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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Pompeo"

Erdogan says he won’t meet with visiting Pence and Pompeo — before changing his mind

Westlake Legal Group re-1 Erdogan says he won’t meet with visiting Pence and Pompeo — before changing his mind Turkey Trump The Blog Pompeo pence Kurds erdogan ceasefire

“I’m not going to talk to them. They will be talking to their counterparts. When Trump comes here, I’ll be talking,” sniffed Erdogan when asked by reporters about Pence’s and Pompeo’s impending visit. “Great news if you still wanted endless wars but with more geopolitical humiliation,” mused Dan Foster about the news.

The Sultan has since thought better of his refusal to meet with Pence and Pompeo, probably figuring that the administration will tolerate only so much embarrassment at Turkey’s hands before reconsidering the entire alliance. Besides, there are other ways to embarrass the U.S. that don’t involve personally humiliating the vice president and the secretary of state. One is to have Erdogan loudly proclaim that he might snub Trump himself by declining to visit the White House as scheduled next month. Another is to ignore U.S. demands for a ceasefire in northern Syria and to reject America’s invitation to act as a mediator between Turkey and the Kurds. The politic thing to do is to receive Pence and Pompeo warmly, listen attentively, then forget everything they’ve said the moment they’ve left. It sounds like that’s what Erdogan will do.

As tends to happen in the Trump administration, the president’s foreign policy and the foreign policy of literally everyone who works for him are two different things. Everyone from Pence on down sympathizes with the Kurds’ plight and is pushing hard for a ceasefire before outright ethnic cleansing begins in earnest. Trump? Trump is Trump:

“There’s a lot of sand they can play with.” Even his most devoted sycophants are struggling to frame their disgust in polite terms:

Yeah, why the hell would you send Pence and Pompeo to try to negotiate a ceasefire while you’re on TV broadcasting to the world that you don’t care what happens to the Kurds or anyone else? What sort of pressure is Erdogan supposed to feel from that? For that matter, why send Pence and Pompeo at all? The time to send them on an emergency visit to Turkey was when Erdogan first told Trump that he was planning to invade northern Syria, not 10 days later when Turkish troops are advancing:

How did we end up here? According to White House aides who spoke to the Times, Trump was underprepared for his call with Erdogan on October 6. When the Turkish leader threatened to invade northern Syria at long last to push the Kurds back, Trump didn’t think to threaten him back with U.S. countermeasures like sanctions. Or at least, that’s the charitable spin; the less charitable read would be that Trump really, truly has no problem with the Turks pulverizing America’s allies in the war against ISIS, a point he’s now made repeatedly in public, and only agreed to sanctions after the fact because of the harsh backlash he’s received even from Republicans. Threatening Erdogan with sanctions on the call might not even have mattered: The Sultan knows Trump is a paper tiger.

The Turkish president probably anticipated U.S. sanctions, Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the author of the new book Erdogan’s Empire, told me. But Erdoğan and Trump have a good rapport, even an apparent “political man crush on each other” as like-minded “strongmen presidents,” he noted. And Erdoğan expects Trump to ultimately “save the relationship,” such as when the U.S. president held back last summer on imposing congressionally mandated sanctions on Turkey over the NATO member’s purchase of a Russian missile-defense system.

“Erdoğan is betting on that once again: that Trump will prevent devastating sanctions against Turkey’s economy and military following the incursion,” said Cagaptay…

Thus far, … [new U.S.] sanctions extend to only three Turkish officials and the nation’s defense and energy ministries.

That probably explains Erdogan’s reversal on meeting Pence and Pompeo. He knows Trump doesn’t care what happens to the Kurds or whether Assad and Russia increase their hold on Syria as a result. He may not even care what happens to ISIS so long as the group doesn’t reconstitute itself before November 2020. But being personally rude to Trump’s handpicked envoys by refusing to hear them out might be an unpardonable affront. Better to maintain the “friendship” with Trump by being polite and then doing what you like, knowing that he’ll find excuses — “the Kurds are no angels” — to justify your actions for you.

