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End endless wars? Trump to send 1,800 more U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia after abandoning the Kurds

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And so the betrayal of the Kurds becomes a betrayal of Trump’s fans too. For days he hammered his stupid “end endless wars” talking point on Twitter to defend his decision to retreat from northern Syria before a Turkish onslaught against the Kurds. All I’m doing is keeping a campaign promise, he insisted. I told you on day one that I was going to get American troops out of harm’s way in the Middle East. We’ve spent too much blood and treasure policing these interminable regional conflicts. Pulling out of Syria in time for Erdogan to feed the Kurds into his meat grinder was just a way of putting America first.

There were problems with that argument. For starters, he wasn’t actually withdrawing any troops from Syria. He was moving troops stationed in the north to other parts of the country so that they weren’t in Turkey’s way. No one was coming home. Beyond that, there’s the small matter that he not only continues to support the interminable Saudi war on Yemen, he’s actually doing so over congressional objections. Twice now Congress has passed bills demanding that he end American assistance to the Saudis. Trump has vetoed those bills. Congress is making more of an effort to end U.S. involvement in one particular endless war in the Middle East than Trump is.

But for cripes sake, why would he make his stance on Turkey and the Kurds a matter of “ending endless wars” if he knew he was about to deploy more American troops to the region, specifically 1,800 more to Saudi Arabia? He didn’t have to. Like I said last night, he could have presented the Turkish offensive simply as a war between two allies which required the United States to remain studiously neutral. The Saudis, on the other hand, are pitted against Iran and its proxies, a more traditional conflict between a U.S. ally and a U.S. enemy. We can take sides in that one. Instead he invited all of his fans out on a limb in which the Kurdish betrayal was part of some master policy of extricating ourselves from the region’s problems, only to turn around and saw that limb off by deepening American involvement in the Saudis’ problems.

Stephen “redsteeze” Miller aptly calls this the “Shoot a person on Fifth Avenue and not lose a single supporter” test. Trump’s treating his own fans as rubes in asking them to look at the Saudi deployment in the context of supposedly ending endless wars and think, “Yeah, this all makes sense.”

“Secretary Esper informed Saudi Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Muhammad bin Salman this morning of the additional troop deployment to assure and enhance the defense of Saudi Arabia,” Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathon Hoffman said in a statement Friday. “Taken together with other deployments, this constitutes an additional 3,000 forces that have been extended or authorized within the last month.”

The US has increased the deployment of forces in the region by 14,000 since May

When the Pentagon announced additional deployments after the Saudi attack, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters that the US troops would be “defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense.”

Remember this dopey soundbite from a few days ago?

What heroic effort did our Saudi friends make at Normandy, apart from continuing business as usual in selling us oil, to justify 1,800 more American troops being sent there now?

The president grasps at whatever rationale is nearest at hand to defend his policies, never mind whether he’s likely to contradict them a day later. Jonathan Tobin hits at a fundamental contradiction of his Middle East policy, and at his foreign policy generally. On the one hand, Trump wants to intimidate America’s enemies into doing his bidding; on the other hand, he’s an isolationist at heart and repeatedly telegraphs his interest in withdrawing abroad, including from longtime bases in places like Japan and Germany. You can “end endless wars” by withdrawing from everywhere and accept the regional consequences from the likes of Iran and China, finding comfort in the fact that at least our boys aren’t in the middle of it. Or you can carry a big stick and keep troops stationed abroad knowing that that creates a risk of being sucked into a major war at a time and place not of your choosing. But pick one.

The problem for Trump is not his willingness to listen to his neo-isolationist instincts. Rather it is that his desire to extricate America from the Middle East cuts against three other key goals of his regional policy: Defeating ISIS, pressuring Iran and scrapping the nuclear deal it signed with the Obama administration, and maintaining strong support for the state of Israel. He couldn’t beat ISIS and seek to isolate Iran and bolster Israel against its enemies while withdrawing from the Middle East. He chose appearing to do the latter over doing the former, endangering the success of his pressure campaign against Iran and potentially giving ISIS the opening it needs to make a comeback in the process…

Seen in this light, the “Normandy Doctrine” is merely an excuse by which any friend of the United States — including the Kurds, who have, despite their small numbers and the danger they have faced, proven both faithful and useful to American regional interests — can be discarded on a whim. Far from an expression of nationalist self-interest, it is a pretext for withdrawal not so much from potential wars but from the policies that will do the most to prevent them. Much like Barack Obama’s ignominious retreats from Syria and Iraq, which Trump has correctly pegged as the primary reasons for the rise of ISIS, the president’s foolish decision to abandon the Kurds may set in motion a chain of events that will drag him or a successor back into war in the Middle East.

Precisely right about the “Normandy Doctrine.” We could justify backstabbing virtually any ally on grounds that “they didn’t help us during [insert previous conflict here].” Even the Brits could be theoretically betrayed for refusing to lend a hand in Vietnam — although that would be an awkward talking point for Trump since he didn’t lend a hand either. Remember, in his eagerness to exploit grievances, the president once reportedly reminded Justin Trudeau during a conversation about U.S. tariffs on Canada that troops from his country once burned down the White House. That’s Trump to the core: He’s never the aggressor, never in the wrong. There’s always some slight or supposed malfeasance by his critic, like the Kurds somehow not showing up for D-Day, to justify his own bad policy in terms of just desserts.

