/As Tensions With Iran Escalated, Trump Opted for Most Extreme Measure

As Tensions With Iran Escalated, Trump Opted for Most Extreme Measure


michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”

Today: From Iraq to Washington, penalties are mounting after the United States assassinated Iranian General Qassim Suleimani. Helene Cooper on why President Trump selected to do it. It’s Monday, January 6.

Helene, what will we find out about what led as much as this extraordinary resolution by the U.S. to take out General Suleimani?

helene cooper

Well, from what we’ve been capable of piece collectively over the previous few days, all of this began on December 27.

archived recording

And simply into Fox, an American contractor was simply killed in northern Iraq in a rocket assault, and several other U.S. troops had been additionally injured.

helene cooper

When an Iranian-backed Shiite militia group launched an assault in Iraq that ended up killing an American contractor.

archived recording

This is simply the newest in a spate of comparable rocket assaults, however it’s the primary time that we’re truly seeing U.S. casualties.

helene cooper

Right after this occurred, the Pentagon drew up the perennial checklist of choices that the Defense Department is all the time retaining for the president to reply and resolve what he’s going to do with a view to reply to the assault. General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper each flew to Mar-a-Lago, the place President Trump was spending the vacations, and met with him, presenting him this checklist of how do you reply to what the administration instantly decided was an Iranian-backed assault. One choice included placing Iranian ships. Another choice was placing, maybe, a missile web site or two, or trying for a approach to launch airstrikes towards the Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq that had began this. Also on the checklist was one excessive choice, which was to launch an assault, which might actually be a focused assassination, truly, of General Qassim Suleimani, who’s the pinnacle of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Quds Force, and it’s mainly Iran’s very muscular, but covert, arm of the Iranian army. He’s, in essence, probably the most senior army commander in Iran. This is one thing that the Defense Department typically does, is they’ll put an excessive choice on the desk as a result of they’ll all the time give all choices to the president, however it’s virtually their manner of nudging the president towards an choice that they like, proper? If you set one thing that’s seen as slightly bit loopy on the market, then you definitely get him to do what you need. President Trump, on the time, didn’t select the nuclear choice.

archived recording (mike pompeo)

What we did was take a decisive response that makes clear what President Trump has stated for months and months and months, which is that we’ll not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American women and men in jeopardy.

helene cooper

He went for, let’s launch an assault on the Shiite militia group that launched the assault that killed the American contractor.

archived recording 1

The Pentagon says it carried out army strikes in Iraq and Syria, focusing on a militia group.

archived recording 2

A spokesman for the group says U.S. airstrikes killed no less than 25 of their fighters and harm greater than 50 others. This occurred in Iraq and Syria yesterday.

michael barbaro

So the president, in the long run, chooses a fairly measured sort of tit-for-tat response. We had been attacked by missiles, so we are going to assault with missiles.

helene cooper

Exactly, and we’ll assault who attacked us.

michael barbaro

Got it.

archived recording (mark esper)

I might add that, in our dialogue right this moment with the president, we mentioned with him different choices which can be obtainable, and I might word additionally that we’ll take extra actions as mandatory to make sure that we act in our personal self-defense, and we deter additional unhealthy habits from militia teams or from Iran.

helene cooper

So then, a few days later, President Trump continues to be at Mar-a-Lago, and he’s watching TV. He’s nonetheless offended in regards to the preliminary Shiite militia assault that killed the American contractor, however now he’s seeing, on TV, all of those video photos of Iranian-backed protesters attacking the American Embassy in Baghdad.

archived recording 1

A chaotic scene as protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad right this moment, scaling the partitions, forcing the gates, and setting fires contained in the closely guarded compound whereas diplomats had been trapped inside. Some protesters had been chanting, “Death to America.”

archived recording 2

[CHANTING]

helene cooper

And one of many first issues that come to his thoughts is Benghazi and the assault on the American Consulate in Benghazi in 2011 that led to the loss of life of 4 Americans, together with the ambassador to Libya.

michael barbaro

Which was an assault of protesters —

helene cooper

Yes.

