US versus Iran escalates

President Trump ordered a missile attack on Baghdad airport that is reported to have killed a ‘top Iranian general’, in retaliation for attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad.

Iran has promised ‘harsh retaliation’.

US versus Iran has been at risk of escalation for years. To an extent at least that now appears to be happening.

What Iran has been doing is a concern. The US response raises concerns. This too and fro fury could fizzle, but it could get very ugly.

  • Trump Orders Strike Killing Top Iranian General in Baghdad MSN
    The commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps was killed early Friday in a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport that was authorized by President Trump, American officials said.The commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and several officials from Iraqi militias backed by Tehran were killed when an American MQ-9 Reaper drone fired missiles into a convoy that was leaving the airport.

    The killing of General Suleimani was a staggering blow for Iran’s military and national pride, and was a serious escalation of Mr. Trump’s growing confrontation with Tehran, one that began with the death of an American contractor in Iraq in late December.

  • Terrorist General Soleimani Had Blood of Thousands On His Hands Daily Mail (UK)
    Qassem Soleimani masterminded the killing of hundreds of US troops in IED attacks, helped Assad slaughter his people in Syria, was an ally of Hezbollah and ‘more powerful than Iran’s president’.
  • Esper Says Iran May Be Planning More Attacks on U.S. Interests PBS
    Iran or its proxy forces may be planning further strikes on American interests in the Middle East, and the U.S. is prepared to take preemptive military action if it gets sufficient warning, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday.“The game has changed,” Esper said, citing a series of violent attacks on U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq in recent months by Iran-supported militia groups. “We’re prepared to do what is necessary to defend our personnel and our interests and our partners in the region.”
  • Iran Vows ‘Harsh’ Retaliation AP
    Iran vowed “harsh retaliation” for a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s airport that killed a top Iranian general who had been the architect of its interventions across the Middle East, and the U.S. announced Friday it was sending more troops to the region as tensions soared in the wake of the targeted killing.

    Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the U.S. after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the “international face of resistance.” Khamenei declared three days of public mourning and appointed Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s deputy, to replace him as head of the Quds Force.

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the killing a “heinous crime” and vowed his country would “take revenge.” Iran twice summoned the Swiss envoy, the first time delivering a letter to pass onto the United States.

  • After Killing of Top Iranian General, What May Come Next? Heather Hulburt, NY MagIn less than a week, the standoff between the U.S. and Iran has zoomed from what seemed to be a somewhat calibrated exchange of rockets, cyberattacks, and rhetoric to the killing of a man reckoned to be Iran’s second-most-powerful military official, causing military and counterterrorism experts to worry about nasty scenarios from all-out regional war to terrorist retaliation against Americans abroad or at home.

    While its unclear how exactly Tehran will retaliate, we can predict some of the broader consequences of this drastic escalation in U.S.-Iranian hostilities.

  • Trump Calls the Ayatollah’s Bluff  Matthew Continetti, Washington Free Beacon
    The successful operation against Qassem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, is a stunning blow to international terrorism and a reassertion of American might. It will also test President Trump’s Iran strategy. It is now Trump, not Ayatollah Khamenei, who has ascended a rung on the ladder of escalation by killing the military architect of Iran’s Shiite empire. For years, Iran has set the rules. It was Iran that picked the time and place of confrontation. No more.Reciprocity has been the key to understanding Donald Trump.
  • Attack on U.S. Embassy in Iraq Shows Trump Is Failing Wendy Sherman, USA Today

    He walked into Iran’s trap.

    It is President Donald Trump’s failed policy toward Iran that has brought us to this combustible moment.

    Like much of Trump’s national security and foreign policy, his Iran approach is tactical and not strategic. The results have been devastating to U.S. interests. Iran’s most extreme hard-liners, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Quds force, which never wanted the nuclear deal, have gained more power, arguing that the United States couldn’t be trusted to honor any agreement.

    Iran’s nefarious activities in the region have increased, because terror is not an expensive undertaking and so is largely immune from economic sanctions.

