What Now?! – January 8, 2020

Iran attacked at least two American bases in western Iraq early Wednesday, “the start of what Iran had promised would be retaliation for the killing of a top Revolutionary Guards commander,” the New York Times reports.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said in a statement: “The fierce revenge by the Revolutionary Guards has begun.”

The Washington Post reports the White House said that President Trump is monitoring the situation and consulting with his national security team.

God help us all.

Josh Marshall on the possibilities we face now: “One possibility is a broad series of attacks which do relatively little real damage and are intended as such. Another is a major attack meant to inflict a lot of damage on US installations, to make the US bleed, in other words.

If it’s the latter we’re all in a lot of trouble. If by later this evening we’re seeing reports of numerous US military fatalities it’s unlikely that we won’t react in kind and then we’re just in a very bad descent.

If it’s the former, there’s a good argument for strategic restraint. […] This all starts with the terrible decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and try to wage economic warfare against Iran. The degeneration over the last year stems from that decision. For the moment, though, what’s done is done. What really matters is just what the Iranian military did tonight (which we don’t know the answer to) and how the US responds.

The US does not need to rush. We don’t need to react to every provocation. We already hurt Iran really, really badly. They’re going to respond. The question is how. If they do launch a face-saving barrage with little real damage that can be a place to stop. We need to be looking for off ramps and thinking seriously about where we want this to go.”

“President Trump has sought to demonstrate strong and decisive leadership in the targeted killing of Iran’s top general, but he has overseen a chaotic and mistake-prone public response since the operation — raising questions over the administration’s preparation to anticipate and deal with the consequences,” the Washington Post reports.

“The flurry of events has led to a sense of confusion in the White House and a lack of clarity around a highly sensitive operation that the administrations of his two predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, had chosen not to take due to risks that it could spark a regional war.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that he’ll move ahead on approving rules for President Trump’s Senate trial without negotiating them with Democrats, the New York Times reports.

“Mr. McConnell shared his intentions with senators over lunch in the Capitol, declaring that he has the votes he needs — including among moderate Republicans — to proceed with the trial while putting off a final decision on witnesses or new evidence. That would mean the Senate would tackle those questions after representatives of the House and the president make opening arguments and senators question both sides.”

“Notably, the plan offers no guarantee that senators will hear new testimony beyond what the House’s inquiry gathered last fall.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democrats in a closed-door meeting Tuesday night that she would not move to transmit articles of impeachment to the Senate until she learns more about how the other chamber would conduct the trial, the Washington Post reports.

Schumer said that Democrats will force votes on witnesses at the start of the impeachment trial even as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has secured enough support to delay the decision until mid-trial, The Hill  reports. Said Schumer: “Make no mistake, on the question of witnesses and documents, Republicans may run but they can’t hide. There will be votes at the beginning on whether to call the four witnesses we’ve proposed and subpoena the documents we’ve identified.”

He added: “America and the eyes of history will be watching what my Republican colleagues do.”

Josh Marshall: “[E]very emphasis should be on the half dozen Republican senators facing challenging reelection races in November. If they won’t shift, fine: lock in that fact now. Lock it in and drag it out. They said they would insist on a fair trial. They didn’t! What happened? Again and again.

There’s far too much rolling over and playing dead if you can’t force someone else’s actions. That’s a silly way of thinking about politics. If these six have decided to go with a rigged trial, great: lock that reality in in their states now.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) suggested on Fox & Friends that if Democrats hadn’t focused on impeaching President Trump, then perhaps Trump wouldn’t have had to order the assassination of a top Iranian general. Is that an admission of the Wag the Dog theory?

Likewise, conservative talk show host Howie Carr writes in the Boston Herald about his time at Mar-a-Lago as President Trump ordered the assassination of Iran Gen. Qassem Souleimani. Trump was more interested in discussing whether ‘Bernie or Biden’ would be easier to beat in November.

Washington Post: “Trump, who rarely makes major moves without first calculating the ramifications for his popularity and self-image, has confided to advisers that he sees a political upside in his hard-line approach to Iran at the dawn of this year’s campaign.”

“Trump believes he has an opportunity to expand his support among voters as a wartime commander in chief and is trying to cast his Democratic critics as soft on terrorism, they said. They added that he sees his party as more united behind him than ever, even as his impeachment trial looms in the Senate, with some Republicans now arguing that it would be irresponsible and dangerous to remove a president amid a national security crisis.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell broke with President Trump by saying it would not be appropriate to target Iranian cultural sites if hostilities escalate, The Hill reports. Said McConnell: “That is not appropriate.”

