump's decision to tear up a diplomatic deal that was
working and resume escalating aggressions with Iran has brought us to
the brink of another war in the Middle East." Understand that much and
you won't get snowed by the propaganda.
Trump threatens Afghan Armageddon. Quotes Trump: "If we wanted to
fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week.
I just don't want to kill 10 million people."
The killing of Qassem Suleimani is tantamount to an act of war.
Some scattered links this week:
If Ukraine is impeachable, what's Afghanistan?: "A misguided war that
drags on inconclusively for more than 18 years is, I submit, a great
Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to put himself above the law: "The
Israeli prime minister's latest attempt to avoid jail time further
demonstrates his treat to democracy."
Marketing psychiatric drugs to jailers and judges: "Drug companies
are courting jails and judges through sophisticated marketing efforts."
Can we survive the post-truth era? "How Donald Trump's perverse brand
of B.S. took over American politics."
Trump covering up scheme to use Justice Department to punish CNN.
EPA's scientific advisers warn its regulatory rollbacks clash with
established science. I suspect they also violate the laws that
established the EPA in the first place. I'd like to see Democrats
in the House write up another impeachment article over this.
Australia is committing climate suicide: "As record fires rage, the
country's leaders seem intent on sending it to its doom." Related:
Anti-war protesters were right about Afghanistan. Amen, and about
time someone said so. I believed that going to war in Afghanistan was
the original sin, the cardinal mistake from which every other atrocity
of the Global War on Terror flowed. I was in New York on 9/11. I lost
someone dear to me. She was a secretary in the World Trade Center, and
I spent time grieving with her family. I also went to the first anti-war
demonstration I could (in Union Square Park). I started blogging around
then, and I've never regretted an anti-war post. That 80% of Americans
at the time supported Bush's insane and cruel "crusade" only shows how
thoroughly our brains had been permeated by the militarism this country
has relished since WWII. (By the way, Bernie Sanders recently admitted
that his 2001 vote for the war was a grave mistake, going so far as to
acknowledge that Barbara Lee was the only member of Congress to vote
against the war.)
Trump rule would exclude climate change in infrastructure planning.
The legacy of destructive austerity: "The deficit obsession of
2010-2015 did permanent damage." I've often thought that the Democrats
made a major mistake in not reversing the Bush tax cuts (and for good
measure raising rates on estates, capital gains, and the top bracket) as
soon as they took over Congress and the Presidency in 2009. They could
have deferred some of the tax increases on account of the recession,
but at least they would have defused most of the deficit alarms. As
it was, they waited until after they lost the 2010 election, at which
point their leverage was lost.
Chelsea Manning spent most of the last decade in prison. The UN says her
latest stint is tantamount to torture.
Iowa and New Hampshire are skewing coverage of the Democratic primary:
"If not for the polling results in those two states, no one would be
talking about Sanders." I normally don't bother with horserace journalism,
but this strikes me as especially egregious. According to 538, Sanders
is in second place nationwide, with 17.8% (behind Biden's 27.5%, ahead
of Warren's 15.0%, way ahead of Buttigieg's 7.7%). Sure, he's running
closer in Iowa (20.6%, second to Biden's 22.0%, ahead of Buttigieg's
19.4%, Warren's 13.3%, and Klobuchar's 7.0%), and he leading in New
Hampshire (21.3%, to 21.1% for Biden, 14.4% for Warren, and 13.7% for
Buttigieg; Klobuchar is next at 4.9%). LeTourneau spends most of her
space complaining about how white Iowa and New Hampshire are -- point
taken -- but the main thing those two states have going for them is
the intensity and intimacy of campaigning there. That they vote first
makes them inherently newsworthy. I'd also add that they are real swing
states, as opposed to South Carolina, which has only voted Democratic
once since 1960 (Carter in 1976). LeTourneau just wants to call the
other 48 states for Biden, race over. Nor does she care that Sanders
led all Democrats in
fundraising last quarter, with Buttigieg also leading Biden. The
real question is why various sectors of the media were conspicuously
ignoring Sanders for much of last year. LeTourneau shows how much they
still want to.
Man who gutted voting rights says Americans 'take democracy for
granted': "John Roberts wants you to know that the unelected
judges who keep sidelining voters and empowering plutocrats are
the guardians of our democracy."
Trump's tent cities are on the verge of killing immigrant children.
Gregory P Magarian:
Trump's most tragic legacy will be seen in ranks of judiciary
Former Navy SEAL capitalizes on newfound fame: "After receiving
presidential clemency, Edward Gallagher has left the SEALs to become
a pitchman and conservative activist." Related: Charles P Pierce:
Make no mistake. Edward Gallagher will be a star of the Republican
At every opportunity, Trump recklessly degrades American justice.
California now requires solar panels on all new homes. That's not
necessarily a good thing.
India: Intimations of an ending: "The rise of Modi and the Hindu
Astra Taylor talks about crushing debt, the 2020 race, and why we don't
live in a democracy.
Goodbye to William Greider, a great American Democrat.
Trump campaign plagued by groups raising tens of millions in his name:
"Outside entities are raising huge money in Trump's name, despite disavowals
from the campaign, and spending little of it on 2020." No surprise that
there's a swamp of fraud surrounding Trump. He inspires it, and they're
nothing if not gullible.
Entire West Virginia correctional officer class fired following
investigation into Nazi salute photo.
2019: A year the news media would rather forget.