No Heroes Will Save Us

WaPo is running an excerpt from the book A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America that shows us what happened when the adults in the room tried to explain foreign policy to the Creature. The Joint Chiefs and other top military brass were there.

Mattis, Cohn, and Tillerson and their aides decided to use maps, graphics, and charts to tutor the president, figuring they would help keep him from getting bored. Mattis opened with a slide show punctuated by lots of dollar signs. Mattis devised a strategy to use terms the impatient president, schooled in real estate, would appreciate to impress upon him the value of U.S. investments abroad. He sought to explain why U.S. troops were deployed in so many regions and why America’s safety hinged on a complex web of trade deals, alliances, and bases across the globe.

All of this went right over Trump’s empty head. Skipping to the end of the meeting …

“I want to win,” he said. “We don’t win any wars anymore .?.?. We spend $7 trillion, everybody else got the oil and we’re not winning anymore.”

Trump by now was in one of his rages. He was so angry that he wasn’t taking many breaths. All morning, he had been coarse and cavalier, but the next several things he bellowed went beyond that description. They stunned nearly everyone in the room, and some vowed that they would never repeat them. Indeed, they have not been reported until now.

“I wouldn’t go to war with you people,” Trump told the assembled brass.

Addressing the room, the commander in chief barked, “You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”

Here was Cadet Bone Spurs insulting a room full of officers who had fought real wars and had given their lives to national defense. They were devastated, the text says. Do read the whole thing if you haven’t already. The only one who talked back was Rex Tillerson, who flat-out told Trump he was wrong. Flat lot of good that did.

Now, let’s skip to what Paul Waldman wrote about this:

… one thing their account makes clear is that there are only two kinds of people in Trump’s orbit: the utterly morally compromised, and the slightly less but still profoundly morally compromised. …

…Reading this account, one is tempted to honor Tillerson for his courage in standing up to the president. The story recounts that others thanked the secretary of state for doing so, and he did it again at a subsequent meeting.

But here’s what Tillerson didn’t do. He didn’t call a news conference to announce that he was resigning and explain that he could not in good conscience work for a president who had such dangerous ideas about how to wield power and held the military in such contempt. Instead, he stayed on the job for another eight months — until Trump fired him.

And ever since, Tillerson has been practically silent. So too has Mattis, who stayed in Trump’s employ for nearly two years, then resigned and sealed his lips shut. We’ve heard stories about how Mattis tried to calm Trump down or, at times, simply ignored the president’s more erratic orders, such as the time Trump called him after Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack and said “Let’s f—ing kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the f—ing lot of them.”

It’s certainly a good thing that Mattis, like others in the administration, at times quietly kept Trump from acting on his most abhorrent impulses. But Mattis chose not to take an extraordinary opportunity — and still makes that choice.


One of the central values of the American military is that they are subservient to civilian authority, and civilian authority is personified in the Commander in Chief. So exposing the POTUS as a monster would be extraordinarily difficult thing for them, no question. But more difficult than, say, storming Normandy Beach?

Further, the Right would publicly eviscerate them, no doubt. They’d be subject to vicious  scorn and ridicule for the rest of their lives. Their right-wing friends would disown them. But these are not stupid men (and they are pretty much all men). Surely they see that something is terribly wrong that cannot be allowed to continue. Yet they stay silent.

And who is talking? A mid-level mobster named Lev Parnas. And Parnas is talking, he says, because he felt disrespected by his former colleagues who didn’t defend him when he was indicted. Plus, he is afraid of Bill Barr.

“They’re trying to scare me into not talking,” Parnas said of officials in the Justice Department, adding that “My wife is scared. My kids are nervous.”

He’s not waiting around to be asked to testify in court. He’s showing the world everything he’s got. They can’t shut him up if he’s already talked.

Parnas, who is free on bond, described a tense meeting in jail with his former lawyer John Dowd, who also represented Trump. According to Parnas, Dowd and Kevin Downing visited Parnas in jail to try to talk him out of cooperating with the House impeachment inquiry.

“Were they telling you to sacrifice yourself to protect the president?” Maddow asked.

“That’s the way I felt,” Parnas replied, adding that he told the two lawyers, “If you don’t get out of here right now, something bad is going to happen.” He then fired them. His current lawyer, Joseph Bondy, was at his side for the interview.

Well, you take what you get. The logical step for the Trumpers is to try to undermine Parnas, but so far all they’ve come up with is to deny knowing him …

Parnas also released a video showing himself and Trump together at some function at Mar-a-Lago.

The Right appears to be falling back on the “so what?” defense.