    Most would agree that the United States had to respond in some way to the death of an American, but whether the airstrike was the right and proportionate measure is debatable.

    Regardless, if the Trump administration really understood the dynamics of Iraq, it might have anticipated a move like the attack on the U.S. Embassy. Administration officials might have worked more closely with the Iraq government to think through the best way forward. Instead, in essence, Trump walked into Iran’s trap.



All we can do is watch and hope it doesn’t get too nasty or widespread.

The ‘virtue-bombing’ of Syria

There has been a lot of questioning of what looked like a largely symbolic missile strike on Syria. Donald Trump in particular, with the aid of the UK and France, made a big deal about ‘mission accomplished’, with limited damage of questionable targets and no idea what the flow on effects might be.

There are suspicions there may have been collusion with Russia, and one could wonder if Syria even volunteered some harmless uninhabited targets. If the US knew there were chemical weapon laboratories where they claim them to be why did they wait until chemicals had allegedly been used against civilians?

I think a high degree of scepticism is warranted with any claims from any side of this murky Middle East mess.

However Brendan O’Neill at spiked is in little doubt. He claims: THE WEST’S VIRTUE-BOMBING OF SYRIA IS A DISASTROUS MISTAKE

Our governments have made themselves the allies of ISIS.

We’ve had virtue-signalling – now we have virtue-bombing. A military strike designed not to defeat an enemy, or take territory, or achieve any kind of tangible political goal, but rather to make a showy statement about our presumed moral decency. A violent tweet. The military wing of gesture politics. The pursuit of PR by other means.

The American, British and French assault on targets in Damascus at the weekend is an example of virtue-bombing. spiked is not a pacifist publication, but it is very clear to us that this is an act of war unanchored from geopolitical reason and ungoverned by the very basics of political judgement.

This joint intervention will do nothing to help the people of Syria and in fact could make their terrible lot worse. As even some in the pro-bombing camp recognise, taking out a few alleged chemical-weapons facilities will not stem the bloodshed in a war in which the vast majority of people are killed by conventional means.

And as they occasionally confess, weakening one alleged part of the Assad regime’s military apparatus will do nothing to dent the Assad-Russia-Iran alliance to win back Syrian territory from the various opposition forces, some of whom are disturbingly backward movements given to beheading dissidents, obliterating women’s liberty, and enforcing 7th-century diktats.

In fact it could end up strengthening that alliance, through escalating the ante so that this alliance is now not only concerned with defending Assad’s authority over Syria, but also with defending its own global and domestic reputations against a new militaristic alliance of Western powers.

…the second thing it will do is boost the very species of Islamist extremism that has in recent years declared existential war upon the West and which in Europe has massacred almost 500 people in the past five years alone. Such groups, rife in the vortex that Syria has become, will benefit directly from the Western alliance’s actions.

This is perhaps the most shocking element of the strikes on Damascus: they make Western powers and their media cheerleaders objectively into the allies of some of the darkest, foulest movements at work in the world today.

From ISIS to the Army of Islam to al-Nusra (now Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), the movements lined up against Assad are far from the ‘rebels’ some Western media coverage would have us believe. They are ruthless religious extremists whose victory in Syria would make the Assad regime, with all its authoritarianism and anti-democracy, look like a pleasant memory in comparison.

These groups have enforced terrible rule in places like Raqqa, Ghouta and East Aleppo and have committed barbarous crimes against civilians, including, it is widely suspected, with their own use of chemical weapons. These outfits will welcome the Western alliance’s actions and will see the West’s heaped pressure on Assad as a green light to their own violent ideological push against the regime.

These air strikes are in essence a military wing of Islamist extremism, providing military cover and even moral rejuvenation to an anti-Assad movement that has virtually no positive qualities.

The many sided mess in Syria, along with the many country meddling, is likely to have been hardly affected by the missile strike. It might have served as a bit of a warning, but Trump has already said he wants the US out of Syria, so it could simply be seen as a hit and run.

