Josh Marshall

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Multiple reports say that Iran (not just proxies or Iran-backed militias in Iraq) has launched a volley of missiles targeting a number of bases in Iraq which house US troops. There’s very little information available about what damage these attacks have caused or whether there are casualties or fatalities. The White House has signaled a possible Presidential address to the nation tonight. It’s hard to imagine anything and I mean anything positive coming from that, to put it mildly.

Let me share a few thoughts on this.

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Interesting response from TPM Reader JB, who has a background in government work …

I pretty much do believe sources within the Trump administration who claim to be surprised Trump took the extreme option of ordering the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, for two reasons. One is that he very likely had seen a variant of this option presented before, for example after the US drone shootdown incident last summer or the missile strike on Saudi oil facilities shortly after that. He didn’t bite on it then, which may have made some people complacent.

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Mitch McConnell says he has the votes to start a Senate impeachment trial with no guarantee of witnesses. He’s held his caucus together. This only confirms and strengthens the point I made yesterday: every 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.

As noted below, in the broadest sense we know why President Trump ordered the assassination of Soleimani: it was an attempt to dominate a weaker power by dramatically escalating a simmering conflict. This squares with how states act and it squares with President Trump’s personality. Yet everything we’ve seen since the attack illustrates the consequences of a hollowed out national security decision-making process and an erratic and impulsive head of state.

Unnamed Pentagon officials have now suggested that President Trump opted for a policy option (the assassination) few if any of his advisors thought he’d consider. For all my criticism of President Trump, I’m deeply skeptical of these claims. This sounds like an effort to evade responsibility for the policy options the President was given. If the idea was that it’s nuts, he shouldn’t have been offered it. Still, it doesn’t speak well about the level of planning or coordination that went into this. We also have the claim that Soleimani was killed to avert an imminent threat to U.S. lives, a claim which seems clearly not to be true.

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It’s crystal clear that there was no “imminent threat” that led the U.S. to target and kill Iran’s Qasem Soleimani. Even on logical terms that makes zero sense. If there was a plot underway to kill Americans, the way to disrupt that would be to remove the target or attack the operational chain about to carry out the attack. That’s obvious. I think we’re a long way from finding out just why this happened. But in a broad sense we know: punish Iran and assert dominance in the largely covert and shadowy conflict between the two countries.

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I’m inclined to think that John Bolton’s statement that he would comply with a subpoena from a Senate impeachment trial is largely meaningless. First of all, it only matters if he is in fact subpoenaed by the Senate — which is the whole question currently being debated. There’s little sign that this contingency will ever come to pass.

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President Trump’s order to assassinate Iranian General Qasem Soleimani has momentarily pushed all from the headlines. But before last Friday and going forward all talk was of the impending impeachment trial in the Senate. As observers tried to make sense of the stand-off over the kind of trial that would be held, most attention focused on Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — the canonical “moderates” who have repeatedly been a Trump Era focus. But this is completely wrong, a frankly imbecilic mistake. I don’t know how much of this is Democrats’ focus or the press generally. It’s probably a mix. But it’s completely wrong, though Collins is in a separate category for reasons I will explain.

There are roughly half a dozen vulnerable Senate Republicans: Cory Gardner (R-CO), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joni Ernst (R-IA) and David Perdue (R-GA).

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It is basically impossible to think that President Trump’s decision to authorize the dramatic assassination of Qasem Soleimani wasn’t influenced by his looming impeachment trial. But we’re also getting more detail now on the precise chain of events leading up to it. I recommend first this Twitter thread from the Times Rukmini Callimachi. The upshot is that the claim of disrupted future attacks was thin at best, inferences drawn from Soleimani’s travel itinerary placed in the context of the shadowy game of tit for tat the two countries have been playing for the last year.

From a different perspective, this is the kind of assemblage of evidence that gets made after you make a decision — justification rather than actual reason. Callimachi has more details. But there’s nothing about the version of the evidence she presents that would make anyone think there was evidence of a threat that required imminent action. Assuming her outlines of the evidence is correct, this is after the fact justification meant to put the operation on a better legal and political footing.

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Josh Kovensky’s got an update here on yet more nuggets of information and clues tying Paul Manafort to the origins of the Trump/Giuliani extortion campaign in Ukraine. This particular meeting is only one part of the equation. But as we and others have explained previously it’s pretty clear that all the conspiracy theories we’re now familiar with originated with Russian intelligence and Manafort himself. The two stories are one story.

So yes, as we said last night, this was a pretty big deal. This is not my subject area. So I will spare you any unrooted commentary. I’ll share one thing. In all the conversations I’ve had over the years with people who do know about Iran they stress one thing: for decades, Iran’s core defense doctrine has been to maximize its strategic reach and deterrence as much as possible without getting into a conventional war with the U.S. That’s clear in the use of proxy militias across the region. It’s clear in the ways Iran has antagonized the U.S. but only up to a point while it occupied its two immediate neighboring states, Iraq and Afghanistan.

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