So this was Iran’s “great” retaliation against America for the death of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani: 15 missiles lobbed at two U.S. bases in western and northern Iraq. Nobody died.
In fact, it appears the Iranians may have missed on purpose, engaging in a face-saving gesture as they sought to de-escalate a situation at risk of spiraling out of control.
For his part, President Trump responded with magnanimity, telling Americans that since the attacks resulted in no U.S. casualties, he would not order another attack—thereby de-escalating further.
The president chose prudence over greater pugilism with Iran. Nevertheless, the incident should make clear that the current U.S. position in the Middle East is untenable—particularly in Iraq. The 5,200 U.S. forces currently deployed in-country have giant targets on their backs. They should be repositioned to more defensible positions, in “friendlier” countries throughout the region as we let the Iraqis deal with their uppity Iranian neighbors.
Toward that end, the Pentagon “mistakenly” issued a draft letter detailing the prospect of an American withdrawal from Iraq. This was not a mistake.
Very often in government, institutional stakeholders strategically leak what should be classified information to friendly news outlets, in order to influence the national debate or undermine a president with whom those career bureaucrats disagree.
This is particularly true during policy debates, as various cadres of elites form within the elephantine bureaucracies, and jockey to have greater influence over key policies.
Despite having been embroiled in winless wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan for 20 years, there are significant institutional interests that not only believe the United States should have permanent bases in the chaotic Middle East, but that America can fight wars without actually winning those wars.
Few in Washington likely knew that President Trump was serious in his desire to remove all U.S. forces from Iraq. It seems likely that once an official policy memo was drafted detailing how the United States would remove its forces from Iraq, the memo was “mistakenly” leaked to the press.
Within 24 hours of the leak, the Pentagon, the State Department, and even the president himself indicated that U.S. forces would remain in Iraq—even as the Iraqi government voted on a nonbinding resolution asking for all U.S. forces to leave their country.
It seems probable that this represents a case of the “deep state” striking back. And, even though Trump is a belligerent foreign policy minimalist, he seems likely to placate the Pentagon in order to buy enough time to survive the impeachment, get reelected, and then implement his true agenda (part of which is drawing down from Iraq and Afghanistan).