It might have deterred the Syrian regime from using chemical weapons, but they have plenty of other weapons of mass misery to deploy, as has been happening over the nine year long civil war.

Trump (and probably also May and Macron) was playing more to his domestic audience. What better way to divert from his substantial problems at home than to display military might on the other side of the world.

Syria appears to have been used as a cynical PR tool by the US. It could well be nothing more than virtue signalling, with very high risks attached (like the possibility of a superpower war).

And if Trump was virtuously concerned about the alleged chemical attack and reacted according to moral imperative that is also a worry, given the number of things he seems to be annoyed about. At least Twitter is relatively harmless.

A lot of what is happening in Syria far from harmless, and largely ignored by Trump.

It does have an appearance of cherry picking virtue bombing, with some major PR bombing to go with it.

Back here in New Zealand we have it well covered. Prime Minister Jacinda utterly accepts whatever.

US launch missile attack on Syria

As threatened by Donald Trump earlier this week he has ordered a US missile strike against targets in Syria.

The UK and France  have also taken part in the attack.

Theresa May has announced the UK involvement.

It has been described as a one off limited attack, but there must be some risk of escalation.

Probably the key thing now will be Russia’s response, having warned against any punishment of Syria for alleged chemical weapons attacks.

Statement on Syria

Jacinda Ardern


This morning the Government was advised that targeted military action would be taken in response to the latest chemical weapons attack in Syria, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

“The Government has always favoured diplomatic efforts and a multilateral approach. The use of the veto powers at the Security Council prevented that course of action. We have always condemned the use of the veto, including by Russia in this case.

“New Zealand therefore accepts why the US, UK and France have today responded to the grave violation of international law, and the abhorrent use of chemical weapons against civilians.

“The action was intended to prevent further such atrocities being committed against Syrian civilians.

“We stand firm in our condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta. This is clearly in breach of international law.

“It is now important that these issues are returned to the United Nations multilateral processes including the Security Council,” Jacinda Ardern said.

McCain ‘partially blames’ Trump amidst confused signals

John McCain has been one of Donald Trump’s most prominent critics – largely since Trump attacked McCain during the presidential campaign.

McCain has fired again after the Syrian missile attack.

Politico: McCain: Trump administration ‘partially to blame’ for Syrian chemical attack

Republican Sen. John McCain said Sunday the Trump administration is at least partly to blame for Syria using chemical weapons against its own people.

“I think it probably was partially to blame. And Secretary [Rex] Tillerson basically saying the same thing after kind of contradicting himself and then saying the same thing argues vigorously for a plan and a strategy,” the Arizona senator said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “As I said, again, taking this action I support and was important.”

McCain said the Trump administration needs to have a more concrete strategy in dealing with Syria and shouldn’t treat Thursday’s U.S. missile strikes as a “one-time deal.” He emphasized that just going after chemical weapons ignores how large a problem Syria has become.

McCain also rejected a statement by Tillerson that the U.S. needs to prioritize defeating the Islamic State in Syria before trying to stabilize the country. McCain said the U.S must also be concerned about other reported war crimes by the Assad regime, such as using barrel bombs and starving thousands of prisoners.

There have been many atrocities in Syria during the ongoing civil war – but it’s far more than a civil war, with a lot of international meddling.

“So there’s a lot of war crimes that are taking place. And another aspect of this that I do not agree with the secretary is that you have to just concentrate on ISIS,” McCain said. “We can walk and chew gum.”

McCain is not the only one who appears to reject Tillerson’s advice, with very mixed messages continuing.

CNN reports US envoy Nikki Haley says Syria regime change is ‘inevitable’

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has told CNN that removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power is a priority, cementing an extraordinary U-turn in the Trump administration’s stance on the embattled leader.

Two days after the US launched military strikes on a Syrian airbase in response to a chemical weapons attack widely blamed on the Assad regime, Haley said Assad’s departure was inevitable.

But before Tuesday’s chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, which killed 89 people, Haley had said toppling Assad was not a priority. President Donald Trump, before his election, described fighting ISIS and seeking Assad’s removal at the same time as “idiocy.”