It has long been obvious that Republicans would ultimately converge on this final defense of President Trump: Even if he did everything he has been accused of doing, and perhaps a lot more that we don’t know about, it’s absolutely fine!

We now have a particularly ugly preview of what this defense may look like, as Trump’s Senate trial gets underway. On Sean Hannity’s Thursday night show, former Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus said:

Sometimes the best defense is the ‘so what’ defense. If everything the Democrats said is true, it’s still not impeachable. If everything Lev Parnas said is true, it’s still not impeachable. That’s what this is about.

Hannity endorsed the argument. Parnas is the former accomplice of Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani who just revealed explosive details about Trump’s scheme to extort Ukraine into doing his dirty political deeds.

See also

Last week on Fox, Brit Hume said the quiet part loud when trying to explain the GOP senators’ actions:

Just for the sake of discussion. If John Bolton comes in and he says: “Yep the president wanted the Bidens, and he withheld the aid for a time to try and get that done”—I don’t think that adds anything to the sum of our knowledge. I don’t think very many senators are going to say that they think Trump did that or that he’s guilty of that but I think most of them think that he did.

Okie dokie then.

The weird thing about this is that Hume seems to think that by admitting that GOP senators privately know the president pressured a foreign government to launch a sham investigation against his political rival, he’s providing cover for the senators rather than revealing their dishonesty.

There are two kinds of Republicans now. The worst of them believe that any dirty, underhanded, unlawful thing Trump does to get re-elected is righteous, because otherwise liberals will win. And that is unthinkable, because … well, because. The rest of them know that Trump is guilty and depraved but don’t turn on him because doing so would destroy the careers and connections they’ve spent a lifetime cultivating.  And they’re afraid of Trump.

Patriotism? What’s that?

Chief Justice Roberts probably doesn’t want to go anywhere near this. He’ll want to appear to be nonpartisan, but in our current political landscape that isn’t possible, and no matter what he does, he will piss off a lot of people. He’s expected to defer to the will of the Senate in all things. However, in the case of a 50-50 vote, he’s the tie-breaker, not the Vice President. Oh, I bet he’s hoping there’s no 50-50 vote.

Steve M found a tweet about a woman who caucused for Sanders in 2016, then voted for a Trump. She supports Medicare for All but plans to vote for Buttigieg, and if Buttigieg isn’t nominated she plans to vote for Trump again. Yes, this woman is a flaming idiot, and I would dearly love to smack her. But here’s the point —

It’s politics as lifehack. She’s looking for One Weird Trick that will solve all of America’s problems. Revolution! MAGA! A gay millennial! The only surprise is that she’s not supporting Andrew Yang, the ultimate lifehack candidate.

There will be no one wierd trick that will fix our politics, folks. There is no magic wand, no magic bullet. There’s not even a Magic Candidate. Even if your favorite candidate is elected president, the policies that person is promising won’t get through Congress intact. Even if a minority in Congress, Republicans aren’t gong to come to their senses and behave like normal people by 2021. And there will be no heroes who will come forward to save us from Trump and stop his re-election. We have to do that ourselves.

What a Damn Mess

I guess the Senate is now a courtroom.

This morning, before Chief Justice Roberts had been sworn in, the Government Accountability Office released a judgment that Trump broke the law when he withheld aid from Ukraine.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the decision says. “OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act.”

The White House quickly rebutted the charge, criticizing the agency’s decision as an “overreach” and an attempt to insert itself into the “media’s controversy of the day.”

The White House “complied with the law at every step,” White House Office of Management and Budget acting director Russell T. Vought wrote on Twitter. He also criticized GAO, saying the agency’s “opinion comes from the same people who said we couldn’t keep National Parks open during the shutdown” 12 months ago.

Regarding the national parks — just because you got away with something doesn’t prove it was legal.

If you missed Rachel Maddow’s interview of Lev Parnas last night — boy howdy, talk about throwing people under the bus. Trump, Giuliani, and Pence went first, followed by Bill Barr and Devin Nunes. Part 2 is tonight. Charles Pierce:

Let me be perfectly clear. I would not buy an apple from Lev Parnas, Rudy Giuliani’s running buddy in the Ukraine and (apparently) a former unofficial emissary from El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago. He is indeed under federal indictment. All of this is true now that he’s doing this very odd media tour as The Man Who Kept Receipts. I wouldn’t let him park my car.

