Good Friday Morning! We’re back! The first newsletter of the new year and new decade! I hope you had a happy and blessed Christmas and New Year with friends and family. I had to check the date on the last time I had sat down to write one of these issues — and it was December 19th. I continued writing columns and podcasting — so if you’ve missed any of those, I’ve listed them all below.
Writing this newsletter is a little like riding a bike, I suppose. It’s far more stream of conscious thinking instead of a planned out column. As such, it’s more fun to write, but I’ll try to make sure I don’t strain anything in the process.
The last time I wrote this, the Democrats had just finished impeaching Donald Trump in the House. Since then, Nancy Pelosi has followed the advice of Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe and withheld the articles of impeachment from the Senate to avoid a trial. This idea is a very stupid strategy. I’ve got several columns on the subject below so I won’t belabor it here. Long story short: it won’t work, the only question is how much pain Mitch McConnell causes to the Democratic Presidential field. More on that in a moment.
This week, I’m switching topics and moving from domestic to foreign policy. As you may have seen, we’ve gotten into a pretty tense situation with Iran. I’m going talk through what’s happening there — since the media has done such an abysmal job. Links to follow.
One quick hit:
- I mentioned above that Mitch McConnell could cause some pain for Democratic Presidential candidates. Here’s the deal. Nancy Pelosi is due to send over the articles of impeachment, either today or next week. At this point, I think it’s fair to question the reasoning of her timing. If she sends the articles over, an impeachment trial begins in the Senate. That means that any Senate candidate running for President MUST leave the campaign trail, return to the Senate, and sit quietly during the trial. We’re mere weeks away from the Iowa caucuses, and some polls show a three to four-person tie at the top. If a Senate trial begins, the only two candidates not affected are Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, everyone else is back sitting at a trial, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobucher. Is Nancy Pelosi delaying the articles of impeachment to benefit the establishment candidate, Joe Biden? Bernie Sanders is hated in most wings of the Democratic Party — leaving the campaign trail could severely hamstring his chances in Iowa, same for Warren. There are potentially some intra-party politics impacting Pelosi’s plans. Watch for infighting over this on the campaign trail in the coming days/weeks. McConnell benefits either way.
Where you can find me this week
Please subscribe, rate, and review my podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or Google Play — the reviews help expand the reach and scope of the podcast and help more people sign-up for the newsletter here. Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter. You can also go to their Facebook page.
‘Impeach and withhold’ is utter nonsense – Conservative Institute
Democrat impeachment tactics defeat themselves – Conservative Institute
The 2020s: The decade social media hegemony breaks – Conservative Institute
My way-too-early prediction: Trump wins re-election in 2020 – Conservative Institute
Democrats face impeachment reality: They have no power over McConnell – Conservative Institute
The Obama-era Iran ‘echo chamber’ returns – Conservative Institute
Tensions at all-time highs between US and Iran
To understand what’s happening between the United States and Iran, you have to know what events have occurred. The media keeps wrongly reporting that the air-strike that killed Iranian Commander Qassem Soleimani was due to the Iranian protests the day prior, at the US embassy. That’s not why the US killed Soleimani — we did that because Iran crossed an unspoken red-line: they killed and wounded US soldiers.
The Kirkuk attack
On December 27, 2019, Iran-backed militias in Iraq launched a series of missiles at Kirkuk base. The attack hit a weapons cache at the base setting off secondary explosions. The result was that one US contractor was killed, and three to four American soldiers were injured in the attack. The Wall Street Journal filled in some details:
Two days after Mr. Hamid’s death, the U.S. military struck three Iraqi and two Syrian sites affiliated with the Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah, which the U.S. has blamed for escalating attacks on military installations in Iraq. There had been 10 such attacks in the previous seven weeks, defense officials said.
Mr. Hamid was the second contractor working for Valiant to be killed during the U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State. In January 2019, Ghadir Taher, 27 years old, of East Point, Ga., was working as a translator in Manbij, Syria, for the same contractor when she and three American service members were killed in a bombing.
Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, and one of its main sponsors is Hezbollah, who has subsidiaries that get funding across the Middle East. In short, the December 27th attack was an Iran sponsored attack in which they killed one of our contractors and wounded American soldiers — which is a violation of a redline. Trump has both tweeted and told the Iranians through back channels that if they wounded any military members, there would be consequences.