The UN Security Council held a meeting yesterday on Turkey’s assault on the Kurds, by the way. Six members joined together to condemn it. The United States wasn’t one of them.

The post End endless wars? Trump to send 1,800 more U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia after abandoning the Kurds appeared first on Hot Air.

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Saudi Arabia and Iran Make Quiet Openings to Head Off War

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After years of growing hostility and competition for influence, Saudi Arabia and Iran have taken steps toward indirect talks to try to reduce the tensions that have brought the Middle East to the brink of war, according to officials from several countries involved in the efforts.

Even the prospect of such talks represents a remarkable turnaround, coming only a few weeks after a coordinated attack on Saudi oil installations led to bellicose threats in the Persian Gulf. Any reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran could have far-reaching consequences for conflicts across the region.

It was President Trump’s refusal to retaliate against Iran for the Sept. 14 attack, analysts say, that set off unintended consequences, prompting Saudi Arabia to seek its own solution to the conflict. That solution, in turn, could subvert Mr. Trump’s effort to build an Arab alliance to isolate Iran.

In recent weeks, officials of Iraq and Pakistan said, the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, asked the leaders of those two countries to speak with their Iranian counterparts about de-escalation.

Iran welcomed the gestures, stating privately and publicly that it was open to talks with Saudi Arabia.

In a statement to The New York Times on Friday, the Saudi government acknowledged that Iraq and Pakistan had offered to mediate talks between the two countries but denied that Prince Mohammed had taken the initiative.

“Efforts at de-escalation must emanate from the party that began the escalation and launched attacks, not the kingdom,” the statement said.

Distrust between the two Middle Eastern powers remains intense, and the prospect of high-level direct talks any time soon appears remote. But even a slight warming could echo far outside their respective borders, where their rivalry fuels political divides from Lebanon to Yemen.

Iran has long wanted to wrest the Saudis from their alliance with Iran’s archenemies, Israel and the United States, which are waging a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran to try to force it to restrict its nuclear program and stop backing militias in the region.

Iran’s receptiveness for contact with the Saudis contrasts with its chilly tone toward the United States. Last week, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, dodged an opportunity to speak directly with Mr. Trump while both were attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The new overtures between Saudi Arabia and Iran began in the aftermath of last month’s drone and cruise missile strikes on two Saudi oil facilities, which Saudi Arabia and the United States accused Iran of orchestrating.

Despite tough threats by the Trump administration, the president declined to order a military response. The demurral raised questions for the Saudis about the American commitment to Saudi security, which has underpinned the strategic layout of the Persian Gulf for decades.

Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan met with Prince Mohammed, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, in Jeddah last month. Days later, while Mr. Khan was at the General Assembly, he told reporters that Prince Mohammed had asked him to talk to Iran.

Prince Mohammed told Mr. Khan, “I want to avoid war,” according to a senior Pakistani official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. “He asked the prime minister to get involved.”

Mr. Khan then spoke with Mr. Rouhani on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

The Iraqi prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, visited Saudi Arabia a few days after Mr. Khan did.

A senior Iraqi official said that Prince Mohammed asked Mr. Abdul Mahdi to mediate with Iran, and that Iraq had suggested Baghdad as the venue for a potential meeting.

“There is a big response from Saudi Arabia and from Iran and even from Yemen,” Mr. Abdul Mahdi told journalists in Iraq after his return from the kingdom. “And I think that these endeavors will have a good effect.”

Iran endorsed the idea.

“Iran is open to starting a dialogue with Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region,” Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran’s Parliament, told Al Jazeera in an interview broadcast on Tuesday. “An Iranian-Saudi dialogue,” he added, “could solve many of the region’s security and political problems.”

While they explore back-channel possibilities, both sides have continued to stake out staunchly opposing public positions.

The Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia had not asked anyone to send messages to Iran. Instead, he wrote, other countries he did not identify had offered to serve as intermediaries.

“We informed them that the truce needs to come from the side that is escalating and spreading chaos through aggressive acts in the region,” Mr. al-Jubeir wrote.

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran said that his country would “definitely greet Saudi Arabia with open arms” — but only if it prioritized friendly relations with neighbors over purchasing weapons from the United States.

Iran has long sought to pull Saudi Arabia away from the United States and Israel. But it was the lack of an American military response to the strikes on Saudi oil facilities that appeared to have created an opening.

“There are cracks in the armor suggesting Saudi Arabia is interested in exploring a new relationship with Iran,” said Philip Gordon, a former White House coordinator for the Middle East. “The worst outcome for the Saudis is to move to a confrontation with Iran expecting the U.S. to support them and find out they won’t.”

He added, “This administration has shown it’s not really ready to take on Iran.”

Top officials from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, Saudi allies which could suffer if open conflict broke out, have spoken publicly of the need for diplomacy to reduce tensions and have made their own efforts to reach out to Iran. The Emirates has held direct maritime security talks with Iran, and has pulled back from the war in Yemen, where it is allied with the Saudis in a battle against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

If Saudi Arabia joins Kuwait and the Emirates in reaching out to Iran, it could undermine the Trump administration’s effort to build an international coalition to ostracize and pressure the Iranians.

“The anti-Iran alliance is not just faltering, it’s crumbling,” Martin Indyk, the executive vice president of Brookings Institution and a former senior diplomat, said Thursday on Twitter. “MBZ has struck his deal with Iran; MBS is not far behind,” he said, referring to the Emirati crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, or MBZ, and the Saudi crown prince, known as MBS.