michael barbaro

— on an American, basically, embassy-like constructing.

helene cooper

Yes.

archived recording

How would you could have dealt with that, when you had been watching, in actual time, Americans below fireplace on the American Consulate, and an envoy below fireplace?

archived recording (donald trump)

Well, it will have by no means taken place, as a result of I believe —

helene cooper

President Trump, throughout his marketing campaign, and for years after the preliminary assault in Benghazi, actually went after Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state on the time, for not doing sufficient to forestall that. And this had been a rallying cry throughout his 2016 marketing campaign, so this was a fairly large deal for him.

archived recording (donald trump)

Horribly dealt with. A horrible management. She’s a horrible chief.

helene cooper

So he’s watching, now, these assaults which can be taking place below his personal watch, and he’s occupied with Benghazi, in line with his aides that we talked to. He’s additionally occupied with the 1979 assault on the American Embassy in Iran that led to the hostage disaster. He’s getting an increasing number of offended, in line with his aides, after which he calls for his menu of choices once more, and this time, he picks the intense choice.

michael barbaro

And so that is the second when the president calls for the strike on Suleimani, this prime basic.

helene cooper

That’s proper. Pentagon officers and administration officers had been very shocked, as a result of it’s one factor to offer an choice to a president. It’s one other factor for him to truly do it. They had put that choice on the menu for President Trump, not considering that he would take it, and now he has taken it. So the Defense Department went into motion. This is one thing that the American Defense Department, fairly tragically, virtually, is superb at doing. We know how you can kill individuals, and we’ve got been monitoring, for greater than a decade, virtually 20 years, Qassim Suleimani. So intelligence-wise, we had intelligence stories that he can be flying into Baghdad International Airport that evening. There was some query now, because the army is organising, simply form of the mechanics of how this strike goes to be performed. The Pentagon had decided that, if he was met, for occasion, by Iraqi officers who had been pleasant in the direction of the United States, they’d not go forward with the strike. If he was not, they’d. When General Suleimani’s airplane landed, he was met by the pinnacle of considered one of Iraq’s Iranian-backed Shia militias, who was seen by the United States as any individual who — I believe the phrase they used was a “clean party,” that means it’s O.Ok. to kill him. It’s sort of a bizarre manner of claiming it.

michael barbaro

So a clear occasion means any individual we don’t thoughts killing?

helene cooper

Exactly. Exactly. And in order that they approved the strike and blew up the two-car convoy because it was leaving Baghdad International Airport.

archived recording 1

In a dramatic escalation of tensions within the Middle East, a U.S. airstrike has killed Iran’s most necessary army commander.

archived recording 2

This was a swift, exact army strike that has big, unpredictable and presumably long-term penalties.

michael barbaro

So assist us to grasp the importance of this resolution by the president. Why was this ever an choice given to him, even when it was probably the most excessive choice? And why do we predict he selected it?

helene cooper

It’s exhausting to clarify why President Trump selected to take this selection. I believe many people don’t perceive it ourselves. The administration will inform you that he’s a really unhealthy man, and there’s no denying that. The administration may even inform you that he’s accountable for the loss of life of tons of of American troops. That is true as properly. The situation, although — that has been true for years and years, as American troops have battled some Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq, and each Presidents Bush and Obama made the choice to not kill Suleimani as a result of he was a basic with the Iranian army, and the United States historically doesn’t go round assassinating army generals. The final time we did this was in 1943 throughout World War II, once we took out a Japanese admiral. Iran is a sovereign state. Assassinating considered one of their officers is just about virtually the identical factor as assassinating the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or a high-ranking American official, after which come clean with it and take credit score for it. It’s simply not one thing that’s usually typically carried out in broad daylight. But we also needs to keep in mind that, only a month in the past, President Trump approved the killing of Baghdadi that ISIS had, and he obtained a variety of superb and deserved credit score for that. The administration now, right this moment, will attempt to make the equal that General Suleimani is identical as Baghdadi, that he’s a terrorist, and he has actually been behind many proxy terrorist acts by Iranian-backed teams in Yemen, in Lebanon, in Iraq and in Syria. So that has been rising in current months because the United States has choked off Iran economically.