That warning was needed because Iran and Iranian backed groups have spent the last year either firing missiles of instigating action between themselves and the US military.
Iran’s many missile and rocket attacks
The Kirkuk attack and the missile attack launched by Iran in retaliation for the Soleimani killing were not isolated events. Iran and Iranian-backed groups have fired many missiles into Iraq. Here’s a small taste of the last several months.
- December 27th, the Kirkuk missile attack. One contractor killed, four Americans injured.
- November 8th, an Iraqi army base in Qayyara, about 60 kilometers (38 miles) south of Mosul, was hit by missiles out of Mosul. No injuries or casualties.
- June 17th, Two mortar shells had landed in the Iraqi section of the sprawling Taji base, located about 30 km (18 miles) north of the Iraqi capital, and another outside it. No casualties.
- May 19th, A rocket was fired into the Iraqi capital’s heavily fortified Green Zone Sunday night, landing less than a mile from the sprawling U.S. Embassy.
- January 2019, Iran fires a rocket from Syria at Israeli citizens.
And the missile and rocket attacks ignore other provocations Iran had engaged in during the same time period, as documented by Noah Rothman at Commentary Magazine:
In 2019, Iran was responsible for the piracy of foreign-flagged vessels in the critical Strait of Hormuz. It engaged in what the nations Iran targeted called a “sophisticated and coordinated” special forces strike on international oil tankers. Iran downed a multi-million-dollar American surveillance drone, and it executed a sophisticated strike on the world’s largest petroleum processing facility in Saudi Arabia. For all this, Tehran faced no proportionate response from the West.
In December alone, Iranian Shiite proxy forces began targeting joint US-Iraq military facilities in Iraq with increasingly sophisticated missile strikes. There had been ten such strikes by the time Secretary of Defense Mark Esper asked the Iraqi government to help prevent attacks targeting U.S. soldiers on December 16th, though to no avail.
The key difference from those other provocations and attacks was that Iran went from endangering American troops to killing a contractor and injuring others. That was a bright red line. Iran crossed it. And they paid for it.
The red line
Marc Thiessen wrote a column in which he reminded everyone of the warnings the Trump administration sent Iran about endangering American lives. Trump sent Mike Pompeo overseas to deliver the message via backchannels to the Iranian government. The message was clear:
The Post reported last summer that, during a May visit to Baghdad, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “privately delivered warnings intended for Iranian leaders that any attack by Tehran or its proxies resulting in the death of even one American service member will generate a military counterattack.” The United States had seen a spike in intelligence that Iranian-backed militias might resume the kinds of attacks against U.S. forces that were common during the Iraq war. Pompeo said this would not be tolerated.
The message the administration sent to Iran was crystal clear: 1) any attacks on Americans would elicit a military response; and 2) the United States would henceforth hold Iran responsible for the actions of its terrorist proxies. To underscore the message, Trump designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — including its Quds Force — as a foreign terrorist organization. This made Soleimani a legitimate military target.
Iran knowingly crossed that line. They knew the consequences. Trump’s decision to strike the very heart of the Quds Force, the man responsible for directing Iran and its terrorist group proxies abroad, delivered a very direct message: back off.
If Iran is going to harm American troops — they’re going to lose their most valuable leaders and assets.
Who was Qassem Soleimani?
If you want the long answer to this question, I highly recommend this 2013 profile by the New Yorker titled: “The Shadow Commander.” Soleimani effectively directed all of Iran’s Middle East military and proxy-military activities. He coordinated the terrorist groups and moved funding around to ensure everyone had resources to fight.
He had American blood on his hands and was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of US soldiers.
According to a Pentagon estimate, roughly one in six U.S. casualties sustained in the effort to subdue the insurgency during the Iraq war was attributable to Iranian actions. Soleimani took an active part in that campaign, establishing training camps and setting up factories to produce the explosive charges that penetrated American armored vehicles.
Soleimani remained outside America’s grip under George W. Bush, and, when the Obama administration began withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq in 2010, the Shiite militias he controlled proved a critical backstop for an Iraqi president who couldn’t rely solely on the hapless Iraqi Security Forces. When the Obama administration lifted travel restrictions on Soleimani amid its quest to secure a nuclear accord with Iran, one of his first stops was in Moscow, to coordinate Iranian and Russian efforts to crush the U.S.-backed anti-Assad rebellion in Syria.