Claims of idiocy have morphed into actual confused flip flip idiocy.

What now in Syria after the US strike?

Questions are now being asked about what may happen in Syria now after the US military intervened by launching a missile strike against a Syrian military target. That sort of attack is generally considered to be an act of war.

There seems to be consensus on one thing – it’s very difficult to predict what President Trump might do. Some may see him as cunningly concealing his intentions, others worry about how erratic and reactive he can be,

Until this week Trump has been strongly against direct US military involvement in Syria. It seems that one gas attack in which civilians including children were killed Trump changed his mind and chose to attack.

Fox News on The story behind Trump’s ’72-hour evolution’

The timeline of the president’s decision-making and the mission itself was detailed late Friday by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and other U.S. officials. The president’s top spokesman described the course of events as a “72-hour evolution” that involved “updates and options and refinements” before a final decision.

“He’s not going to telegraph his next move,” Spicer cautioned, but described Thursday’s actions as carefully planned, decisive and “justified.”

According to Spicer and other officials, the timeline played out as follows:

Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. ET: Trump was informed during his daily briefing about the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria. Trump asked his team for more information. The team developed “initial” options.

Tuesday at 8 p.m.: Preliminary options were “presented and refined.”

Wednesday morning: Another “restricted principals meeting” was held where options were further reviewed and refined.

Wednesday at 3 p.m.: Trump was briefed on updated options at a national security meeting. He reviewed them, asked questions, and requested more information – including options for strikes on Syria.

Thursday at 1:30 p.m.: En route to Florida, Trump convened his national security team aboard Air Force One.

Thursday at 4 p.m.: Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and others met in a secure room in Palm Beach. The president “gave the okay” to move ahead. This decision was made at about 4:30 p.m.

Thursday at 7:40 p.m.: Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean launched Tomahawk missiles into Syria.

It’s far too soon to tell if the attack was ‘decisive’. Trump may have been decisive (“having or showing the ability to make decisions quickly and effectively”) in deciding to launch the missiles against Syria, it’s far from certain that the result has been decisive (“settling an issue; producing a definite result”).

In fact Trump has not settled an issue, nor has he produced a definite result. There is a Russian warship steaming towards the Syrian coast in what is seen as an escalation of the Syrian war and a serious threat to already difficult relations between the US and Russia.

The missile strike was merely a small military ‘battle’ in a long running war that doesn’t look like it will end any time soon.

And if fighting does eventually cease in Syria it will be a mess that is very difficult to repair, structurally, politically or socially.

The Guardian: Russia, US and military intervention in Syria: what next after missile strikes?

Could there be follow-up attacks from Trump? And will Russian support for Assad remain firm?

Is regime change in Syria back on the US agenda?

For most of Syria’s six-year civil war the US has been pushing for the departure of Bashar al-Assad, even if former president Barack Obama was unwilling to use military options to remove him.

Donald Trump had conspicuously backed away from that stance, with his administration describing Assad’s rule as “political reality” shortly before the chemical weapons attack.

His team have been careful to present Friday’s missile strikes as a contained response to a specific atrocity, intended as a deterrent to further chemical weapons use. But Trump is nothing if not unpredictable.

Could there be follow-up attacks from the US?

Russia has already said it will help Syria boost its air defences, a clear signal to Washington that further intervention carries a serious risk of escalation.

Will the campaign against Islamic State be affected?

In the short term, the push for Raqqa and Mosul, the final two urban strongholds of Isis, is unlikely to be seriously affected.

Will Russian support for Assad remain firm?

Russia has often said its support for Assad is conditional. Moscow’s desire for a sympathetic government in Syria is likely to be more important than the survival of the Syrian president himself.

Do these missile strikes mean an end to Trump’s ‘reset’ of relations with Russia

Trump came to power promising a reset of ties with Russia, and openly expressing his admiration for president Vladimir Putin.