archived recording 1

We’re following a number of breaking tales, together with Iran’s seizure of no less than one oil tanker within the Strait of Hormuz right this moment, and there are actually conflicting stories about whether or not a second tanker was seized. Iran is clearly messaging that they maintain playing cards right here, however as this continues to go on, what is going to Iran proceed to do?

archived recording 2

Well, you understand, Brianna, I believe it’s necessary that we perceive what’s motivating Iran proper now. Look, because the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, and the administration imposed new sanctions on Iran, these sanctions have completely crippled Iran’s financial system.

helene cooper

That led the Iranian regime to begin, as lots of people on the Pentagon say, appearing out, and also you noticed a rise in assaults from Iran, which has been punching out as a result of it was being punched. And that is without doubt one of the causes that the administration has now given for why this strike was taken. The different large motive, although, leads again to this, which is that the administration is saying that Suleimani was planning extra, much more high-profile assaults on the United States and on American pursuits and belongings within the area, and that this was eminent.

archived recording (mike pompeo)

We may see that he was persevering with down this path, that there have been in truth plots that he was engaged on that had been aimed straight at important hurt to American pursuits all through the area, not simply in Iraq.

helene cooper

You know, you’re listening to that from General Milley, the pinnacle of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. You heard that on Sunday from Secretary of State Pompeo.

archived recording (mike pompeo)

We would’ve been culpably negligent had we not taken this motion. The American individuals would have stated that we weren’t doing the suitable factor to guard and defend American lives.

helene cooper

Which is the argument that Suleimani was about to launch one other imminent assault on American pursuits.

michael barbaro

Helene, of all of the rationales that we’ve heard from the Trump administration, this appears to be a very powerful by way of explaining why we’d do that now, take out Suleimani. But after all, the U.S. has a really sophisticated historical past of utilizing potential threats to American pursuits as a rationale for actions abroad, particularly within the Middle East. So what does your reporting present about how we must be occupied with this rationalization of an imminent assault?

helene cooper

That’s such an attention-grabbing and key query, how we must be occupied with the administration rationale for this assault. Do we imagine them, or will we not? Our reporting reveals that it is dependent upon the place you stand. There is not any query that General Suleimani has deliberate, and was persevering with to plan, assaults towards the United States by these teams, however that’s been happening for greater than 15 years. So the query then turns into, why now? The administration says there was one thing imminent and massive that was about to occur, and they seem like basing that on intelligence stories that they’ve acquired about General Suleimani’s travels in the previous couple of days main as much as the assault that took his life. But these identical intel sources additionally say that he had been requested by Ayatollah Khamenei, who’s the supreme chief of Iran, to return again to Iran, that Khomeini had not approved something. He had requested permission, and he was not given it, and he was informed to return again to Iran. So that then belies the entire query of “imminent.” Does it develop into one thing that’s taking place in two days, or one thing that hasn’t even been authorized but? So what the administration, then, should reply to the American individuals, if this results in struggle, which it’d, is whether or not or not this assassination was price it.

[music]
michael barbaro

We’ll be proper again.

Helene, what has been the response within the Middle East within the days because the U.S. killed Suleimani?

helene cooper

The response because the U.S. killed Suleimani within the Middle East has been big.

archived recording

[YELLING AND CHANTING]

helene cooper

In Iran, the place protesters had, two weeks in the past, been protesting towards the regime, they’d now united, apparently, behind the regime, and had turned their ire on the United States.

archived recording

[YELLING AND CHANTING]

helene cooper

You’re seeing these acquainted views of American flags being burned within the streets.

archived recording

[PROTESTORS SPEAKING]

helene cooper

This large outpouring of mourners.