Killing Soleimani was the equivalent of beheading the most dangerous aspects of Iran’s efforts. They won’t be able to replace him for some time, and his named replacements likely won’t be as good at their job. Soleimani filled many roles, and it’s more likely that his portfolio of work will get divided up.
The US picked him because he was a top target, and because it was the maximum amount of force the US could use to remind Iran of who was calling the shots.
Did the strike work?
The obvious answer is that it is too early to tell right now. I don’t believe we’re at any threat of entering a war. Neither Iran nor the United States has any interest in a full-blown conventional war. Iran would prefer to fight through its proxies, scoring small victories through terrorist groups. The missile launches we witnessed at an Iraqi base that killed no one were par for the course for Iran.
All that said, there are some early signs the US got the response it wanted. Noah Rothman had this helpful writeup (read the entire piece):
The U.S. had to reestablish deterrence. Doing so would require communicating to Iran in the clearest of possible terms that the risks associated with its actions vastly outweighed the benefits. Taking the blood-soaked Guards Corps commander Qasem Soleimani off the battlefield represented a disproportionate response to Iranian aggression, but it was nonetheless calculated. Soleimani’s neutralization degraded Iran’s capacity to execute the kind of attacks on America and its allies that risked a broader conflict, and it imposed costs on the Mullahs they had previously not known.
But the Iranians would respond. They had no choice. Iran had no diplomatic offramp to pursue, no face-saving way to climb down from the crisis it had inaugurated. The response would be military in nature, but it could have taken many forms—and if those forms included more American deaths, Washington would be compelled to retaliate, and the cycle of violence could spiral into an all-out war.
On Tuesday night, that response came in the form of a barrage of ballistic and cruise missiles launched from Iran at U.S. targets inside Iraq. But the volley produced no casualties—a conspicuous outcome given Iran’s capabilities. Their targets did not include some of the positions where the U.S. forces were concentrated in the largest numbers and excluded some likelier targets closer to the Iranian border. In the wake of the strike, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif talked about Iran’s retaliatory response in the past tense, telegraphing a desire to deescalate. Donald Trump’s refusal to respond to the Iranian volley indicates that Washington got the message.
We won’t know for some time whether or not Iran gets deterred. But firing older missiles that didn’t accomplish anything militarily speaking suggests that Iran was saying two things. The first thing was for a domestic audience, Iran was telling its people it defended itself and fired back. And to the US, the message was we won’t fire back, and we take your warning.
No one expects Iran to do nothing forever. They’ll undoubtedly fire more missiles and encourage more terrorist activities. But it does establish a red-line on harming US troops in the region — which should make Iran think twice about doing anything to harm even a hair of a soldier. Iran will try to attack Iraqis — but US soldiers will exact a costly price for them.
If that red-line holds, then Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani will have positive effects for some time.
Links of the week
Has Iran Blinked? – Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine
Don’t believe Iranian propaganda about the mourning for Soleimani – Masih Alinejad, The Washington Post
How Soleimani made insurgent tactics deadlier for U.S. forces in Iraq – Jake Tapper, CNN
U.S. Issued No-Fly Order Over Iran, Iraq Hours Before Ukrainian Plane Downed: FAA stopped U.S. commercial traffic over the region, potentially saving American lives – Adam Kredo, The Washington Free Beacon
Iran and America Are Suddenly Both Naked: By taking decisive action against Soleimani, Trump showed that Iran’s power is an illusion generated by D.C.’s willingness to look the other way – Lee Smith, Tablet Magazine
Iran’s Fawning Western Apologists – Kaveh Shahrooz, Quillette
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire piece of the week
U.S.—President Trump’s approval rating among terrorists hit an all-time low today according to a CNN poll. This comes just days after he killed several of them.
Of those surveyed, only six percent of terrorists–mostly white nationalists–said they approve of Trump’s performance. Of the 94 percent who disapproved, just half said they would like to see the president dead. The others claimed they would be perfectly happy with a pallet full of cash.
Trump was briefed on the issue this morning, but it is unclear whether or not he was paying attention. He did, however, offer a thumbs up in between bites of chocolate ice cream, according to CNN.
Thanks for reading!