Early this morning, President Trump offered a quick summary of what led up to the storming of the US embassy in Iraq:
The strong response he’s referring to was an airstrike carried out Sunday:
The United States military on Sunday struck five targets in Iraq and Syria controlled by an Iranian-backed paramilitary group, the Pentagon said, a reprisal for a rocket attack on Friday that killed an American contractor.
The airstrikes, carried out by Air Force F-15E fighter planes, hit three locations in Iraq and two in Syria controlled by the group, Kataib Hezbollah. Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said the targets included weapons storage facilities and command posts that were used to attack American and partner forces…
Iranian proxy forces have carried out 11 attacks over the last two months on bases and facilities housing American contractors and service members, an American official said.
So Iran has been carrying out these low level attacks for months. The one last Friday killed an American and the US responded with an attack on this Iranian backed group responsible. An estimated 25 people were killed in the US strike. Iran’s response is to organize and carry out an attack on our embassy in Baghdad.
Dozens of angry Iraqi Shiite militia supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw flames rising from inside the compound and at least three U.S. soldiers on the roof of the main building inside embassy. There was a fire at the reception area near the parking lot of the compound but it was unclear what had caused it. A man on a loudspeaker urged the mob not to enter the compound, saying: “The message was delivered.”
Michael Doran of the Hudson Institute put together a helpful thread pointing out that all of this appeared to be stage managed by Iranian militias:
Speaking of Ben Rhodes, he’s busy bashing the president as usual. As for his insight about Iran’s behavior, it turns out Iran greatly prefer plane loads of cash to sanctions. Who would have guessed?
Trump sanctions on Iran have done nothing to change Iranian behavior except make it worse. This is what happens when your foreign policy is based on Obama envy, domestic politics, Saudi interests, and magical right wing thinking. https://t.co/HDn0ywZnHu
— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) December 31, 2019
Rhodes isn’t the only one singing this tune:
The attack on the U.S embassy in Baghdad is a tragedy and a result of the Trump administration’s reckless escalation and incoherent foreign policy.
I’m praying for the safety of our diplomats and service members in Iraq. https://t.co/v6GaOEt7hX
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) December 31, 2019
A response to this from Marco Rubio:
Stunning to see some Democrats criticize @potus decision to strike Iranian proxy Kataib Hezbollah as an unnecessary irritant
Since Oct our troops faced 11 rocket attacks
Eventually they killed an American but these people think we should do nothing?
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) December 31, 2019
The NY Times actually offered a much more nuanced perspective on the events of the past week:
Experts say Tehran miscalculated that Mr. Trump’s desire to avoid war with Iran would restrain the American military if its forces were attacked. Kirsten Fontenrose, a former National Security Council official now with the Atlantic Council, said the current upheaval and protests in Iraq had allowed Iranian proxies to “operate unfettered.” Iran’s stepped-up activity convinced the United States that it needed to act.
“We knew Iran would pursue a policy of continued low-level escalation with the U.S. and allies at least through the U.S. elections,” she said. “Iran knew that President Trump does not want an all-out war. Iran’s mistake was in assuming that U.S. strategic thinking would not adapt to conditions on the ground.”
It sounds as if Iran expected Trump to behave like Obama, i.e. ignore the red line of killing an American to avoid escalating the conflict. What they learned is that Trump isn’t Obama (or Carter).
As I pointed out last month, the protests in Iraq gradually became more focused on Iran as the protesters blamed Iranian agents for firing live ammunition into crowds.
I’ll update this post if there are any dramatic developments.