Remember when 2019 ended, and we were all giddy from blowing up balloons and acting super optimistic about the new decade?
‘Oh, 2020 is gonna be a fresh start,’ we gushed, trying not to spill champagne on our underpants, ‘I can just tell it’s got good vibes!’
Fast forward two weeks and a constant news cycle of catastrophes has left us feeling dead inside again. Not to be outdone by the looming promise of environmental apocalypse, Donald Trump decided to stir things up on January 3 by assassinating Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani with a drone airstrike.
Soleimani was commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force, which not only oversaw operations in Iran but controlled and supported terrorists and militias all over the Middle East and beyond, including its proxy force in Lebanon, Hezbollah. While certainly not a nice dude, many experts—both in the US and worldwide—have condemned Soleimani’s killing as ‘crossing a line.’ This wasn’t some random ISIS commando; he was an official member of Iran’s government.
Trump claimed he killed of Soleimani due to the threat of ‘imminent attacks.’ However, in the weeks since the strike, his administration has been unable to provide any evidence of such threats. In fact, they’ve failed so completely that even fellow Republicans have begun to call bullshit, as you’ll read below.
Some sources claim Trump authorized the Iranian general’s demise last summer, at the urging of his Secretary of State and a now-former national security adviser, after Iran shot down a United States drone—but only if Iran actually killed an American.
Which they did, on December 27, when a rocket attack targeting an Iraqi base killed 33-year-old American contractor Nawres Hamid. An emigrant from Iraq, Hamid was a naturalized US citizen. Four US military members were also wounded. The United States, alleging the attack was carried out by the Iranian-backed Shiite militia Kataeb Hezbollah, launched airstrikes on the group’s weapons caches, killing 25 militiamen in the process.
In response, on New Year’s Eve, around 6,000 people—many said to be associated with Kataeb Hezbollah—stormed and breached the grounds of the United States embassy in Baghdad. Throwing Molotov cocktails, they attempted to gain access to the embassy itself, but failed.
This violation prompted Trump to send hundreds more troops to the Middle East, tweeting that Iran would pay a ‘BIG PRICE.’
….Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2019
Then, three days later, Soleimani exploded.
After Soleimani’s assassination, Iraq’s Parliament voted on January 5 to expel US troops from their country. Trump has refused to do so, threatening Baghdad with ‘sanctions like they’ve never seen before’ if they persist. The same day, Iran announced it was ending its commitment to limit enriching uranium, a condition of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran, the United States, and European Union. It would, however, still allow United Nations inspectors into their nuclear facilities, and would consider reversing their decision if all sanctions were lifted… In 2018, Trump pulled the US out of the deal and leveraged his own sanctions against Iran.
On January 6, millions gathered in Tehran for Soleimani’s funeral. Many demanded revenge, a threat echoed that evening on Iranian State Television by Soleimani’s successor, Esmail Ghaani, who promised, ‘certain actions will be taken.’
Not surprisingly, these threats irritated Trump, who tweeted that he’d ‘targeted 52 Iranian sites’—one for each American hostage taken and held for 444 days by Iran in 1979—that were ‘very important to Iran & the Iranian culture.’ While Democrats and the media debated whether Trump’s threat constituted a war crime (it’s against a 1954 treaty to target cultural property) the world held its breath to see what would happen next.
They didn’t wait very long.
On January 7, Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases housing US troops. Despite an initial muddle of contradictory and incorrect news reports, when the dust cleared there were no US casualties; they’d likely been warned ahead of time and taken cover, thanks to a missile alert facility.
Around the time of this assault, Iran also mistakenly shot down a passenger jet flying from their own capital of Tehran to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Onboard were 167 passengers and nine crew members. In the days that followed Iran would initially deny involvement, until finally, under international pressure, admit their mistake and ultimately announce the arrests of those responsible. The downing of the plane has resulted in days of mass protests throughout Iran, with reports of Iranian police opening fire on protestors.
On January 14, France, the U.K., and Germany formally accused Iran of breaching the 2015 nuclear agreement, triggering a process that could, after a period of talks, end the agreement and lead to renewed United Nations sanctions against Iran. Media reports coming out as this article was being written allege Trump privately threatened European leaders to launch the complaint, threatening a 25% tariff on European automobiles if they didn’t comply.
Politicking aside, the past week has seen both the United States and Iran indicating neither wanted further military escalation.
Until today, that is.
Speaking on January 15 in Dubai, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani railed against the US and EU for their presence in the Middle East and for failing to uphold their end of the nuclear deal. He demanded the US to retreat from the region and apologize for its ‘previous crimes,’ adding thinly veiled threats against both US and EU troops.
In the United States, Trump has his own problems brewing.
Earlier today the Trump administration suddenly cancelled three classified Iran-related briefings amidst growing accusations of misleading the public in regards to their motives in killing Soleimani. Following a move last week by the Democrat-dominated U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican-led Senate is compiling a measure that would limit Trump’s authority to strike Iran, requiring the president to cease all military action against Iran unless first authorized by Congress. In drafting their own measure, rather than voting on the one sent from the House, the Senate’s bill will require a signature from—guess who?—Trump in order for it to become law.
Previous attempts to limit Trump’s power—such as preventing him from selling arms to Saudi Arabia—have been met with a presidential veto instead of a signature.
Were they to vote to enact the measure sent from the House, meaning both bodies were in agreement, it would become law no matter what Trump did or said.
It’s worth noting that while the United States and Iran have a decades-long history of mutual aggression, it wasn’t always that way. Back in 1953, Iran had a beloved, democratically elected president named Mohammed Mossadegh. Upset that his country’s rich oil reserves were controlled by the United Kingdom, Mossadegh decided to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, in effect ejecting the UK. Incensed, the UK asked the USA to do something. Which they did. Recently declassified documents show the CIA employed Iranian organized crime figures to stir up a coup that pushed Mossadegh out and transferred power to the US-backed Shaw Mohammad Teza Pahlavi. Pahlavi, in turn, dissolved the oil monopoly, granting control to five American petroleum companies.
The rest, as they say, is history. Or history in the making…