Did Somebody Blink?

I missed the Creature’s speech today, which is just as well. I might have been compelled to heave large objects at the teevee set. I’m going mostly by Paul Waldman’s five takeaways. The first takeway is:

Trump’s Iran policy has been a catastrophic failure. “The civilized world must send a clear and unified message to the Iranian regime: Your campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer,” Trump said. But that in itself is an acknowledgment of his own failure.

When the president came into office, we had a painstakingly negotiated agreement that by the consensus of the entire international community was successfully restraining Iran’s nuclear program. Trump not only abandoned that deal, he instituted a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, arguing that if we crippled their economy, they’d become less aggressive in the region and crawl back to the negotiating table, whereupon they’d give us whatever concessions we asked for.

The very fact that we’re in the position we are now demonstrates that this policy has failed.

See also Trump’s deepening Iran morass all started with one big lie, which was “The idea that the Iran nuclear agreement constituted a wretched display of elite failure and American weakness, and that Trump has replaced it with an approach that’s ‘strong.'”

Iran may have given Trump that off-ramp by launching a strike that apparently didn’t kill Americans. If he de-escalates — perhaps by declaring that Iran blinked in the face of his show of strength — that will be great, as far as it goes.

But the larger point here remains this: None of this has to be happening at all.

In brief, the more Trump cancels the diplomatic work of earlier administrations and substitutes his own juvenile notions of “policy,” the messier everything gets.

The second takeway is “Trump desperately wanted to find a way to declare victory and back off.”  Nancy LeTourneau writes that the Trumpers seem to believe that Iran blinked and will stand down. As far as we’re being told so far, no U.S. servicepeople died in yesterday’s missile attack. So the Trumpers think they’re ahead.

The problem is that when your only tool is bullying through threats and violence, all that matters is the body count. Under that scenario, the U.S. wins by taking out a major military figure, while the strikes from Iran produced no casualties.

But if we step back from the body count, we can examine what else Iran achieved from this exchange. Perhaps the most important is that it will probably lead to U.S. forces leaving Iraq.

The Pentagon is denying the letter that offered to prepare to leave. But if Iraq continues to insist we leave, at some point staying will be untenable.

It’s also possible Trump isn’t the one making the decisions. My smart Facebook friend Jeffrey put forward a theory I haven’t seen elsewhere, but which I think is plausible:

In support of that theory, note that Trump had an off-the-official-schedule Oval Office meeting with a Saudi envoy from Mohammed bin Salman on Monday. We only know about it because the Saudis published photographs of the meeting.

Photos of the meeting, which included several senior White House advisers, were tweeted out Tuesday by Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister, Prince Khalid bin Salman, indicating he delivered a message to Trump from his brother, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Independent (UK) reported,

Iraq’s prime minister revealed that he was due to be meeting the Iranian commander to discuss moves being made to ease the confrontation between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia – the crux of so much of strife in the Middle East and beyond.

Adil Abdul-Mahdi was quite clear: “I was supposed to meet him in the morning the day he was killed, he came to deliver a message from Iran in response to the message we had delivered from the Saudis to Iran.”

The prime minister also disclosed that Donald Trump had called him to ask him to mediate following the attack on the US embassy in Baghdad. According to Iraqi officials contact was made with a number of militias as well as figures in Tehran. The siege of the embassy was lifted and the US president personally thanked Abdul-Mahdi for his help.

There was nothing to suggest to the Iraqis that it was unsafe for Soleimani to travel to Baghdad – quite the contrary. This suggests that Trump helped lure the Iranian commander to a place where he could be killed.

I am not claiming this adds up to anything, but it might. Along with the obvious value of a military operation to distract the nation from impeachment, it is possible Trump is taking direction from the Saudis, who are trying to manipulate the situation to suit themselves. And it may be that the Saudis don’t want an escalation, in which case Trump will stand down.

Members of the House were briefed today on the “intelligence” that persuaded them that General Soleimani was behind an imminent attack that could be stopped by killing him. Dems walked away unconvinced. The word “sophomoric” was used. Charles Pierce: “The Secretary of State’s version of ‘imminent’ is ‘it’s five o’clock somewhere.'” So unless we hear more I think it’s safe to assume the “imminent threat” was pure bullshit.

The other takeaways are that Trump is still obsessed with Barack Obama and cannot pass up an opportunity to blame his own failures on President Obama, no matter how absurd that is.

“Trump is comically insecure about his manhood.” Yeah, obviously.

And “Trump still has no idea what he wants to accomplish with regard to Iran or how to do it.” Again, obvious. He wants to “win”; he wants to be feared and respected. He wants to be seen as getting the upper hand in all situations. But he has no idea what that means or how to accomplish that in the world of politics, and his flailing attempts just make him look more pathetic.

And if Iraq forces our military to leave, it would be the ultimate humiliation for Trump. I don’t see him blustering his way out of that one.