In an Oval Office press availability, Trump appeared to back off of his earlier threat to target Iranian cultural sites: “If that is the law is, I like to obey the law.”

“The administration tore up the Iran agreement, placed a significant, severe embargo on Iran, and then killed one of their major generals — nobody in their right mind would actually think that that would lead to negotiations. So when Secretary of State Pompeo’s out there saying, ‘Well, maximum pressure, our goal is to get them back to the negotiating table,’ no naive child would believe that, you would have to be brain-dead to believe that.”

— Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), on CNN.

Federal prosecutors recommended up to 6 months of incarceration for former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a reversal of their request for leniency one year ago, saying he no longer accepts responsibility for his criminal conduct and that he sought to undermine prosecutors, Politico reports.

CNN: “Trump has been lambasting Obama for years, even before he ran for the top job. Recently, though he’s been doing it more often. A November analysis from CNN’s Daniel Dale shows Trump has mentioned Obama and the Obama administration by name more frequently in the past 18 months than he had in the first 18 months of his presidency.”

Writes Dale: “Through October, Trump had mentioned Obama by name 537 times during 2019 as a whole — an average of 1.8 times per day.”

He knows Obama will always be better at literally everything, and it drives him insane.

“Defense Secretary Mark Esper sought to douse an international outcry on Monday by ruling out military attacks on cultural sites in Iran if the conflict with Tehran escalates further, despite President Trump’s threat to destroy some of the country’s treasured icons,” the New York Times reports.

“Mr. Esper acknowledged that striking cultural sites with no military value would be a war crime, putting him at odds with the president, who insisted such places would be legitimate targets.”

“The furor was a classic controversy of Mr. Trump’s creation, the apparent result of an impulsive threat and his refusal to back down in the face of criticism.”

Politico: “President Trump’s lawyers have their strategy in place for the upcoming Senate impeachment trial. All they need now is a start date. Coordinating over the last month, the White House counsel’s office and the president’s team of private lawyers have prepared a detailed legal brief pushing back against last month’s House-passed impeachment articles that seek Trump’s removal from office for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.”

“That document, according to a person familiar with the Trump legal strategy, is modeled after one that President Bill Clinton’s lawyers submitted at the start of his 1999 Senate impeachment trial — which ended a month later with his acquittal. Trump’s lawyers have also been preparing their oral arguments — and who will give them.”

Politico: “It’s hard to imagine anything eclipsing the imminent impeachment trial of President Trump. But that’s where Congress finds itself with the United States on the brink of military conflict with Iran.”

“Lawmakers are left struggling to prioritize the two dramas — and could for weeks if Iran retaliates against the United States while the Senate considers removing Trump. It’s a microcosm of Trump’s frenetic presidency: The plodding pace of Congress has it barely keeping up as an institution.”

New York Times: “In the tense hours following the American killing of a top Iranian military commander, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made a rare appearance at a meeting of the government’s National Security Council to lay down the parameters for any retaliation. It must be a direct and proportional attack on American interests, he said, openly carried out by Iranian forces themselves, three Iranians familiar with the meeting said Monday.”

“It was a startling departure for the Iranian leadership. Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Tehran had almost always cloaked its attacks behind the actions of proxies it had cultivated around the region.”

Financial Times: “During four days of mourning, huge crowds have demanded retribution for the assassination last week of their most revered military leader. Publicly, the regime has issued bellicose statements — threatening a ‘historic nightmare’ for the US and warning that it has ‘13 scenarios’ for retaliation.”

“But in private, even hardliners have said Tehran must strike back but avoid a full-blown conflict.”

New York Times: “In the tense hours following the American killing of a top Iranian military commander, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made a rare appearance at a meeting of the government’s National Security Council to lay down the parameters for any retaliation. It must be a direct and proportional attack on American interests, he said, openly carried out by Iranian forces themselves, three Iranians familiar with the meeting said Monday.”

Former GOP strategist Steve Schmidt to Rolling Stone:

“People try to analyze Lindsey through the prism of the manifest inconsistencies that exist between things that he used to believe and what he’s doing now. The way to understand him is to look at what’s consistent. And essentially what he is in American politics is what, in the aquatic world, would be a pilot fish: a smaller fish that hovers about a larger predator, like a shark, living off of its detritus. That’s Lindsey. And when he swam around the McCain shark, broadly viewed as a virtuous and good shark, Lindsey took on the patina of virtue. But wherever the apex shark is, you find the Lindsey fish hovering about, and Trump’s the newest shark in the sea. Lindsey has a real draw to power — but he’s found it unattainable on his own merits.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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