He also noted that Mr. Trump’s most hawkish anti-Iran adviser, John R. Bolton, had left the administration, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is fighting for his political life and Mr. Trump has shown a willingness to talk directly to the Iranians.

For the Saudis, even indirect talks with Iran would represent a significant departure from Prince Mohammed’s approach to his prime regional rival since his father, King Salman, ascended to the Saudi throne in 2015.

He has cast Iran as the root of the Middle East’s problems and argued that political and theological differences make negotiations impossible. He has compared Iran’s supreme leader to Hitler and threatened to instigate violence inside Iran’s borders.

“We are a primary target for the Iranian regime,” Prince Mohammed said in 2017. “We won’t wait for the battle to be in Saudi Arabia. Instead, we’ll work so that the battle is for them in Iran.”

His antipathy toward Iran gave him common cause with Israel and the Trump administration. The Saudis have pitched themselves as the United States’ greatest ally against Iran, proposing they carry out joint operations to weaken it and possibly bring about regime change, according to former United States officials.

But Prince Mohammed may now be more willing to explore a possible accommodation.

“We have reached the peak of Saudi-Iran tensions and both sides have concluded this balance of fear is detrimental to their interests,” said Saeed Shariati, a political analyst in Tehran.

For now, the rift appears wide, and possibly unbridgeable. The Saudis criticize Iran for backing militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, where the kingdom has been mired in a disastrous war against the Houthis for four years.

The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attacks on Saudi oil facilities that seem to have helped prompt the diplomatic initiatives, but many Western experts believed that the Houthis could not have carried out the strikes unassisted.

Mr. al-Jubeir said Tuesday that Iran needed to stop its ballistic missile program, refrain from interfering in Arab states and “act like a normal country, and not like a rogue who sponsors terrorism.”

For its part, Iran has called on Saudi Arabia to freeze its multibillion-dollar arms purchases from the United States, stop its intervention in Yemen and end discrimination against the Shiite Muslim minority in Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim-led absolute monarchy.

At the General Assembly last week, Iran’s president, Mr. Rouhani, aimed part of his speech directly at Arab countries in the Persian Gulf.

“It’s the Islamic Republic of Iran who is your neighbor,” he said. “At the day of an event, you and us will be alone. We are each other’s neighbors, not America.”

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GUEST POST: Saudi Arabia Oil Field Attack Highlights Importance Of U.S. Energy Infrastructure

Westlake Legal Group Todd-Johnson-620x869 GUEST POST: Saudi Arabia Oil Field Attack Highlights Importance Of U.S. Energy Infrastructure Todd Johnson Saudi Arabia Oil Attacks Iran Infrastructure Front Page Stories Foreign Policy Featured Story Energy Infrastructure Energy Capitalism Allow Media Exception

North Carolina State Senator Todd Johnson (R-Union) [Image: Wikipedia]

This guest op-ed was written by North Carolina State Senator Todd Johnson — Ed. 

The recent spike in gas prices after the Saudi Arabia oil field attack is an important reminder of how foreign oil can have a big impact here in the U.S.  Just days after the attack on the other side of the globe, Americans saw gas prices spike across most the country. That’s why it’s critical for the U.S. to strengthen our energy resources and prioritize our energy infrastructure to reduce our dependency on oil in the Middle East and enable greater economic stability here at home.

Pipelines are a critical part of that energy infrastructure, providing us the energy necessary to fuel most of our daily lives, whether it’s to heat our homes, drive to work, or generate electricity. Pipelines are also one of the safest and cost-effective ways to transport crude oil, natural gas, and petroleum, and the reason the United States has the largest network of energy pipelines world-wide.

Each year, over 2.5 million miles of pipelines in the U.S. safely deliver trillions of cubic feet of natural gas and hundreds of billions of ton/miles of liquid petroleum products. Several of those pipelines are located in the Midwest with nearly 30% of our nation’s crude oil running through Minnesota by pipeline and 20% in Wisconsin.

That’s why the recent Minnesota Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of allowing the Line 3 pipeline project to continue is so important. It puts additional pressure on Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz to give the green light to regulators to allow pipeline construction to build. And it denies a petition from opposition groups to further review an Environmental Impact Statement, an already rigorous safety review process that the company must go through to ensure a project is safe for the environment and surrounding community.

The non-profit environmental groups like Honor the Earth and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe are protesting the replacement of an aging pipeline that currently runs through North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. This is another classic case of outside groups strategically attempting to further their agenda by holding up projects in litigation. While they present themselves as environmental groups, many of them are funded by billionaires with competing interests like transporting crude by railway.

In addition to bolstering our energy infrastructure, there are economic benefits that result from pipelines – a fact that’s ignored by these outside groups. Pipeline companies contribute millions, sometimes even billions to a state’s economy during construction and many years after in tax revenue. Pipeline construction creates jobs and income which results in increased demand in consumer goods and services.

Opposing the pipeline is also out of step with Minnesota itself and the many other groups and communities who support this pipeline being rebuilt. The Laborers’ International Union of North America and Iron Range labor union members in Minnesota, for example, are vocal proponents of the pipeline’s construction because it will create more union jobs and enrich the local economy.

The bottom line is that the recent Minnesota Supreme Court decision is a positive step for bolstering U.S. energy resources. Without pipelines like Line 3, we are undermining our energy infrastructure and the ability to safely, affordably deliver the energy resources that are needed to power our everyday life. This, in turn, helps the U.S. reduce our dependence on oil in the Middle East and strengthens American energy leadership. That’s something every American should get behind.