The military strikes, accompanied by blunt criticism of Russia’s failure to stop Assad deploying chemical weapons, appear to have upended that relationship.

It’s possible that after investing heavily in Trump, Putin may want to try and contain disagreements over Syria and focus on bolstering the overall relationship with cooperation in other areas.

What are the military risks if the US is drawn further into the Syrian conflict?

If the US decides to carry out further strikes, or take other military action against Assad, one of the main worries it that it could hit a Russian plane or soldiers.

What are the political risks of greater US involvement in the Syrian civil war?

One of the questions those opposed to Assad’s rule have struggled to answer for years is what Syria would look like if he was removed.

The struggle to imagine a Syria without Assad was one of the main reasons Obama was reluctant to intervene in support of rebels, and that has not changed.

US ability to project power, badly damaged by the disastrous outcome of the Iraq invasion, could also be at stake, along with the country’s slowly recovering economy.

The US can easily win one sided battles, but it’s hard to see there being any winners in the Syrian war. It is already lost.

A New York Times editorial also asks: After the Airstrikes on Syria, What’s Next?

It was hard not to feel some sense of emotional satisfaction, and justice done, when American cruise missiles struck an airfield in Syria on Thursday.

Americans seem to get satisfaction from showing off their military power.

But it is also hard not to feel unsettled by the many questions raised by President Trump’s decision. Among them: Was it legal? Was it an impetuous, isolated response unrelated to a larger strategy for resolving the complex dilemma of Syria, a nation tormented not just by civil war but also by the fight against the Islamic State?

So far, there is no evidence that Mr. Trump has thought through the implications of using military force or figured out what to do next.

I doubt that he has.

For a man who had campaigned on an “America First” platform of avoiding entanglements in overseas conflicts and who repeatedly warned his predecessor, Barack Obama, against military action in Syria, Mr. Trump made a breathtaking turnaround in the space of 63 hours after the chemical attack.

Mr. Trump explained the shift by saying that he had been so deeply moved by television footage of child victims gasping for breath that “my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”

However sincere this sentiment, the spectacle of a president precipitously reversing course on war and peace on the basis of emotion or what his defenders describe as “instinct” does not inspire confidence.

To the contrary.

Trump and US military supporters may like his willingness to react to an atrocity with a military strike.

But Trump and US military opponents now now he is easily provoked into taking escalating action.

What if there is another gas attack in Syria? Or some other event that is deemed more atrocious than bombing buildings and people to rubble?

Trump has set a precedent, and if he doesn’t react militarily again he will appear weak or inconsistent.

This also works wider than Syria. What if there is a gas attack in Iraq? Yemen? Afghanistan? Pakistan? Israel? What would Trump do then?

North Korea? What easier way would there be for someone (it doesn’t really matter who) to drop a gas bomb on Korea (North or South would suffice) to kick off a war there?

A bomb wouldn’t even have to be dropped, it would only need to be threatened. The White House has already said they wouldn’t rule out a pre-emptive attack on North Korea.

Trump may think he has been decisive, but his action could have very complicated consequences.

Sounding tough, and acting tough, can be easy with single events and reactions. But it has established a precedent that Trump may have a lot of difficulty dealing with now, and not just in Syria.

Has Trump been sucked in to Syrian attack?

Who was responsible for the attack in Syria using chemical weapons? And why were chemical weapons introduced?

The President Trump and the United States have blamed the Syrian government, and launched a missile attack on a Syrian airfield and have warned the US is “prepared to do more.”

The Telegraph: US strikes on Syria: Nikki Haley tells UN: ‘We are prepared to do more. But we hope that will not be necessary’

US missile strikes on a Syrian air base have reportedly killed nine civilians – including four children – as Donald Trump launched the first direct American attack on Bashar Assad’s regime.

Four children are reported to be among nine civilians killed in the “targeted assault” on the air base, from where Mr Trump said a devastating nerve agent strike was launched earlier this week. Six servicemen are believed to have also been killed.

Mr Trump was reacting to the attack on Tuesday that killed at least 72 people, including 20 children, which he said was launched by Syrian president Assad.

