‘We are not looking to start a war with Iran,’ said defense secretary Mark Esper today. ‘We are looking to finish one.’ Iran just replied by firing off at least a dozen missiles at American targets in Iraq in an effort supposedly dubbed Operation Martyr Soleimani. It doesn’t mean all out war yet — but all the Trump administration’s talk about ‘de-escalating’ the situation sounds like hot air.
As I write, the details of Iran’s retaliation are unclear — we don’t know if the strikes were aimed at American troops or infrastructure. Is it a face-saving measure? A decoy? Why did Iran attack Erbil and Al-Asad, rather than more obvious US bases?
Have the fortified American defenses at these bases worked? Early reports suggest no casualties. We can only wait and see. Reports suggested Trump would shed more light when he addressed the nation tonight. Now that isn’t happening.
For now the talking points are as follows— how will Trump respond? More pressingly, does he have any idea what he is doing? Did he fully appreciate the possible consequences of his dramatic decision to take out Qasem Soleimani outside Baghdad’s airport? Is further escalation inevitable?
‘Weakness invites the wolves,’ said Republican senator John Kennedy just now on Fox News, justifying the Trump administration’s more confrontational approach to Tehran. Well, it seems strength invites them too.
The Trump administration has given confused signals so far. Last year it showed restraint, as Trump turned the planes around on a strike against Iran following the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities. This year, three days in, it killed Qasem Soleimani.
Team Trump has displayed a nervousness in recent days which suggests it doesn’t know what it is doing.
Pompeo is sticking to the awkward administration line: Soleimani represented an ‘imminent threat’ to American lives, which means the US administration was legally justified and morally compelled to take him out. Everyone knows that’s flam: we’ve been told for years that Soleimani has been killing US troops. Why now? Did the recent intensification of hostile Iranian activity justify such a response? As each side hops up the escalation ladder, these questions demand answers.