But I believe most of what he’s been saying.  …

…  I’d say that, by and large, he’s been dealing straight with his interviewers, although Charlie Savage’s cautions on MSNBC Thursday morning are well-taken. On the events for which he already has provided documents, he seems to be telling the truth, and much of what he said were backed up by previous witnesses like Bill Taylor and Fiona Hill. He did crack open a new line of inquiry when he told kindly Doc Maddow that holding up the military aid was, in fact, the second quid pro quo demanded by the administration*. The first, he said, involved a visit that Vice President Mike Pence was supposed to make to Ukraine that was cancelled, according to Parnas, when Ukraine held off on investigating the Bidens as the White House demanded. This also seems completely consonant with what we already know.

Parnas strikes me as a guy who ain’t falling on any damn sword for anybody. This stuff is going to continue to trickle out, and not just from Parnas. If the Senate refuses to allow witnesses and documents and voters to keep Trump in office, that won’t change.

Ironically, the government of Ukraine did announce an investigation today — of allegations that Marie Yovanovitch was under surveillance. Heh.

Everything Happening All at Once

There’s a quote often misattributed to Einstein that says time is what keeps everything from happening all at once. I think time may be breaking down. Everything is happening all at once.

About last night’s debate, before we move on to the juicy stuff — First, Pete Buttigieg annoyed the hell out of me. He was even more annoying than Tom Steyer, who actually said a few sensible things this time. Mayor Pete needs to take his Republican talking points on health care and stuff them someplace.

Regarding the hoped-for Sanders-Warren smackdown, I’ve been ignoring it because it seemed to me the whole flap could be attributed to miscommunication combined with the exhaustion and burnout that must happen during a long campaign. People who wanted reasons to hate one or the other candidate have been riding it hard on social media, but as I like them both the so-called controversy just annoys me. But not as much as Pete Buttigieg annoys me.

And I miss Andrew Yang and Cory Booker. Oh, well.

Other than that, I think everyone did okay. Probably no minds were changed. But see also Does CNN have it in for Bernie Sanders? by John Judis at TPM.

As the Dem candidates were taking the stage last night, other Dems were opening a big ol’ can of whoop-ass on Donald Trump, in the form of the Lev Parnas papers. As Greg Sargent wrote today, the Parnas papers prove beyond doubt (except, of course, to Republicans) that Rudy G. was in Ukraine as Trump’s personal attorney, with Trump’s approval, to make a deal for dirt on Joe Biden. This pretty much shreds any pretense that Trump was acting in U.S. interest and not his own.

Part of the deal was, explicitly, to get Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch fired because she was in the way of Rudy’s various machinations. The campaign against Yovanovitch was outrageous and sinister; some marginal character named Robert Hyde even claimed to be tracking her movements. Why, to assassinate her? But this opens up the question — what did SecState Mike Pompeo know about this? Rep. Eliot Engel, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told Greg Sargent that his committee would be investigating this.

Waldman continued,

As part of the impeachment inquiry, Democrats had subpoenaed the State Department for documents that could shed light on any knowledge that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had of this ongoing campaign, on Giuliani’s communications with the State Department about it, and on efforts by Trump and other henchmen to pressure Ukraine more generally.

The State Department defied this subpoena, and Pompeo just blew off a request that he testify to the Foreign Affairs Committee about Trump’s Iran policies. The State Department is responding to journalistic inquiries with radio silence…

…Democrats will simply have to go on an investigative war footing that will continue after the impeachment saga, and it is likely to produce new revelations. …

An official involved with the impeachment inquiry says more documents are coming from Parnas soon. Meanwhile, there will be extensive investigative media digging that will almost certainly establish more about what, precisely, Giuliani ordered done on Trump’s behalf.

As Charles Pierce says, I Don’t Think the Lev Parnas Texts Are the Last Hound to Be Unleashed. I can’t believe that the State Department was completely in the dark about what Rudy was up to.

Senate Republicans must realize that time is not on their side. More crap will be raining down on their heads throughout the election year of 2020. Some of them may be considering allowing a bit of daylight to come between themselves and Trump. This may affect the Senate vote over witnesses at the trial.

Speaking of which — the House impeachment trial managers are chosen, and the House has voted to send the articles of impeachment on to the Senate. Amber Phillips explains who the managers are and why Pelosi chose them.

Meanwhile, the Russian government resigned so that Putin can consolidate power. And Australia is still burning.

Update: Then this happened

The State Department abruptly canceled two classified congressional briefings Wednesday that were supposed to focus on embassy security and the U.S. relationship with Iran, Capitol Hill aides said, infuriating lawmakers and staffers seeking answers on the fallout from President Donald Trump’s decision to kill a senior Iranian general.

The cancellations also coincide with the release of documents suggesting that associates of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani had put the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine under surveillance — an issue that touches on both embassy security and the president’s impeachment.