North Carolina State Senator Todd Johnson (R) represents North Carolina’s District 25. He also serves as a member of the North Carolina Board of Community Colleges.

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The post GUEST POST: Saudi Arabia Oil Field Attack Highlights Importance Of U.S. Energy Infrastructure appeared first on RedState.

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Trump Tells Iran to Go Pound Sand

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FILE – In this July 2, 2012 file photo, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboat escorts a passenger ship, near the spot where an Iranian airliner was shot down by a U.S. warship 24 years ago killing 290 passengers in Persian Gulf. While U.S. President Donald Trump angered Iran with his speech on refusing to re-certify the nuclear deal, Tehran won’t walk away from it in retaliation. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Although the latest ginned up scandal involving Trump has dominated the news the past week, there’s been other, far more important things going on. One of those things was Iran offering to make concessions in response to lifting sanctions.

At the time I wrote this.

As to how President Trump should respond to this? My opinion is he should laugh in their face. They had their chance to negotiate and save their regime. Let them collapse. It’s not like they can be trusted to hold to any new re-writing of the nuclear deal anyway.

Hilariously, Iran’s garbage regime went to the UN and claimed that the United States had agreed to lift all sanctions just for the opportunity to talk to the Mullahs. That was laughable on its face. Here’s the report on that.

I doubt Trump is reading RedState, but it appears we managed to arrive at the same conclusion, as the President is essentially telling Iran to go take a long walk off a short pier.

So what’s really going on here? Iran is burning. Their economy is collapsing, they have no moves left to make militarily without provoking a war, and their own people are turning against them. Unlike Barack Obama, who sought to prop up this dumpster fire just so he could claim a domestic political victory, Trump has been playing hardball and it’s working.

Iran won’t even have the resources to produce a nuclear weapon if this keeps up and there’s no end in sight for them. Meanwhile, we’ve committed troops to help protect the oil production going on in Saudi Arabia, which only further smothers Iran’s ability to create havoc and drive up the cost of oil.

Iran had grown accustom to being able to rattle their saber and get their way under the Obama administration. Times have changed and it’s left them flailing and lying at the UN in order to try to garner some credibility back with their people. It’s not going to work. No re-upping of the nuclear deal should be on the table. Let these guys burn.

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The post Trump Tells Iran to Go Pound Sand appeared first on RedState.

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Trump Celebrates Nationalism in U.N. Speech and Plays Down Iran Crisis

President Trump delivered a sharp nationalist message and assailed “globalists” in remarks to the world’s leading international body on Tuesday, while taking a notably moderate line on Iranian aggression in the Middle East.

“If you want freedom, hold on to your sovereignty, and if you want peace, love your nation,” Mr. Trump said, as he called for stronger borders and new controls on migration. “The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots. The future belongs to sovereign and independent nations.”

The United Nations was founded in 1945 to foster international cooperation and understanding after the nationalist fervor that had plunged the globe into World War II. But Mr. Trump, who spoke in a flat monotone, stressed the value of national identity and argued that governments must defend their “history, culture and heritage.”

“The free world must embrace its national foundations,” Mr. Trump said. “It must not attempt to erase them or replace them.”

Just as notable as his challenge to many of the world body’s principles was what Mr. Trump did not say. Before an audience that had been primed for him to focus on attacks on Saudi oil facilities that the United States has said Iran was behind, Mr. Trump said relatively little about the Sept. 14 strikes. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo labeled the attacks, which rattled global energy markets, “an act of war.”

Likely to the relief of his audience, which included European leaders who have been scrambling to find a way to avert conflict with Iran over its nuclear program, Mr. Trump did not repeat that bellicose phrase. Instead, he reiterated the distaste for military conflict he has demonstrated since he first ran for president. “Many of our friends today were once our greatest foes,” Mr. Trump said. “The United States has never believed in permanent enemies. America knows that while anyone can make war, only the most courageous can choose peace.”

“America’s goal is not to go with these endless wars, wars that never end,” he added.

Mr. Trump offered the world leaders and diplomats gathered before him little in the way of a clear path forward on how to deal with Iran, and largely repeated prior broad-stroke complaints about Iran’s “menacing behavior.”

He was rewarded with respectful applause when he finished, but none at all during the speech itself.

Mr. Trump’s speech also restated his hope that diplomacy can denuclearize North Korea; he vowed to seek peace in Afghanistan even as America continues to fight the Taliban; and he again condemned the “socialist” dictatorship in Venezuela.

But his strikingly pat language on Iran appeared to be part of an effort to tamp down expectations of a strong American response in defense of the Saudis, a key Middle East ally.

Instead, Mr. Trump called on Iran to give freedom to its people and engage in new talks with the United States.

Overall, the speech reaffirmed Mr. Trump’s belief in the ideas of nationalism and sovereignty that have fueled the rise of populist leaders across the world. It also bore the hallmarks of his policy adviser and speechwriter Stephen Miller, who has helped to push cultural and racial themes to the front of Mr. Trump’s agenda.

At a body that has been a champion of refugees and migrants, Mr. Trump offered a firm defense of strong borders at home and abroad.

“Many of the countries here today are coping with the challenges of uncontrolled migration,” he said. “Each of you has the absolute right to protect your borders. And so, of course, does our country.”