It’s actually ramped up the anti-American sentiment in Iran.

archived recording

[MOURNING PRAYER]

helene cooper

Meanwhile, in Baghdad, you’re seeing comparable outpourings of grief, however that’s been accompanied by the Iraqi Parliament voting unanimously this morning to expel the United States from Iraq. They didn’t put forth a timeline for withdrawal, so there’s nonetheless some wiggle room there. But significantly the Shiites and the Iraqi authorities are very, very offended on the United States proper now.

archived recording

[YELLING AND CHANTING]

helene cooper

You have to grasp that Iraq is made up of three very distinct teams — Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds — however it’s predominantly Shiite. Iran is Shiite as properly, and the Iraqi authorities may be very near Iran. The Shiites in Iraq are significantly near General Suleimani and look at him, in some ways, as considered one of their very own. They’re additionally upset, although, as a result of this was a focused killing of their nation. So in a lot the identical manner that if one thing like this occurred within the United States, the United States authorities can be upset. That’s one more reason why the Iraqi authorities is so offended.

michael barbaro

Helene, can Iraq and its legislature try this? Can they kick the U.S. troops overseas?

helene cooper

They can. Iraq can say, you might be not welcome. Remember, we’re there on the invitation of the Iraqi authorities, ostensibly to struggle the Islamic State. That battle is essentially over. So sure, the Iraqi authorities can kick the United States army out of Iraq. Whether they do or not, whether or not that is posturing, I don’t know but. Every couple of hours, you see one thing else. Right after the Iraqi Parliament voted, we noticed the Pentagon introduced that it was suspending the anti-ISIS coalition effort in Iraq. There are four,000 American troops who’ve been there, and that the troops who’re in Iraq might be centered on defending the American residents who’re nonetheless within the nation, however who’re being suggested to depart as quickly as doable. It’s like 2013 yet again, when the Obama administration ended fight and pulled troops out of Iraq. And you noticed the rise of ISIS as a result of as soon as the United States is gone and overseas, these different factions are given extra room to maneuver and extra room to thrive. And so you’ll be able to see how these occasions may result in a resurgence of ISIS if the bottom turns into clear for them to maneuver round extra freely.

michael barbaro

And wasn’t Suleimani additionally main an Iranian militia that was an enemy of ISIS?

helene cooper

Yes, there was a de facto cooperation between Suleimani and the United States within the struggle towards ISIS. They had been each against ISIS, they usually had been each combating ISIS on the identical turf.

michael barbaro

Right, which might have made, in a really slender and complex manner, Suleimani an ally in our struggle towards ISIS, although he’s our enemy in lots of different respects.

helene cooper

He was an ally in our struggle towards ISIS. That is right.

[music]
michael barbaro

Helene, the ripple results of all this are very sophisticated, however I ponder if there’s a easy mind-set about this, which is that in any case these months of provocation and response between the U.S. and Iran, that President Trump felt it was time for the U.S. to remind Iran that, on the finish of the day, we’re the army superpower, and our benefits over them are extraordinary and signify the sort of deterrent meaning, no matter Iran’s final response to that is, it is not going to be all that extreme — that, in a way, we simply referred to as Iran’s bluff.

helene cooper

That would work if we hadn’t began this to start with by pulling out of the Iranian nuclear deal, which was signed in 2015 below the Obama administration, and which was hated by President Trump and lots of Republicans.

archived recording (donald trump)

I’ve been in enterprise a very long time. I do know deal-making, and let me inform you, this deal is catastrophic for America, for Israel, and for the entire of the Middle East.

helene cooper

They seen it as too weak, and stated that it gave Iran rewards, because it did, by lifting sanctions for stopping their uranium enrichment, however didn’t handle Iran’s misbehavior, and that is the General Suleimani-type misbehavior, in different areas.

archived recording (donald trump)

The drawback right here is prime. We’ve rewarded the world’s main state sponsor of terror with $150 billion, and we acquired completely nothing in return.

helene cooper

When we pulled out of the nuclear deal, we reimposed sanctions on Iran, and put even stiffer sanctions on the nation. We began to punish firms and mainly informed the world, you both do enterprise with Iran, otherwise you do enterprise with America. And after all, many of the world selected America. That had the results of utterly placing a strangle on the Iranian financial system, and that’s sort of what has led to the Iranian regime then beginning escalating assaults towards the United States, as a result of it is a hard-line regime, they usually clearly imagine that in the event that they’re hurting, they’re going to drag the United States down into the mud with them.