Speaking of endless wars and political humiliation, here’s a pair of viral clips from Russian state TV that are making the rounds today. If the president were a Democrat, this sort of immediate bug-out under threat paired with the degree of callousness Trump’s showed the Kurds today would make this episode legendary in Republican media for a generation as proof of the essential cowardice and fickleness of left-wing foreign policy.

The post Erdogan says he won’t meet with visiting Pence and Pompeo — before changing his mind appeared first on Hot Air.

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Tapper to Pompeo: If a Democratic president invited the Taliban to Camp David, you’d be furious

Westlake Legal Group w-2 Tapper to Pompeo: If a Democratic president invited the Taliban to Camp David, you’d be furious The Blog Terrorism tapper Taliban Secretary of State Pompeo camp david Al Qaeda 9/11

Well, of course. But framing the point that way makes it easy for Pompeo and other Republicans to say “of course.” Of course they’d oppose a soft-on-terror liberal hosting the Taliban at Camp David. That would signal weakness in neon letters. When a muscle-bound alpha-male right-winger like Trump extends the invite, though, that’s a sign of strength. (Never mind that Trump is more eager to withdraw U.S. troops from various theaters overseas than Obama was.) It wasn’t a show of weakness when Nixon went to China. It would have been if LBJ, who had commies in his own base, had gone instead. Same here.

The better way to frame this point for a gotcha is: If President Marco Rubio had invited the Taliban to Camp David, Republicans would be furious, no? Rubio is 10 times as hawkish as Trump and therefore would have been negotiating from a position of even greater “strength” than Trump is, but “strength” would have been no defense there. Republican hawks would have been outraged at the gratuitousness of honoring the Taliban with an audience at Camp David during 9/11 week instead of negotiating with them in Afghanistan. And Republican populists who hate Rubio for other reasons, like his squishiness on immigration and his general establishmentarianism, would have happily savaged him for treating a group of scumbag jihadis like they’re foreign dignitaries.

“We shouldn’t have nominated a RINO who’d throw Washington cocktail parties for the Taliban,” critics would have said. “We should have nominated someone tough. Like Trump.”

And they’d have been right to do so. Trump is going to get a pass on the right for this as usual not because he’s a Republican but because the populist cult of personality he’s assembled requires loyalists to sniff every fart he cuts and tell him it smells like roses. He can do no wrong, even when his instincts are so obviously wrong that his own VP and NSA urged him to rethink:

The idea raised Sept. 1 during a Situation Room meeting with the president was vehemently opposed by national security adviser John Bolton, even as officials at the State Department argued it could move the parties closer to an agreement, officials said.

Bolton had an ally in Vice President Mike Pence, who also made the case against a meeting at Camp David, a location Trump suggested, officials said. Bolton and Pence were in Warsaw together around the time of the internal discussions…

Among the concerns of administration officials who opposed the meeting was that it might take place around the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the officials and people familiar with the matter said. Pence argued at one point that such a meeting could send the wrong message to members of the U.S. military who have fought — and been killed by — the Taliban for years, one senior administration official said.

So patently terrible was the idea of a Taliban summit at Camp David that even the ultimate loyalist, Mike Pence, couldn’t praise its bouquet. (Trump denies this, obviously.) Meanwhile, party hawks who found themselves caught this weekend between the awfulness of Trump’s plan and the imperative to praise the president at all times in order to remain a Republican in good standing took to posting cringy tweets like this:

“The room really stank but I salute the president for spraying air freshener afterward.”

We’re left with a question: How and why did the idea of Camp David even enter the equation? American diplomats have been negotiating with the Taliban for months but there was nothing finalized yet by way of a treaty. Normally you’d expect negotiations to keep going, based either in Afghanistan or in some neutral Middle Eastern country like the UAE or Qatar, etc. How did we leap past all that and proceed directly to the “Trump face-to-face with the Taliban” stage? Is it an ego thing? Because it’s usually an ego thing.

WaPo says it’s an ego thing:

Trump was the main person pushing for the Camp David meeting, according to a senior administration official who, like others who discussed the sensitive issue, spoke only on the condition of anonymity. Comparing the initiative to Trump’s personal meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and his stated desire to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, this official said Trump thinks his personal style can persuade anyone, and that he has seen the possibility of a substantial Afghan withdrawal as a major plus for his reelection campaign.