Mr. Trump also took explicit aim at the power of the United Nations, noting with pride that he has refused to ratify an international arms trade treaty sponsored by the body. “There’s no circumstance under which the United States will allow international entities to trample on the rights of our citizens, including the right to self-defense,” Mr. Trump said.

He assailed another international body, the World Trade Organization, saying that it had failed to check what he described as abusive Chinese economic practices for years. And he complained that a network of global elites had turned a blind eye to China’s behavior.

“For years, these abuses were tolerated, ignored or even encouraged,” Mr. Trump said. “Globalism exerted a religious pull over past leaders, causing them to ignore their own national interests. But as far as America is concerned, those days are over.”

Mr. Trump’s language about efforts to “replace” the foundations of national cultures bore echoes of the “great replacement” theory propounded by the French writer Renaud Camus, who has warned that European culture is being diluted by migrants from places like the Middle East and North Africa. The phrase “great replacement” has been adopted by many in the white nationalist movement, although it is unclear whether Mr. Trump intended such an allusion.

Just a week ago, it seemed certain that Mr. Trump would make the attack on the Saudis the central element of his United Nations speech. Not only did Mr. Pompeo call the attack an “act of war,” but military officials were at one point in the Situation Room offering military and cyberattack options to respond. Mr. Trump made no reference to any of those, and did not seek any kind of endorsement for the need for a response beyond a tightening of sanctions.

Earlier this week, Richard Fontaine, the chief executive of the Center for a New American Security and longtime Republican foreign policy aide, noted: “Not so long ago, a devastating attack on Saudi oil supplies would almost certainly have elicited an American military response. Ensuring the continued flow of energy from the Middle East was widely seen as crucial, one of the vital American interests that nearly all policymakers believed worth defending.”

But he noted that “fracking and reduced U.S. dependence on Middle East oil, the exhaustion and caution borne by two decades of American wars, a new focus on great-power competition, and the complexities of recent diplomacy with Iran have changed all this to a degree.”

Iran has denied responsibility for the attack, and Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are armed by Iran, have taken credit. But Trump officials say they are certain that Iran was responsible.

In the days since that attack, Mr. Trump has alternated between threats of fierce military action and calls for patience and restraint.

An American military response could escalate the conflict with potentially devastating consequences for the global economy, which is powered by a Middle Eastern oil flow that Iran can easily disrupt.

Speaking to reporters shortly before his remarks, Mr. Trump projected confidence about the standoff with Tehran, saying that “Iran is coming along very well. We’re in very good shape with respect to Iran.”

As Trump Takes the U.N. Stage, an Eye on Troubles Back Home

Sept. 24, 2019

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What’s Happened So Far at the U.N. General Assembly

Sept. 24, 2019

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Leaders of France, Germany, the UK issue joint statement blaming Iran for attack on Saudi Arabia

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As Ed noted earlier, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani demanded Sunday that western powers remove troops from the Persian Gulf. He was probably hoping for a warm welcome at the UN where he could complain about US intervention to a sympathetic European audience.

But today the ground shifted under Rouhani’s feet. President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the UK released a joint statement today stating “it is clear to us that Iran bears responsibility for the attack” on Saudi Arabian oil production. The statement continues, “There is no other plausible explanation.” Here’s the full statement:

This represents a win for the Trump administration which said almost immediately that Iran was responsible for the attack. Vox points out the significance of the joint statement:

This is significant. Ever since the US withdrew from the nuclear agreement last year, the European countries who are party to the agreement — which include the nations from the statement — have tried to maintain good relations with Tehran.

French President Emmanuel Macron in particular has worked tirelessly to keep the accord alive and even tried to broker a meeting between President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, at the UN this week.

But it seems they cannot ignore the intelligence they have, and decided to openly condemn the Islamic Republic.

The NY Times notes that even John Kerry doesn’t buy Iran’s denials:

They are denying any Iranian involvement in the destruction of two major Saudi oil facilities, an assertion that even former Secretary of State John Kerry, who negotiated the nuclear accord four years ago and has become its biggest defender, finds far-fetched. Iran, he said, was behind the attack “one way or the other.”

That’s still a bit of a cop-out on Kerry’s part. The evidence shows that the drones and missiles used in the attack were Iranian in design and were launched from Iran. There’s no other way to view this. Still, it’s something that even Kerry isn’t leaping to Iran’s defense this time.

Last week, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif threatened “all-out war” if Iran were attacked in reprisal for the strike on Saudi Arabia. But Trump and Saudi Arabia have options other than a military strike. In fact, Trump hinted that things are taking place now which haven’t been revealed yet:

“We have a lot of pressure on them right now — more pressure than they’ve ever had. … A lot of things are happening with respect to Iran. A lot more than you would know. A lot more than the media knows, OK? I’ll be discussing it a little bit tomorrow,” he said, one day before his address to the U.N. General Assembly…

During the General Assembly, the Trump administration intends to bring the focus on Iran after blaming it for the massive Saudi attack, according to a senior State Department official, but they added that the U.S. is really looking for the Saudis to take the lead and present evidence to the U.N. to rally international support for them after they suffered this attack.

“Now it’s up to the international community and really up to Saudi Arabia for what they’re going to say this week, what they’re going to present to the U.N. because it was the Saudis that were attacked and had almost 60% of their oil supply taken off the market,” the official said.

So we’ll probably have a clearer picture of what is happening tomorrow but it looks like the world is finally lining up against Iran after this latest attack.

