The Week of Saturday, December 28 through Friday, January 3, 2019 [#24]
The Week’s Most Notable:
Did anyone wake up the day after New Year’s Day expecting an act of war? The U.S. seems to be developing a taste for high stakes assassinations, but killing Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s top general? Is this a jump toward war with Iran? That’s probably the big question for most people. Right now, it looks like a boots-on-the-ground, death-from-the-air war is unlikely. Iran doesn’t want it; Trump doesn’t need it. He’s got his talking points and control of the narrative. Unless, of course, somebody makes an irreconcilable mistake.
We don’t know the details, but by word from several generals, there is intelligence of unusually significant pending terrorist activity under the aegis of Soleimani. Presumably something more draconian than usual terrorist orchestrations, but that’s what more information may tell us. Or not. The threat may turn out to be mostly hype. (We can’t help but remember Saddam’s stockpiles of WMD.)
This act of war will be spun many ways: In the short run, it distracts from impeachment, the Senate trial controversy, and new revelations. Follow-on incidents will command attention and provide Trump more opportunities for diversion. It is expected and probably intended to affect the election (recall that in 2013 Trump claimed Obama would go to war with Iran to ensure his reelection). If nothing truly upsetting happens, this will be a win for Trump. It already is for his followers. However, over time the ripples tend to spread into many unanticipated consequences – for example, increased Middle East instability, shifting geo-political alliances, weakening the world economy – as well as the predictable death and destruction from a cycle of vengeance.
Saturday, December 28
[Anti-Semitism] Five People Machete-hacked at Hanukkah Celebration – Pointing once again to a rising wave of U.S. anti-Semitism, the attack at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, NY was later identified as a federal hate crime.
Sunday, December 29
[Gun Violence] Texas Church Attack Kills Two – “They saved a lot of lives today,” they being a group of West Freeway Church of Christ members designated and trained to kill an active shooter. That’s the good spin. The bad spin: two people died, despite the extraordinary precautions.
[Afghanistan War] Taliban Agrees to 10 Day Ceasefire – This was the necessary first condition demanded by the U.S. for talks and a peace agreement. It is a fragile thing with no fixed start date. [Update: Two days later, the Taliban killed 26 Afghan security forces.]
Monday, December 30
[ISIS] U.S. Bombs Iranian-supported Militia – In retaliation for attacks on U.S. bases and the Baghdad embassy, several strikes by U.S. forces hit Hezbollah sites in Western Iraq and in Syria. [Update: These attacks were a harbinger of Trump’s intentions. In the days before the New Year, few paid attention.]
Tuesday, December 31
[Climate Emergency] Australia Inflamed – U.S. headlines finally caught up with the reality of the drought-season inferno in Australia. Even the Aussies are taken aback; they are confronting the long-term results of climate change – a genuine emergency in their backyard. [Update: Thousands of troops committed to fighting fires, as the fire season is just beginning.]
[Wall Street] U.S. Stocks Enjoy a Banner Year – Dow up 22.3%, S&P 28.9%, Nasdaq 35.3% for 2019.
Wednesday, January 1
[Impeachment] Emails Show Trump Ordered Withholding Military Aid to Ukraine – It isn’t often that a proverbial smoking gun is revealed and almost ignored. That’s what’s happening to emails of DoD and OMB officials that document Trump’s direct involvement. While the Defense Dept. frequently warned about the illegality of withholding congressionally approved money, OMB did it anyway because the order came from Trump. The withholding of the emails as well as their contents may resurface in a Senate trial.
[North Korea] Kim Jong Un Announces Resumed Building of Nuclear Arsenal – He again mentioned a new weapon, which U.S. experts believe is a nuclear missile submarine. Not good news for Trump’s strategy of personal negotiations.
[Israel Government] Netanyahu Asks to Be Above the Law – He has requested parliament grant him immunity from his fraud, bribery, and breach of trust indictments as long as he has a seat in parliament. Unlike in the U.S. he doesn’t have a Department of Justice to do this for him; it is a risky and unpopular move, whether or not he gets what he asks.
Thursday, January 2
[Iran War] U.S. Assassinates Major General Qasem Soleimani – After bin Laden, Khaddaffi, and al-Baghdadi, what’s one more name on the list of proud U.S. assassinations? Thing is, Soleimani wasn’t a has-been; he was the second most powerful official in the Iranian government and that country’s most feared/revered general. That’s why previous U.S. presidents decided not to kill him – too risky. At some point, assassinating serious players invokes tit-for-tat with the lives of important and (at the right time) vulnerable people. The U.S. presents many such targets, as do our associates around the world. After using the shock and patriotic reaction of the killing to subdue their own dissidents, the Iranian government will choose its retaliation carefully and on its own schedule – arguably a disproportionate response, like Trump’s, but just short of provoking real war.
The same drone strike also killed four others, including the Commander of Iraqi militias, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. This collateral damage will probably result in the expulsion of U.S. troops from Iraq, closing out the bases of operations after many years, many lives, and a trillion-dollar expenditure. Our departure will consolidate Iraq as a vassal state of Iran.
Friday, January 3
[Iran War] More U.S. Troops to Middle East – The reinforcing tranche of troops (3,000 or 3,500) is relatively small, but symbolically important because of timing. Announced just after the Soleimani assassination, it’s clear this acknowledges an increase in the threat level (read also instability) as a result of inviting Iranian retaliation. The move is not the first Trump reversal on troop numbers in the Middle East; he sent 3,000 to Saudi Arabia in October.
The standoff continues over the terms for the Senate trial, and that was before the assassination of Soleimani. It seems Schumer and McConnell are disposed to let the stalemate continue. Now, with the Iran crisis, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans want to be seen as confounding the situation. The odds for no trial in the foreseeable future have gone up. Besides, what have Democrats to gain? Losing the trial and having Trump bleat about his exoneration does them no good. The delay or postponement of a trial leaves the legal door open to develop additional evidence and even new articles of impeachment. Given the already messy situation, it’s arguably likely most Americans do not care if the House continues its investigation through the election season. The Republicans fear a trial with key witnesses and documentation, the Democrats gain little from a perfunctory trial; only Trump is unhappy – impeached but not exonerated. Sounds about right.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are passingly familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search (Google it).]
Quote of the Week
“I think the door has completely shut now on diplomacy. I don’t see any avenue; any way talks could begin again. Unfortunately, diplomacy is dead now in the Middle East with Iran.”
Rand Paul on Fox News, Jan. 3, 2020