Why would Assad use a nerve gas, knowing that it would be internationally condemned, and would risk an unpredictable reaction from President Trump. It was certain to complicate an already very messy multi-country situation in Syria.

Trump ordered a missile strike, and it seems to have provoked the Russians

Russia called the attack an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law”, with President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman saying he believed the US had carried out the strikes under a “far-fetched pretext”.

Vladimir Safronkov, the deputy Russian ambassador to the UN, accused Britain of “colonial hypocrisy” in supporting the US air strikes, and said the rational was based on “lies”.

He warned Britain: “don’t get into fights in the Arab world”, and accused the US of “facilitating terrorism”.

Russia has diverted a warship to protect the Syrian coast and vowed to bolster Bashar al-Assad’s missile defences against more US strikes, risking a confrontation between the former Cold World foes.

The Kremlin also announced it was immediately suspending its air safety agreement with the US in response to missile strikes on a Syrian air base.

The memorandum, signed in October 2015, is designed to avoid clashes in the crowded airspace over Syria, with each side giving the other warning over planned strikes.

So that raises risks of escalation.

Mr Assad’s office denounced US strikes as a “rash”  action, describing the attack as “reckless, irresponsible behaviour” and that Washington was “naively dragged in by a false propaganda campaign”.

Has Trump been sucked in to the Syrian attack? If so by whom?

There are three certainties in war, death, destruction and propaganda. And a fourth – mistakes.

There are reports emerging suggestion at least some Russian responsibility for the chemical attack, and possibly complicity.

NY Post: Pentagon probes whether Russia had part in Syrian gas attack

Senior US military officials say the Pentagon is looking into whether Russia participated in the Syrian chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town, according to the Associated Press.

A drone belonging either to Russia or Syria was seen hovering over the site of the chemical weapons attack Tuesday after it happened, the officials told The AP.

The unmanned aerial vehicle returned later in the day as people sought treatment at a local hospital, which was bombed a short time later.

The officials say they believe the hospital strike may have been an effort to cover up evidence of the chemical weapons attack.

A Syrian Air Force Su-22 warplane was monitored dropping a chemical weapons bomb that landed in Khan Sheikhun, where 86 people were killed, including 28 children, The Washington Examiner reported.

Two officials who briefed reporters at the Pentagon Friday said the US had no evidence of Russian complicity, but that any leads would be followed up.

“Any implication or lead that would indicate Russian involvement, we’ll investigate that lead,” one official said, the paper reported.

The officials said Russia has failed to control the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons.

Russia may or may not have been directly involved, but the fact that it is being reported that the Pentagon is investigating will increase tensions between the US and Russia even more.

Whoever used the gas in an attack in Syria will have known there was likely to be serious consequences and most likely an escalation of an already very messy and high tension situation.

International brinkmanship and war often has unintended consequences, and high-ego leaders often start down paths that they won’t reconsider, at least not until serious damage has been done.

A few Syrian kids getting gassed may be a relatively minor consequence of this escalation.

During last year’s presidential campaign Donald Trump was asked if he could “look children aged five, eight, ten, in the face and tell them they can’t go to school here”.

He responded: “I can look in their faces and say ‘You can’t come’. I’ll look them in the face.”

He looked into dead children’s faces a few days ago and used that horror as a reason to actively involve the US in the Syrian war.

He won’t get to look most of the children that die as a result of this. Neither will Assad. Nor Putin.

It seems certain that someone, whether it was Assad or Putin or one of their opponents, used the gas attack to deliberately provoke Trump, and it got a result. But that was just one short battle in what has already been a lengthy war. And it could get worse. Possibly a lot worse.

It was fairly obvious that Trump would be easily provoked. He has already proven to be an unpredictable reactionary irrational egomaniac.

Does it matter now who sucked trump into Syria? The fact is it has happened. Now the Middle east and possibly the world has to live with the consequences.

But not everyone – how many children won’t get to live to see how bad it gets?