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Iran to West: Get out of the Persian Gulf

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In fairness, they’ve been saying this for forty years, but now they really mean it. Hassan Rouhani rallied the troops, literally, in demanding that the US and other Western nations exit the Persian Gulf region and leave it to Iran’s tender mercies. Rouhani talked about the use of “foreign troops” while busily extending their reach through Syria to the Mediterranean, from where Western nations would like to keep Iran out too:

Iran’s president called Sunday on Western powers to leave the security of the Persian Gulf to regional nations led by Tehran, criticizing a new U.S.-led coalition patrolling the region’s waterways as nationwide parades showcased the Islamic Republic’s military arsenal. …

Rouhani said Iran was willing to “extend the hand of friendship and brotherhood” to Persian Gulf nations and was “even ready to forgive their past mistakes.”

“Those who want to link the region’s incidents to the Islamic Republic of Iran are lying like their past lies that have been revealed,” the president said. “If they are truthful and really seek security in the region, they must not send weapons, fighter jets, bombs and dangerous arms to the region.”

Rouhani added that the U.S. and Western nations should “distance” themselves from the region.

“Your presence has always been a calamity for this region and the farther you go from our region and our nations, the more security would come for our region,” he said.

Rouhani plans to present a peace plan at his UN visit this week, but don’t expect it to go anywhere. According to Politico, Iran wants the region to reorganize itself under Tehran’s leadership, which is the same plan that the Shi’ites have had for the last 1300 years or so. The Sunnis have a plan to make sure the Shi’ites never succeed in doing so. Those are the “past mistakes” that Iran proposes to forgive … once they do homage to the ayatollahs of Tehran, that is.

Needless to say, the Saudis are not going to jump at the opportunity to put themselves under Ali Khameini’s thumb. Nor will they want the US and the West to exit the Middle East stage, not while Iran’s shooting cruise missiles at their oil facilities. It’s the kind of demand and proposal that even Rouhani has to know will generate laughs rather than handshakes. While the Arabian peninsula is not as strategic to the US as it used to be before we took the handcuffs off our own petroleum extraction, it’s still strategic enough for us to retain a keen interest in isolating Iran’s expansionist ambitions, which Rouhani apparently will be good enough to prove in his upcoming UN speech.

Rouhani’s blowing smoke in more ways than one. If Rouhani wanted the US out of the region, he has his best opportunity in decades. Donald Trump is the first post-war non-interventionist president, the man who wants us to exit both sides of Iran — Iraq/Syria and Afghanistan — without a firm victory in either place. All Iran had to do was not act crazy, and they can’t even do that long enough to let Trump order the US out of the region. Iran’s actions in seizing ships and firing missiles make it impossible for Trump to retreat now.

However, Iran isn’t crazy, at least not in that sense. Their leadership caste truly believes in the Twelfth Imam prophecy and the worldwide conflagration that has to precede it. They want an Armageddon, only on their terms, in order to complete their non-rational ambitions of Shi’ite Islamist global conquest. In that sense, they need the US as a part of that conflict, which is why Rouhani’s talking out of both sides of his mouth. Apart from force of habit, of course.

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The Urgent Search for a Cyber Silver Bullet Against Iran

WASHINGTON — After spending billions of dollars to assemble the world’s most potent arsenal of cyberweapons and plant them in networks around the world, United States Cyber Command — and the new era of warfighting it has come to represent — may face a critical test in the coming weeks.

President Trump is considering a range of options to punish Iran for this month’s attack on Saudi oil facilities, and has toughened sanctions on Iran and ordered the deployment of additional troops to the region. But a second cyberstrike — after one launched against Iran just three months ago — has emerged as the most appealing course of action for Mr. Trump, who is reluctant to widen the conflict in a region he has said the United States should leave, according to senior American officials.

But even as the Pentagon considers specific targets — an attempt to shut down Iran’s oil fields and refineries has been one of the “proportionate responses” under review — a broader debate is taking place inside and outside the administration over whether a cyberattack alone will be enough to alter Iran’s calculations, and what kind of retaliation a particularly damaging cyberstrike might provoke.

“The president talked about our use of those previously, but I’m certainly not going to forecast what we’ll do as we move forward,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” when asked whether a cyberattack might be an artful, non-escalatory response to this month’s drone or missile strikes on two of Saudi Arabia’s most important facilities. “This was Iran true and true, and the United States will respond in a way that reflects that act of war by this Iranian revolutionary regime.”

Mr. Pompeo noted that the American military was already sending additional troops to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, largely to bolster air defenses. But those moves alone are viewed as unlikely to be enough to prevent further Iranian actions.

The question circulating now through the White House, the Pentagon and Cyber Command’s operations room is whether it is possible to send a strong message of deterrence with a cyberattack without doing so much damage that it would prompt an even larger Iranian counterstrike.

At least three times over the past decade, the United States has staged major cyberattacks against Iran, intended to halt its nuclear or missile programs, punish the country or send a clear message to its leadership that it should end its support for proxy militant groups.

In each case, the damage to Iranian systems could be repaired over time. And in each case, the effort to deter Iran was at best only partly successful. If the American charge that Iran was behind the attack in Saudi Arabia proves accurate, it would constitute the latest example of Tehran shaking off a cyberattack and continuing to engage in the kind of behavior the United States had hoped to deter.