“Mr. Trump did not want the Camp David meeting to be a celebration of the deal,” added the Times. “After staying out of the details of what has been a delicate effort in a complicated region, Mr. Trump wanted to be the dealmaker who would put the final parts together himself, or at least be perceived to be.” Amy Klobuchar said yesterday that she agrees with Trump that it’s time to come home and sign a deal to facilitate that, but added this:

“This isn’t a game show — these are terrorists,” Klobuchar said. “The way he conducts foreign policy — this reminds me exactly of North Korea. He loves the showmanship. He wants to have that moment but then all the details aren’t done, and then we end up in a worse place on the world stage than we were before.”

Certainly true so far with North Korea. Might be true too with the Taliban. Is anyone optimistic for the outcome of a Trump/Rouhani summit over Iran, which seems like a matter of time?

There are two lingering mysteries to this episode. First, why did Trump reveal that the summit had been in the works after canceling it? Why not keep it under wraps? My best guess is that he thought the news would leak eventually anyway, particularly with Bolton and Pompeo at odds lately and eager to tear each other down in the press. Better to break the news himself on Twitter than let the Times or the Post break it via a mega-scoop that upended American politics for a week.

Although, if it had played out that way, Trump would have just said “FAKE NEWS!” and gone about his business, as usual. So why handle it differently this time?

Second, why on earth would he want a personal meeting with the Taliban when everyone understands that they’re going to renege on a peace deal with the United States as soon as we’ve withdrawn? There’s no “peace with honor” outcome on the table here; a treaty with the Taliban is about cutting our losses after 18 years and grimly resigning ourselves to the fact that they’ll rule Afghanistan again in due time. Any other president would want to keep his fingerprints off a deal like that. Instead Trump seems to want a thumbs-up photo op from it that’ll haunt him forever once we hand over the country and the Taliban stabs us in the back. How does he not see that coming?

Here’s Tapper spending 10 minutes asking and re-asking the same question: “Really? These people at Camp David?”

The post Tapper to Pompeo: If a Democratic president invited the Taliban to Camp David, you’d be furious appeared first on Hot Air.

Westlake Legal Group w-2-300x159 Tapper to Pompeo: If a Democratic president invited the Taliban to Camp David, you’d be furious The Blog Terrorism tapper Taliban Secretary of State Pompeo camp david Al Qaeda 9/11   Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Report: Trump said of aides, “These people want to push us into a war, and it’s so disgusting”

Westlake Legal Group jb-4 Report: Trump said of aides, “These people want to push us into a war, and it’s so disgusting” War Trump The Blog Pompeo missile Iran dunford drone cyberattack Bolton

You realize Tucker Carlson’s going to be NSA by the end of the year, right? And Hannity will be so jealous.

President Trump bucked most of his top national-security advisers by abandoning retaliatory strikes in Iran on Thursday. In private conversations Friday, Mr. Trump reveled in his judgment, certain about his decision to call off the attacks while speaking of his administration as if removed from the center of it.

“These people want to push us into a war, and it’s so disgusting,” Mr. Trump told one confidant about his own inner circle of advisers. “We don’t need any more wars.”

No, no, just kidding. I think Trump has Tucker lined up for Secretary of Defense.

Then, next year, he’ll start trash-talking him on Twitter for being too wimpy.

Seriously, I don’t know why he persists in staffing up with people like Bolton who he seems to regard as reckless warmongers. It’s true that doves aren’t easy to find in the Republican natsec establishment, but just because he’s stuck choosing among hawks doesn’t mean he has to hire farking superhawks who are destined to irritate him with their penchant for aggression. It’s not just Bolton: Supposedly two of the candidates whom the White House has considered in the past for Secretary of Defense are … Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton, arguably the two most ardent interventionists in the U.S. government. It’d be one thing if Trump were going for a “team of rivals” dynamic where he insists on having hawks around him to challenge his own foreign policy inclinations, but the quote excerpted above eliminates that theory. You shouldn’t put someone in your cabinet whose views you find “disgusting,” period.