michael barbaro

But doesn’t it nonetheless stand to motive that if that’s the scenario that we’re in, in a post-nuclear deal world, the place Iran decides that the one manner that it may function is with assaults by militias that it organizes towards the U.S., that taking out an individual like Suleimani is an inexpensive choice, given our superiority over Iran? We have nuclear weapons. They don’t. We have superpower army capabilities. They don’t. That doesn’t go away them with a complete lot of choices. Does it?

helene cooper

Back within the ‘80s, there was this tanker war, where Iran, Iraq and the U.S. were all going after each other. And they made the Persian Gulf an impossible place, and the price of oil went way up. And it ended up with the United States, by mistake, shooting down an Iranian passenger jet. And Iran made a lot of noise after that happened, and then they quieted down. So there is precedent for that, but I think it’s simply as a lot of an opportunity that they don’t quiet. Iran has a complete lot of choices to make us harm. Certainly, the United States is a lot better outfitted, however except we’re truly suggesting that we’re going to drop a nuclear bomb on downtown Tehran, it’s by no means that straightforward when you get into a standard struggle. So we went to struggle in Iraq, which lasted years, and which we’re nonetheless seeing a few of the penalties from. A struggle with Iran can be a lot worse than any sort of struggle with Iraq. They’re far more subtle than Iraq ever was. They have the power to make it harm. So the query could be phrased as, is the United States keen to surrender the blood and treasure it will take to subdue Iran? Which after all, it may, however it’s going to price us one thing. So are we keen to pay that price?

[music]
michael barbaro

Helene, thanks. Thank you for speaking to us on a Sunday. Thank you.

helene cooper

Thank you, Michael.

michael barbaro

For all the things. We admire it.

helene cooper

All proper, bye-bye.

michael barbaro

On Sunday, Iran’s leaders and their allies started to brazenly talk about plans for retaliation towards the United States, saying that they’d goal America’s army bases and its troopers. In an interview with CNN, a high-level adviser to Iran’s supreme chief stated, quote, “The only thing that can end this period of war is for the Americans to receive a blow that is equal to the blow that they have inflicted.” On Twitter, President Trump warned Iran towards such a response, writing, quote, “They attacked us, & we hit back. If they attack again, which I would strongly advise them not to do, we will hit them harder than they have ever been hit before!”

We’ll be proper again.

Here’s what else you’ll want to know right this moment.

archived recording (elizabeth warren)

Look, it was a focused assault on a authorities official, a high-ranking army official for the federal government of Iran, and what it’s carried out has moved this nation nearer to struggle. We are usually not safer right this moment than we had been earlier than Donald Trump acted.

michael barbaro

In interviews on Sunday, the main Democratic candidates for president, together with Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, on CNN, challenged the Trump administration’s rationale for killing General Suleimani and predicted that it may backfire on the U.S.

archived recording (pete buttigieg)

Now, let’s be clear, Qassim Suleimani was a foul determine. He has American blood on his arms. None of us ought to shed a tear for his loss of life. But simply because he deserved it doesn’t imply it was the suitable strategic transfer. This is about penalties.

michael barbaro

In an announcement, former Vice President Joe Biden stated that the president, quote, “just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox,” and Senator Bernie Sanders, at a marketing campaign cease, accused the president of violating his marketing campaign pledge.

archived recording (bernie sanders)

Trump promised to finish countless wars. Tragically, his actions now put us on the trail to a different struggle, probably one which may very well be even worse than earlier than.

michael barbaro

And Australia’s authorities stated that it will deploy the nation’s army to struggle a set of catastrophic fires which have already burned greater than 12 million acres, an space bigger than Switzerland, killed no less than 24 individuals, and killed or injured tons of of tens of millions of animals. The Times stories that the fires are actually so massive and sizzling that they’re creating their very own climate patterns, additional fueling the blazes. That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.



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