The most famous and complex effort was a sophisticated sabotage campaign a decade ago to blow up Iran’s nuclear enrichment center using code, not bombs. The Obama administration later began a program, accelerated by Mr. Trump, to try to use cyberattacks to slow Iran’s missile development. And this past June, Mr. Trump approved a clandestine operation to destroy a key database used by the Iranian military to target oil-carrying ships — and canceled a traditional missile strike he had ordered to respond to the downing of an American surveillance drone.

The June cyberattack, according to two American officials, also did damage that Iran has not yet detected.

“Cyber can certainly be a deterrent, it can be a very powerful weapon,” said Senator Angus King, the Maine independent who is a chairman of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, created by Congress, that is examining American offensive cyberstrategy. “It is an option that can cause real damage.”

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A Saudi military spokesman during a recent news conference in Riyadh displaying what he said were pieces of Iranian cruise missiles that hit the kingdom’s oil fields.CreditFayez Nureldine/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. King and other experts said Iran would most likely respond to a cyberattack with one of its own, given the vulnerabilities that exist in the United States and the hyper-connected nature of American life.

But current and former intelligence officials say a cycle of retaliation need not be confined to one military domain. Just as the United States responded in June to the Iranian downing of a drone and sabotage of oil tankers with a cyberattack, Iran could respond to an American cyberoperation with a terrorist attack by a proxy force or a missile strike.

The Pentagon has long held that a cyberattack could constitute an act of war that requires a physical response, and there is no reason to think that Iran would not pursue the same policy.

One senior administration official recently acknowledged that even Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, the commander of Cyber Command and the director of the National Security Agency, has warned Mr. Trump and his aides that the cyberarsenal is “no magic bullet” for deterring Iranian aggression in the Middle East.

In war games — essentially online simulations — held before the attack on the Saudi oil fields, officials have tried to figure out how Iran’s increasingly skillful “cyber corps” would respond to an American cyberattack. These Iranian fighters have already racked up a significant record: wiping out 30,000 computers at Saudi Aramco, freezing operations at American banks with a “denial of service” attack, and crippling a Las Vegas casino. Last year, they began to study the ins and outs of election interference, according to private experts and government studies of the 2018 midterms.

When General Nakasone was nominated for his job, he acknowledged that one of the biggest problems facing Cyber Command was that it had not cracked the deterrence problem. Nations that are attacking the United States via cyber “do not think much will happen to them,” he told Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska. “They don’t fear us.”

In his first 18 months in office, General Nakasone has raced to bolster Cyber Command’s authority to act preemptively — and its preparations to respond to attacks. New, classified directives given to him by Mr. Trump, and built upon by Congress, allow Cyber Command to place “implants” of malicious software inside foreign networks without lengthy approval processes that run up to the president. Congress has called such efforts part of “traditional military authority.”

Iran has reportedly been a major target — no surprise, since General Nakasone was a key player in designing a plan called “Nitro Zeus” to shut down Tehran and other Iranian cities in the event of a war. The idea was to put together an attack so devastating that Iran might surrender without a shot being fired.

The 2015 nuclear agreement between the Iranian leadership and President Barack Obama eased the threat of war, and the American cyberoperations plan was put back on the shelf, at least until recently.

At the Pentagon, and even at Cyber Command, many senior officers are cautious about cyberwarfare, arguing that it is difficult for such weapons alone to deter an enemy.

The attack using the “Stuxnet” virus that crippled Iranian nuclear-enrichment centrifuges a decade ago was successful in a narrow sense: It blew up 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges up and running at the time. But when it recovered, Iran built upward of 14,000 more, and counterattacked by crippling Saudi Aramco’s computer systems.

Iran’s Salman oil field. Shutting down Iran’s oil fields and refineries would not be easy, and even if it worked, there is no assurance that conflict with Iran would not escalate.CreditAli Mohammedi/Bloomberg

A long-running series of cyberattacks has slowed but not stopped Iran’s missile program — and Iran has continued to provide thousands of short-range rockets to Hamas and other terrorist groups. The Saudis are studying whether a new generation of Iranian-made missiles were central to this month’s attack on its oil facilities.

The Pentagon and other military officials have told the White House that neither another cyberattack nor the new deployment announced Friday will likely prove robust enough to re-establish deterrence and prevent another attack by Iran on United States allies.

Part of the problem is that most cyberactivity is clandestine, so it is easy for a government to play down the consequences of an attack or deny it even took place.

But some people who favor stepping up cyberoperations suggest that officials are simply thinking too small. If a cyberstrike is damaging enough — taking a refinery offline or shutting down an electric grid, for example — it would be hard to hide. That might have a much more deterrent effect than the smaller bore operations the United States has undertaken so far, they argue.

But such a devastating cyberoperation would also increase the risk of escalation — just as a bombing run on the oil refineries would. Iran, or any other adversary, could claim that people were killed or injured, and that might be difficult to disprove.

A key element of deterrence is ensuring that an adversary understands the other side’s basic capabilities. Unlike nuclear weapons, though, which are widely understood, the American cyberarsenal is shrouded in secrecy, for fear adversaries will develop counter measures if even basic capabilities are known.

General Nakasone has argued that his cyberwarriors must be roaming cyberspace “persistently engaging” enemies — a euphemism for skirmishing with adversaries inside their networks.