“Staff are furious,” a House aide said about the scuttled embassy security session. “This briefing is required by law every month, and today’s was the most important we’ve had scheduled in a long time. The State Department has given us no explanation whatsoever.”

Impeachment Games and Gaming

It’s expected that Nancy Pelosi will transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate by the end of this week. What happens then?

The question of witnesses is still pending. The Senate will vote to adopt the procedures, and it will take a simple majority to allow a trial with no witnesses. It could go either way. At the very least, Chuck Schumer is expected to extract maximum pain from senators up for re-election in purple states.

Schumer will force a series of votes designed to squeeze vulnerable Republicans and harm them on the campaign trail if they side with Trump.

Democrats argue the half-dozen at-risk GOP senators will need some daylight between them and Trump to get reelected. And if they vote against Schumer’s motions to hear new evidence and witness testimony, they’ll be seen as Trump sycophants — undermining their bids and boosting Schumer’s odds of becoming majority leader.

Support for obtaining new documents at the trial is “even stronger than we thought, with large numbers of Republicans supporting it,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview. “And when you go against what the American people feel strongly about, on an issue they’re paying attention to, it’s not a good idea.”

Public surveys in key swing states back up Democrats’ claims.

See also White House expects GOP defections on calling witnesses in Senate impeachment trial. It would only take four Republican defections to force witnesses. That’s not impossible. As I said, it could go either way.

Conservative WaPo columnist Henry Olsen says that Nancy Pelosi gamed the impeachment trial brilliantly. How so? One way is not exactly endearing Nancy to me:

Had she sent the articles immediately after passage, the Senate could have started the trial after returning from the holiday break. Now, however, they won’t be able to start the trial until after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. This means the Senate will be in trial six days a week for the period before the Iowa caucuses and may well be in session through the New Hampshire primary, too. That will likely hurt the progressives’ favorites, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), as they will have to stay in Washington rather than campaign in those crucial early voting states.

Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, the “centrist” candidates, will not be so restrained. We don’t know that this was part of Nancy’s calculation, but it could have been.

She also wins by pinning the blame for Trump’s eventual acquittal on McConnell. Democratic failure to persuade Trump backers to even consider impeaching the president has always meant the Senate trial’s outcome is a foregone conclusion. By holding the articles and forcing McConnell to do what he was going to do — run the trial his way — Pelosi gives Democrats a scapegoat for their eventual failure to remove Trump. They can blame McConnell’s allegedly unfair and prejudicial rules for the debacle rather than their own failure to bring even a small portion of the non-Democratic electorate behind them. Since Democrats already view McConnell as a mendacious partisan, this is an easy sell.

Actually, about 43 percent of independents favor removing Trump from office, and more than 50 percent approve of impeachment, so I don’t see how the Democrats failed to “bring even a small portion of the non-Democratic electorate behind them.”

The “Immiment Threat”: Voices in Mike Pence’s Head?

A sentence buried far down in a Wall Street Journal article is getting a lot of attention.

Mr. Trump, after the strike, told associates he was under pressure to deal with Gen. Soleimani from GOP senators he views as important supporters in his coming impeachment trial in the Senate.

The New York Times reported something similar this week, stating that Trump had said in a phone call that “he had been pressured to take a harder line on Iran by some Republican senators whose support he needs now more than ever amid an impeachment battle.”

If this reporting is true, it’s hard to overstate how explosive it would be that the president of the United States nearly started a war in order to appease a handful of Republican senators before impeachment arrives in the Senate.

Well, yes, it would, wouldn’t it? David Kurtz at TPM:

We don’t have to delve too deeply into whether key GOP senators were in fact pressuring Trump on Soleimani (or whether “deal with” meant target him with a drone strike). The point is this is how this president thinks, ignorant of U.S. national interests, fixated on his own personal dramas, veering from impulse to reaction and back again even in the gravest matters.
The irony is almost too obvious to point out: In order to stave off an impeachment conviction for putting his own personal interests above the national interest, Trump once again put his own interests above the national interest.

John Cassidy at The New Yorker:

The picture we are getting is of the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and Vice-President Mike Pence both egging on an impetuous President to launch the January 2nd drone attack that killed the Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani at Baghdad International Airport. None of Trump’s other senior political or military advisers, meanwhile, appear to have urged restraint, despite the near-certainty that the move would inflame the entire Middle East and provoke reprisals. Any deliberative policymaking process appears to have been replaced by a combination of belligerence, toadyism, and saluting the Commander-in-Chief….

… Pompeo and Pence “were two of the most hawkish voices arguing for a response to Iranian aggression, according to administration officials,” the Times reported, a couple of days after Suleimani’s death. “Mr. Pence’s office helped run herd on meetings and conference calls held by officials in the run-up to the strike.”

