Trump en­forces red line he drew on Iran

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Marc A. Thiessen Colum­nist Fol­low Marc A. Thiessen on Twit­ter, @marc­thiessen.

Pres­i­dent Trump’s de­ci­sion to kill Ira­nian Quds Force com­man­der Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani should have come as no sur­prise to the Ira­nian regime. The ad­min­is­tra­tion had drawn a clear red line, warn­ing Ira­nian lead­ers they would pay a se­vere price if they killed a U.S. cit­i­zen.

The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported last sum­mer that, dur­ing a May visit to Bagh­dad, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo “pri­vately de­liv­ered warn­ings in­tended for Ira­nian lead­ers that any at­tack by Tehran or its prox­ies re­sult­ing in the death of even one Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­ber will gen­er­ate a mil­i­tary coun­ter­at­tack.” The United States had seen a spike in in­tel­li­gence that Ira­ni­an­backed mili­tias might re­sume the kinds of at­tacks against U.S. forces that were com­mon dur­ing the Iraq war. Pom­peo said this would not be tol­er­ated.

The mes­sage the ad­min­is­tra­tion sent to Iran was crys­tal clear: (1) any at­tacks on Amer­i­cans would elicit a mil­i­tary re­sponse; and (2) the United States would hence­forth hold Iran re­spon­si­ble for the ac­tions of its ter­ror­ist prox­ies. To un­der­score the mes­sage, Trump des­ig­nated the Is­lamic Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps — in­clud­ing its Quds Force — as a for­eign ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion. This made Soleimani a le­git­i­mate mil­i­tary tar­get.

For months, Iran danced around Trump’s new red line, car­ry­ing out in­creas­ingly bold at­tacks against U.S. tar­gets, al­lies and in­ter­ests — but as­sid­u­ously avoid­ing U.S. ca­su­al­ties. First, it at­tacked Ja­panese and Nor­we­gian oil tankers. Then, it shot down an un­manned U.S. drone (while avoid­ing a manned Amer­i­can P-8 air­craft that was re­port­edly fly­ing in the area). Then, it at­tacked Saudi oil fa­cil­i­ties.

In each case, the pres­i­dent demon­strated enor­mous re­straint. He tight­ened eco­nomic sanc­tions on the regime in Tehran. He launched cy­ber­at­tacks against Iran’s mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties. And he warned Iran that his pa­tience was not with­out lim­its. “I think a lot of re­straint has been shown by us but that doesn’t mean we’re go­ing to show it in the fu­ture,” Trump said.

Iran mis­read Trump’s re­straint for weak­ness — and mis­cal­cu­lated. On Dec. 27, an Ira­nian proxy mili­tia, Kataib Hezbol­lah, launched a rocket at­tack against a mil­i­tary base in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk that killed a U.S. mil­i­tary con­trac­tor. With that at­tack, Iran crossed the red line Trump had set. Trump struck back mil­i­tar­ily, hit­ting Kataib Hezbol­lah tar­gets in Iraq and Syria — and U.S. of­fi­cials be­gan dis­cussing a strike against Iran.

Mean­while, Iran es­ca­lated fur­ther. Kataib Hezbol­lah over­ran and set fire to the U.S. Em­bassy in Bagh­dad, an at­tack a se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial told me was co­or­di­nated with Soleimani. U.S. of­fi­cials watched as Soleimani flew into Bagh­dad to meet with Abu Mahdi al-Muhan­dis, the leader of the Kataib Hezbol­lah mili­tia. Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. of­fi­cial, the United States had “ex­quis­ite in­tel­li­gence” that the two men were plan­ning an at­tack that could have killed hun­dreds of Amer­i­cans.

Seiz­ing that op­por­tu­nity, Trump took them both out. His ac­tion was de­fen­sive, pre­emp­tive and law­ful. Had Trump not acted and more Amer­i­cans had died, he would have been ex­co­ri­ated — and rightly so. In­stead, he took bold ac­tion that dis­rupted that at­tack and took Soleimani and Muhan­dis off the bat­tle­field.

But in­stead of prais­ing Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ac­cused Trump of “en­gag­ing in provoca­tive and dis­pro­por­tion­ate ac­tions” and com­plained in a state­ment that he had done so with­out con­sult­ing Congress and “with­out an Au­tho­riza­tion for Use of Mil­i­tary Force (AUMF) against Iran.”

That is ab­surd. Trump did not need an AUMF. Soleimani and Muhan­dis were both des­ig­nated as global ter­ror­ists. Muhan­dis was des­ig­nated in 2009, and ac­cord­ing to U.S. of­fi­cials was re­spon­si­ble for smug­gling ar­mor-pierc­ing IEDs from Iran into Iraq that killed hun­dreds of U.S. sol­diers. Soleimani was his com­man­der and the ar­chi­tect of vir­tu­ally ev­ery ma­jor Ira­nian ter­ror­ist ac­tion for decades. They were in the midst of plan­ning an­other at­tack, re­port­edly against the U.S. Em­bassy, which is sov­er­eign U.S. ter­ri­tory. Trump does not need Congress’ per­mis­sion to take mil­i­tary ac­tion to pro­tect U.S. cit­i­zens from ter­ror­ists.

And Trump’s ac­tion was not “provoca­tive.” He is not the one es­ca­lat­ing; Iran has been es­ca­lat­ing for months. And now, Iran needs to un­der­stand that if it es­ca­lates fur­ther in re­sponse to this de­fen­sive ac­tion, the United States has made clear what the next step will be. In pub­lic com­ments last sum­mer, Pom­peo said that if Iran killed Amer­i­cans in Iraq, the U.S. “re­sponse likely would not take place in Iraq but would likely take place in Iran it­self.”

Trump hit Soleimani in Iraq be­cause he made the mis­take of com­ing there to plan a ter­ror­ist at­tack. But if Iran mis­cal­cu­lates again, then the regime has been warned: Next time, the tar­get will likely be Iran.

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