The Week of Saturday, January 4 through Friday, January 10, 2020 [#25]
The Week’s Most Notable:
The world experienced a serious brink-of-war event, and didn’t like it. If the U.S. and Iran did get into a full-scale war, there is no doubt that more than the Middle East would become involved. It was an ugly, frightening moment. Although the missile strikes were deliberately de-fanged and both sides de-escalated, retribution for the Gen. Soleimani assassination is not over: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, “They were slapped last night, but such military actions are not enough.”
Explanations for killing Soleimani proliferate. President Trump now says that the Iranians were going to attack four embassies, not one. No one else, including the White House, had a clue what he was talking about. Lack of evidence has been the norm for all explanations. The Wall Street Journal claimed Trump made the fateful decision in order to help his 2020 campaign. That might not be a misrepresentation.
Short run – Trump looks good? Buried in revolving rationale-lies, the Iranian military stand-down, and the distraction of Iran’s troubles over shooting down the Ukrainian plane, Trump supporters think he has done well. Most of the U.S. and the world are waiting for the other shoes to drop.
Saturday, January 4
[Iran, war] Trump Threatens to Bomb Iranian Cultural Sites – Destruction of important civilian cultural treasures is a war crime. That Trump would even mention it is unprecedented for an American president. [Update: After counter-statements by Esper and Pompeo; Trump sort of walked this back on Wednesday.]
Sunday, January 5
[Venezuela] Parliamentary Coup by Maduro – Legislators loyal to President Nicolάs Maduro, with the help of the Venezuelan military, ousted Assembly president Juan Guaidó.
[Iran, war] Iran to End All 2015 Nuclear Treaty Commitments – Pointing in the direction of resuming nuclear arms development, the Iranian government explicitly identified the killing of Gen. Soleimani as a reason.
[Iran, war] Coalition Suspends Fighting ISIS – Given the withdrawal of Iran from the campaign because of the Soleimani killing, the U.S. decided to reinforce its bases rather than chase ISIS fighters. This will help the ISIS rebuilding efforts.
[Iran, war] Iraq Parliament Votes to Expel all U.S. Troops – The resolution is non-binding at this point, but the intent is clear. The Iraqi response to killing Soleimani as well as Iraqi commanders, including a member of parliament, on their soil (without permission or warning) was a 170-0 vote. The U.S. military expressed concern; Trump threatened sanctions “like they’ve never seen before.”
Monday, January 6
[Iran, war] Pentagon Pens Letter Saying U.S. to Leave Iraq – The letter was sent to the Iraqis and has been verified. Later in the day, Defense Sec. Esper said the letter was a “draft version” that was “sent by mistake.” This represented a major situation FUBAR between the Pentagon and White House. [Up-date: The Iraqis took the letter at face value and demanded negotiations to remove U.S. troops. Trump then angrily tweeted about not leaving. This will take time to play out, but could signal a significant change in the Middle East.]
[Impeachment Trial] Bolton Says He Would Testify in Senate Trial – This inherently meaningless statement, contradicting much of what he said previously, has some shock value because it implies there is good reason for witnesses to testify in the Senate trial. Sen. McConnell did not take kindly to Bolton’s volte-face. This is important because Bolton stipulated that he needed a subpoena, which would require a Senate vote, a vote under McConnell’s control. [Update: McConnell and Trump, short form response to Bolton testifying: ‘Ain’t gonna happen.’]
Tuesday, January 7
[Puerto Rico] Earthquakes in Puerto Rico – Beginning early Tuesday, a series of quakes as high as 6.5 magnitude caused widespread damage, especially to infrastructure still shaky from hurricane Maria.
[Iran, war] Iranian Ballistic Missiles Strike Iraqi/U.S. Bases – For a few tense hours it seemed like a real war was beginning. Later we learned the Iranians warned the Iraqis, which also meant the U.S. The missile attacks did not, apparently, kill anybody. Message sent: “We can do this, but war is not intended.” Message received: the U.S. military did not retaliate. This was a marker event, a reference point for events to come. It meant for domestic cover that there was an official Iranian government response to the Soleimani assassination; from now on it’s likely to be surrogates.
[Plane Crash in Iran] Ukrainian Airliner Crashes Near Tehran – Occurring at the same time as the missile attacks in Iraq, all 176 people on the Ukraine-bound flight were killed. The original claim of human error, was suspicious. [Update: The Iranian government eventually admitted the plane was accidentally shot down by an Iranian missile. It was collateral damage due to the fog of war. The massive incompetence spurred demonstrations in Tehran and gave Trump supporters a horrific story to luridly embellish.]
Wednesday, January 8
[Iran, war] Trump Addresses Nation – All’s well. Iran is standing down and U.S. will retaliate only with more sanctions. Trump took credit for defusing the crisis he created by killing Gen. Soleimani. Most of the official day was spent running through versions of explanations for what happened pre-and post the killing of Soleimani.
[Iran, war] Capitol Hill Gets Explanation(s) – The 72 minutes of perfunctory classified briefings for Congress provided no hard evidence for anything, which prompted outrage from Democrats and two Republicans (Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Mike Lee). Many objected to the administration’s assertion that questioning the assassination was not only unnecessary but unpatriotic.
Thursday, January 9
[Iran, war] House Passes Resolution Limiting Iran War – Of course, the GOP Senate will not do likewise; but it made for a virtuous gesture.
[Impeachment] Pelosi Promises to Send Impeachment Articles to Senate – This will end all demands for a fair trial. No date has been set, but she said “next week.”
[Clinton Investigation] Justice Dept. Finds Nothing of Consequence on Clinton – The Trump/GOP inspired investigation started more than two years ago with a bang (lock her up!) and ends with a whimper (nothing to see here). With potential charges about the Clinton Foundation, Uranium One, and the email server withering away, is it possible Trump won’t mention them again? (Joking.)
Friday, January 10
[Iran, war] More Iran Sanctions – As promised, Treasury Sec. Mnuchin announced new sanctions against Iranian officials and industries. This is supposed to be retribution for the missile strikes; most analysts see them as a thin veneer to already existing sanctions.
[Iran, war] U.S. Attempted Another Assassination in Yemen – On the same day as the Soleimani assassination, an attempt to kill Abdul Reza Shalai, also a Quds commander, failed. Apparently, the U.S. now has a permanent policy of assassinating official military leaders. Unfortunately, it promotes a reciprocal policy.
It appears Pelosi has capitulated. The Articles of Impeachment will be sent to the Senate with no preconditions. The trial will begin. There might possibly be a witness or two; it’s at McConnell’s discretion. Trump will be acquitted and his exoneration tour will begin. It’s hard to see how Trump looks worse post-trial, which was the point of the delay.
The trial, such as it may be, will be a testament to the Democrats inability to “move the Overton Window,” that is, change the range of policies politically acceptable to the public. In fact, it’s likely the public would go along with a determined and well justified long-term delay (in fact, many don’t care). However, rather than sticking to demands of a real and fair trial with witnesses and documents, and messaging that brings public approval, the Democrats are ceding the narrative to Trump and the GOP. As is said, Democrats get procedure, Trump gets the story. Which gets the public?
[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
How did it become acceptable to assassinate one of the top military officers of a country with whom we are not formally at war during a public visit to a third country that had no opposition to his presence? And what precedent has this assassination established on the acceptable conduct of nation-states toward military leaders of countries with which we might have strong disagreement short of actual war — or for their future actions toward our own people?
Jim Webb who served in the U.S. Senate from 2007 to 2013 and was Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan from 1987 to 1988, writing in the Washington Post, Jan 9, 2020.