In fact, Trump’s rhetoric about Bolton et al. sounds a bit like Iran’s. Ideally having a dove as president and a superhawk as NSA keeps Iran and other U.S. enemies off-balance by leaving them to wonder who’ll prevail in matters of war. Will the inexperienced president assert himself, or will the very experienced advisor persuade him to be more aggressive? It’s a game of good cop/bad cop — ideally. Realistically, notes Graeme Wood, the differences between Trump and Bolton are something Iran and others can exploit to undermine the president’s confidence in his advisors. And weirdly, thanks to Tucker Carlson, their message is being reinforced on Fox News:

If the national security adviser has no heart, and the president has no brain, their adversaries will play their respective deficits off each other, appealing to the heart when the brain says no. Bush and Bolton were at least in general agreement, and the North Koreans’ hope of splitting them was just that—a hope. Presidents have disagreed with their national security advisers before. Now, however, the split is real and visible. National security advisers have, in the past, had confidence that their presidents would at least approach international security issues consistently, so that threats bore the proper menace, and enemies could not respond by waiting around for the boss to change his mind. Bolton never changes his mind, but Trump changes his mind constantly, so who cares?

The Iranian strategy is, as Mike Doran notes, to convince the president that his government is captured and controlled by maniacs, who are whispering bloodthirsty advice to him from within the White House… Whatever Bolton’s faults—and they are considerable—he is one of the only senior national-security officials to have worked on this sort of crisis before, and to wedge him away from the president is to increase the chaos in an already wild administration. Carlson even repeated, on the air and apropos of nothing, a statement of Persian cultural supremacy: “Iran is a sophisticated country,” he said, and its cities “not at all like Riyadh or Dubai,” the seats of Gulf power friendly to Trump and unfriendly to Tehran. I like the poetry of Hafez and Rumi as much as the next person, but it is nonetheless startling to hear Iranian propaganda repeated on Fox News.

A few days ago Carlson referred to Bolton as a “bureaucratic tapeworm,” the sort of interventionist parasite who “live[s] forever in the bowels of the federal agencies, periodically reemerging to cause pain and suffering but never suffering himself.” Dehumanization of a political enemy is strong stuff even for cable news. To watch it happen to Trump’s handpicked national security advisor (and a former colleague of Tucker’s at Fox to boot) on Trump TV is astonishing, particularly knowing how closely Trump follows Carlson’s show and that he and Carlson have spoken privately about Iran policy. Both Iran and Fox primetime are warning the president that he can’t trust his own aides to have his and America’s best interests at heart. And if the quote reported by the Journal up top is accurate, Trump seems to agree.

To his credit, Trump apparently didn’t let Iran off scot-free for bringing down a U.S. drone. This is a potent nonlethal response:

President Trump approved an offensive cyberstrike that disabled Iranian computer systems used to control rocket and missile launches, even as he backed away from a conventional military attack in response to its downing Thursday of an unmanned U.S. surveillance drone, according to people familiar with the matter…

“This is not something they can put back together so easily,” said one person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.

My only question is whether that was a one-off or a strike that can be replicated if and when it needs to be. Iran will learn something from it and will create new cyberdefenses in response. If we need to disable their missile defenses next time — in advance of actual airstrikes — presumably it’ll be harder. But then, Trump incurred the same risk with conventional military assets when he ordered military strikes on Thursday, allowed U.S. ships and planes to be pre-positioned, and then called off the attack in the final hours. Iran likely learned something about U.S. capabilities and tactics from that positioning too. “He basically called them up and told them what he was going to do,” complained a retired lieutenant colonel afterward.

By the way, reporting from various media sources, from the Journal to the Times to WaPo to the Daily Beast, now seems to agree on the general facts of what happened on Thursday with Trump calling off the attack. POTUS made it sound afterward as though he hadn’t realized until the final few hours how many Iranians might be killed in America’s “limited” strikes. Not true, say the reports. He was briefed in the morning on possible casualties (“dozens,” claims the Daily Beast) and gave the order to attack anyway, with his top natsec advisors all in favor but Gen. Joe Dunford a bit more cautious, and remained “supportive of military action throughout the day,” per WaPo. By early evening, however, he began asking more questions about casualties. What caused that change of heart? Was he simply deliberating on it or did some dovish friend influence his thinking in the interim? The figure of 150 potential Iranian casualties which he cited supposedly was based on an assessment produced by a Pentagon lawyer — but that was on the high end of projections, a likely death toll if the U.S. attacked in the middle of the day while the targets were fully staffed. In reality, the U.S. was planning to attack before dawn. And an official who spoke to the WSJ says it wasn’t a Pentagon estimate at all but rather one generated by the White House itself, adding that the Pentagon’s estimate wouldn’t have been that high.