“We must ‘defend forward’ in cyberspace, as we do in the physical domains,” he wrote in a Defense Department publication in January. “Our naval forces do not defend by staying in port, and our air power does not remain at airfields. They patrol the seas and skies to ensure they are positioned to defend our country before our borders are crossed. The same logic applies in cyberspace.”

But there is a growing consensus within Cyber Command that if cyberweapons are going to shape the actions of adversaries, they must be used in combination with other elements of power, including economic sanctions, diplomacy or traditional military strikes.

Mr. King, the Maine senator, sees the decisions over the next few weeks on Iran as a test case. “The president’s instinct is not to get in a shooting war, and I think he is right about that,” he said. “So the question is how do we respond?”

He argued that there was no urgency. “This was not a strike on New York City,” Mr. King said. “This was not even a strike on Riyadh. There needs to be a response. But there is time to pause and take a deep breath and consider all of the options — one of which is cyber — but also to think about how we de-escalate the situation.”

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Pompeo: Iran committed act of war

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“This was an attack by Iran on the world,” U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared on CBS Face the Nation this morning. “This was an act of war.”

Yet Pompeo did not state that America would start dropping bombs or send troops into Tehran. He consistently told ABC, FOX, and CBS the U.S. wanted to solve the problem diplomatically and get the entire world behind stopping Iran.

“The whole world understands that Iran is the bad actor,” He told Fox News Sunday while also calling Iran an evil force in the Middle East. “I hope this week here in New York, the whole world will come together to push back against this and convince the Iranian leadership that this behavior is simply unacceptable…this is the world’s responsibility to respond from these state-on-state acts of war that took place in Saudi Arabia this past week.”

These are similar words used by the United States in the run-up to the war with Iraq in 2003. The Bush Administration promised it was seeking a diplomatic solution while also looking to see if a coalition of other governments would commit troops to invasion. Whether there are enough nations outside of Saudi Arabia is up for debate.

Pompeo did shed little light on what America wanted from Iran.

“No missile strikes. No capacity to build out their nuclear weapons program, broadly speaking. Stop the assassination,” he said on CBS Face the Nation. “They’re killing people in Europe. They have an assassination campaign in Europe. This is not a normal nation and we hope- we hope the Iranian people, who we think are demanding that their country stop this kind of behavior, act in a way that causes the Iranian regime’s behavior to change. That’s our mission sense. That’s what President Trump is determined to achieve. First and foremost through diplomatic means.”

There are questions regarding Pompeo’s claim about Iran assassination campaigns. He first raised the idea of an ‘assassination campaign’ in May 2018 during a speech at The Heritage Foundation. A State Department spokesperson later told The Guardian that Pompeo had access to information which was not made available to her but promised it was a valid claim. An Iranian dissident was killed in 2017 in The Netherlands but the Dutch did not attribute the killing to Iran.

A Norwegian of Iranian descent was taken into custody last October on claims he was involved in reconnaissance of the Dutch leader of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz. The Netherlands suggested Iran had targeted the ASMLA group for some time and the Danish Security and Intelligence Service was providing personal security for the separatist group for several months. It’s possible Pompeo was referring to this case in his 2018 speech at Heritage even though the Dutch were just starting to protect the ASMLA leader. He was intimating it today during his Sunday show visits.

Iran is planning for some sort of conflict. The military held a parade today where it displayed a surface-to-air missile which might be able to hit nearby American bases. Iran President Hassan Rouhani also poked the White House by saying the region would be more stable if America stayed out of the Middle East. History does suggest nothing good comes from land wars in Asia.

It’s still up for debate as to whether the U.S. military should strike Iran. The Netherlands is not part of America. Neither is Saudi Arabia. It would make more sense for these nations to put together and lead some sort of ‘coalition’ into Iran instead of the United States. The American military need not be world police despite Pompeo’s claim Iran committed some sort of act of war.

The only sort of good news from all this is the lack of commitment from President Donald Trump on what happens with Iran. “Nothing is ever off the table, completely, but I have no intention of meeting with Iran and that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen,” he told reporters today per a White House pool report. “I’m a very flexible person, but we have no intention. It’s not set up. We’re meeting with a lot of leaders we have about 15 meetings set up, but Iran is not one of them.”

Diplomacy is what’s needed in this, diplomacy which includes Iran. The only hope is cooler heads prevail and no other violence spawns from the rhetoric.

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Trump Focuses on Defending Saudis, Not Striking Iran, for Now

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WASHINGTON — President Trump is sending a modest deployment of American troops to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, along with air and missile defense equipment, in response to the attacks on Saudi oil facilities, which the administration blames on Iran.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, disclosed the decision on Friday evening, with Mr. Esper framing the action as “defensive in nature.” General Dunford said that the precise number of American troops headed to the region has not been determined, but that it would be a “moderate deployment” in the hundreds, not thousands.

The announcement came as Mr. Trump is weighing whether to take direct military action against Iran in response to the attacks on Saudi Arabia, which rattled global energy markets and which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week called “an act of war.”

At the White House on Friday, Mr. Trump said that he could order a retaliatory strike in an instant, but that his current restraint should be seen as a sign of toughness.

Although the administration is not ruling out military strikes, senior officials indicated that, for now, the president was content to remain within the parameters of defense, not offense. Pressed by reporters about whether the administration was still considering so-called kinetic action, or military strikes, Mr. Esper said, “That’s not where we are right now.”

Earlier Friday, Mr. Trump announced new sanctions against Iran, and the administration is said to be considering a range of other actions, including cyberattacks.

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