The American people may not have noticed the recent attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, likely the work of Iranian proxies, but rest assured that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did, and used it as an occasion to remind us of the ongoing nature of the war that was supposed to have ended in January:
U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said Iran must be held accountable for its proxies’ attacks on American forces in Baghdad, warning that such violence can’t become routine.
“It cannot become ordinary course that the Iranians, through their proxy forces in Iraq, are putting the lives of Americans at risk,” Pompeo told reporters on his plane as he prepared to fly from Addis Ababa to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday. “There has to be accountability connected to those very serious attacks.”
Pompeo was referring to a Feb. 16 incident in which several rockets landed inside the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, causing minimal damage and no injuries.
“Those very serious attacks.”
When Iran retaliated for the Suleimani killing, the Trump Administration waved the attacks away. Those attacks were more or less nothingburger, we were told: just a couple of pinpricks, producing a couple of headaches. Or well, a small bunch of headaches. Or maybe 100+ traumatic brain injuries. Now, an attack that caused “minimal damage and no injuries” has suddenly become “very serious.” The Secretary knows that there’s no need to make the one statement coherent with the other. He knows that whatever rubbish comes out of his mouth on one day will be accepted and reported with the same credulity as the rubbish that comes out on the next. At this point, he could assert with a straight face that the Iranians were preparing a missile strike from inside the basement of the Felician University library in Lodi, New Jersey, and people would believe him.
Later in the article, Pompeo is quoted as expressing regret that the Iraqis are not doing enough to defend US assets in Iraq.
Pompeo said the U.S. is also demanding that Iraq’s government do more to make sure American forces and the embassy in Baghdad are safe from such attacks.
“They have a responsibility to keep our embassy and our military facilities secure,” Pompeo said. “They’ve repeatedly not been able to achieve that.”
Of course, Pompeo knows that the “demands” he’s making are as illusory and evanescent as the “responsibility” he cites. The Iraqis are sick of us. They want their country back. They just voted us out of their country, but despite having fought to bring them “democracy,” we weren’t about to listen to what their parliament had to say about our presence. Instead, we’ve dragged them into a quasi-war with Iran, and demanded that they pick sides in it. Having done so, and having rained seventeen+ years of pointless death on their country, Pompeo now expresses feigned indignation at the idea that they’re not sacrificing their lives to protect our embassy. The indignation has to be feigned, because Pompeo really can’t be that stupid: he knows that the Iraqis have no authentic, intrinsic motivation to care whether we live or die.
No, Pompeo clearly has something else in mind. The obvious implication of his remarks is that we need to defend our own embassy. If attacks on us “cannot become ordinary course,” and therefore demand “accountability,” then if the Iraqis won’t defend us (and they won’t), and the Iranian-backed attacks keep coming (and they will), then presumably, we will have to strike the Iranians on our own. In a subtle way, then, Pompeo is covering his ass for the day that he needs to demand an escalation. He’s preparing us for the slow-motion Iraqi version of Khe Sanh–just in case. This is the veiled confession of that “foreknowledge” beloved of conspiracy theorists: I don’t specifically know what Pompeo knows, but what’s clear enough is that he wants to be on record as anticipating further attacks on American assets in Iraq, and wants to be on record as wanting to respond to them.
It’s unclear (to me) what the Iranians’ proxies have in the way of tactical capacities, but a spectacular attack on American assets would precisely serve the interests of those who want war with Iran. It would furnish exactly the pretext they’ve been hoping for, the Gulf of Tonkin incident or 9/11, that unleashes the fury of the American people, and facilitates the rage needed for a full-scale war. There’s no certainty and no inevitability about any of this. There’s still a route out and away from war, as well as a possibility that we will simply skate from missile strike to missile strike or crisis to crisis without resolution or escalation. But there’s also the possibility that Pompeo’s clever games are leading us into an abyss. People like him always manage, after eventualities like that, to land on their feet. The question is how many of the rest of us will. I somehow doubt that Pompeo is much concerned with that question. What’s sad is that I’m not sure how many Americans beside him are, either.
PS, February 22, 2020. Pompeo on Iran, as reported in Sharq al Awsat:
“We are draining their capacity to conduct strategic activity in the region and destabilize the Middle East. They’re having to make harder choices today,” he continued. “It will take time. There remains work to do. But you can see they’ve gone from delivering 2.7 or 2.8 million barrels per day to a couple hundred thousand barrels a day.”
“We’re going to try and tighten that down even further to deny the regime the capacity to underwrite Hezbollah, underwrite the Shiite militias, underwrite Hamas and the ‘Islamic Jihad’ in the Gaza Strip,” he stated, noting that the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Syria are a direct result of what the Iranian regime is doing.
“We’re trying to deny them the resources to inflict this kind of harm throughout the Middle East,” he stressed. “The Iranians will respond. We’ve seen that. And so you have to establish the deterrence that’s connected to that.”
“We are draining their capacity to conduct strategic activity in the region” is a euphemism for “We’re at a low-level war with them.” “We’re going to try and tighten that down” means: “We are allying with Israel and Saudi Arabia against Hezbollah, the Shiite militias, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad; beyond that, we’re enthusiastically in favor of the Israeli siege of Gaza, up to and including Israel’s wanton murder of Gazans on the Gazan side of the border.” “The Iranians will respond” is self-explanatory. “And so you have to establish the deterrence that’s connected to that” is an elliptical way of both reminding his listeners and inducing them to forget that the United States is at war with Iran, and will continue to be at war into the indefinite future.
And let’s not forget the Yemen front:
For his part, [John] Abizaid said: “The missiles that are being used and fired from Yemen by the Houthis are all coming from the Iranians. This is so clear.”
“We’ve just recently interdicted two dhows down there filled with Iranian-produced equipment that is being used by the Houthis to attack Saudi Arabia. So, I think it’s really important for us to understand who is the aggressor in the region, and it’s no doubt it’s the Iranians.”
They’ve interdicted weapons; it somehow follows that the intended users of those weapons were aggressors. How? If anyone asked for an explanation, the explanation went unrecorded.
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