Tom Clyde: A quiet week in Lake Wobegon
It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon. Nothing much happened.
OK, there was that day that the US blew the Iranian special forces commander to smithereens in his car at the Baghdad airport, putting the world on the brink of World War III.
So there was that.
And then the Iraqi government, such as it is, told us that if we were going to randomly blow up Iranian leaders in their airport, we had overstayed our welcome in their country. If we were going to have a war with Iran, they don’t want us doing it in their house. They didn’t want to get involved, so they told us to pack up and leave.
The U.S. general on the ground then sent a letter to the Iraqi government saying, “OK, we’re out of here. The food sucks and the air conditioning is broken. We’re gone.”
Then, after sending that letter, maybe without having cleared it with higher command (or maybe with higher command being thoroughly confused), word came from the Pentagon and White House that, no, we were not actually leaving Iraq, but we were ready for a war with Iran. The official letter was a mistake. A butt dial, with pages of detailed descriptions of what the exit would look like so Iraq wouldn’t be puzzled by the troop movements.
While that mix-up was undermining confidence in functional US leadership at any level, Iran did exactly what everybody expected, and responded to their second-in-command having been blown up. They lobbed missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq.
The reports from the impeached President of the United States, IMPOTUS, the Very Stable Genius himself, were that the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani was about to lead an imminent strike against the US, and that killing him was essential to preempt that. Then they backed off, saying he was generally a bad guy (which everybody agrees on), and had done lots of bad stuff (which everybody agrees on), and so taking him out was OK. But the imminent plot seems to have melted away.
Following the missile strikes, the Very Stable Genius said that no US forces were injured. We’re supposed to believe him. It’s not clear if any Iraqi forces were injured, but apparently nobody much cares about them. If the missile strikes really didn’t injure any US troops, that’s good news. It also suggests that the Iranians were slightly pulling their punches, so they could show that they had the ability to make a lethal response to US action, but maybe didn’t need to escalate the situation.
Over about 4 days, we went from the brink of all out war to pulling back to something that will look like repeated and reciprocal skirmishes, like cyberattacks and small-scale terror attacks — in other words, “normal.” But I’m writing this on Wednesday, and anything can happen between now and this landing on your driveway.
The stock market crashed on Tuesday night with word of the Iranian missiles, then set new records on Wednesday morning when Iran said it was through with large-scale retaliation unless IMPOTUS does something stupid. So far, he hasn’t, though we are always one Tweet away from disaster with him. Who would have thought that the religious fanatics running Iran would be the reasonable party in all of this.
Remember George W. Bush and the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? They weren’t there, and the lie ruined Bush’s reputation and took down Colin Powell with him. It feels so familiar.
At a time when the world really needs to be able to believe that blowing up the Iranian general was justified by an imminent threat, we get mush. Congress wasn’t brought into the loop until after it was over, despite their constitutional power over war-making.
In the end, so much of this hinges on Presidential credibility with the American people and with other countries. Trump is without credibility. It’s just as likely that this was all a stunt to distract from the impeachment, as that there was a real threat.
So we’ve backed off from the ledge, and settled into the sort of normal level of Middle East chaos. Nobody seems to know what’s next. If there’s a goal in mind, I’m not sure what it is. If there is a strategy in place, it’s not evident. I thought it was defeating what has morphed into ISIS, but we yanked the rug out from under the Kurdish fighters who had been effective allies in that fight. I’d love to hear the 30-second elevator pitch explaining why we are still there, what we hope to accomplish, and how we will know when it’s done. Instead, we have Iran cooking nuclear weapons again.
Yes, it’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are cowering under their beds.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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