Pence is emerging as a five-alarm hawk. Along with his ridiculous claim that Soleimani was linked to the September 11 attacks, Pence also has said that the administration didn’t share its intelligence with Congress because Congress couldn’t be trusted with it.

In another wrinkle to the story, the Washington Post is reporting that the administration also attempted to assassinate an Iranian official in Yemen, but failed.

On the day the U.S. military killed a top Iranian commander in Baghdad, U.S. forces carried out another top secret mission against a senior Iranian military official in Yemen, according to U.S. officials.

The strike targeting Abdul Reza Shahlai, a financier and key commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force who has been active in Yemen, did not result in his death, according to four U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

It’s hard to know what that attempt signifies, because American operations in Yemen are behind a veil of secrecy. It might mean that the administration was trying to damage the leader of the Quds force.

Defense and State Department officials said the strike against Soleimani saved “dozens” if not “hundreds” of American lives under imminent threat. The strike against Shahlai potentially complicates that argument.

“This suggests a mission with a longer planning horizon and a larger objective, and it really does call into question why there was an attempt to explain this publicly on the basis of an imminent threat,” said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran scholar at the Brookings Institution.

Trying to make sense of Trump’s foreign policy is a fool’s errand, I say.

In other news, Nancy Pelosi is signaling she is sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate next week.

The “Faking It” Administration

The House just passed a war powers resolution ordering Trump to withdraw forces engaged in hostilities with Iran. I’ll have more to say when I’ve digested the details. But I heartily approve.

To me, the most disturbing part of the administration’s  non-explanation of the recent “immiment threat” is that they apparently don’t think they have to explain anything. Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah, in an interview with NPR, found this frustrating.

LEE: As I recall, one of my colleagues asked a hypothetical involving the supreme leader of Iran. If at that point, the United States government decided that it wanted to undertake a strike against him personally, recognizing that he could be a threat to the United States, would that require authorization for the use of military force? The fact that there was nothing but a refusal to answer that question was perhaps the most deeply upsetting thing to me in that meeting. I think it was unprofessional, inappropriate and reflective of a certain cavalier attitude toward the Constitution to refuse to make a commitment on that front.

This tells us that in the administration’s view that is no circumstance in which they feel they must consult with Congress before taking some military action. Greg Sargent:

“It would be hard to understand assassinating a foreign head of state as anything other than an act of war,” Josh Chafetz, a Cornell law professor and the author of a book on Congress’ hidden powers, told me. “It’s appalling that executive-branch officials would imply, even in responding to a hypothetical question, that they do not need congressional authorization to do it.”

And, of course, there was no “immiment threat.” Alex Ward at Vox:

“They did give us a window on the ‘imminent’ threat, but the window was so large that it doesn’t necessarily constitute ‘imminent,’” the lawmaker said, adding that the stated time frame around what the administration has described as an imminent threat was “days” rather than “weeks.”

“They gave us no time, place, or method” when describing the Soleimani threat, the Congress member continued. “Instead, we got a historical overview of decades-long malign activities from Iran. It begs the question: Was the attack on Soleimani more in retribution for what he’s done, or what he was planning?”

Others said the meeting in the House devolved into pettiness. In one instance, according to a House Democratic aide, a Democratic lawmaker asked a difficult question, prompting the briefers to turn to a Republican for an easier question while ignoring the one just asked. In another moment, a Democratic Congress member asked a multi-part question that briefers failed to answer fully. When the lawmaker tried to follow up, “they got shushed.”

What’s more, the defense and military officials were asked multiple direct questions about the legal justification for Trump to order a strike on Soleimani. Both Esper and Army Gen. Mark Milley, the Joint Chiefs chair, looked uncomfortable, a Democratic aide said, and turned to their legal team because they apparently didn’t have the answers themselves. “There were no justifications,” the Democratic aide said. “It was totally insufficient.”

We’re hearing from multiple sources that the briefers warned legislators not to debate the administration’s actions, because that would “enbolden the enemy.”

The most reasonable explanation for this behavior is that the whole bleeping Trump administration is faking it. They cannot justify the assassination of Soleimani. There was no immiment threat. There is no strategy of how to deal with repurcussions. They lack knowledge of what they’re dealing with. Their entire function is covering Trump’s ass. Trump says jump, and then they scramble around to craft an excuse for jumping.

People who are competent, people who have deep extertise, are not shy about explaning what they do and why they do it. Certainly some matters may be classified, but many members of Congress do have security clearances, I understand. But Trumpers have to keep their actions hidden because they’re stumbling around like drunks and don’t want the world to watch them.

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.