Anyway, here’s Bernie Sanders with a cute line about Trump’s restraint: He helped start this fire by tearing up the nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions, and now he wants credit for putting it out?

The post Report: Trump said of aides, “These people want to push us into a war, and it’s so disgusting” appeared first on Hot Air.

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Trump: I called off the Iran strike 10 minutes before it began because I didn’t want a disproportionate response to a drone shootdown

Westlake Legal Group t-7 Trump: I called off the Iran strike 10 minutes before it began because I didn’t want a disproportionate response to a drone shootdown War Trump The Blog proportion Pompeo Iran drone Bolton attack

This was judicious, but it’s hard to resist the temptation to taunt a guy who’s so given to taunting others for their perceived weakness. Couldn’t he switch parties for just a day so that righty media can spend a few enjoyable hours calling him the Ultimate Cuck?

I mean, that’s what he’d be doing on his own Twitter feed right now if Obama had wimped out 10 minutes before go time after an American UAV was shot down.

I guess we’ll have to content ourselves with the fact that the president declined to order a massive new war in the Middle East. For now.

“An age of wonders,” said Michael Brendan Dougherty in response. “A moral and spiritual reprobate articulates a classical Augustinian just war argument. And conservative Christians hate it.” Well, hawkish Christians, but yes, that’s most of them. My solution to this quandary: Let Tucker and Hannity karate-fight live at 9 p.m. on Fox tonight. Winner gets to set U.S. Iran policy.

Theories are kicking around on social media about the strange timeline in Trump’s tweets. Theory one, the Trump-friendly theory: It was an orchestrated “head fake,” as described by Jazz earlier today. Trump didn’t change his mind about the attack at the last minute; it was a bluff from the jump aimed at frightening Iran by convincing them that we’re now thisclose to war. I’m skeptical, though. If all Trump wanted to do was head fake, he could have arranged for a leak from the White House that he was about to give the order for a massive attack — and had a change of heart at the last second. According to the Times, however, he actually did give the order. Planes and ships were in position and “military and diplomatic officials were expecting a strike.” That’s a long way to go for a bluff, and fantastically risky given that someone down the chain of command could have potentially moved a few minutes too soon, launching the attack before Trump could call it back.

Theory two, the hardcore anti-Trump theory: The guy was out to lunch, as usual. He may have ordered the strike and then only realized a few minutes before it began that lots of people were about to die, which would all but guarantee an Iranian reprisal in which lots of Americans in the region died too. Then he’d have to escalate further. How did that not occur to him before? Did his staff not even brief him on expected casualties until 10 minutes before launch? What the hell’s going on in that building?

Theory three: It was an ego trip. Never can count out that possibility when it comes to Trump.

Theory four, the prosaic explanation: As always, he’s indecisive and changes his mind a lot. He seemed to change it publicly yesterday, in fact. Probably he was briefed about casualties from the start but (per the Times) Bolton, Pompeo, and Gina Haspel were all recommending retaliation to him, no doubt warning him that failure to act would amount to “provocative weakness” inviting another Iranian escalation. That might have sold Trump — temporarily. But as he thought further, weighing the casualties and the prospect of having the next 18 months consumed with managing a huge war that directly contradicted his pledge to keep America out of the Middle East, he decided against it.

What Trump clearly has always wanted with Iran is a great big beautiful diplomatic deal that will outshine the one brokered by his nemesis, Barack Obama. Lefties were asking on Twitter this morning why Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran if he’s so reluctant to go to war with them, since that’s the logical end result of escalation. The obvious answer is that it’s a leverage play aimed at new negotiations. This is how a real-estate mogul processes stalemates: Walk away from the table, rattle one’s saber, then hope/expect that your opponent will cave and ask for negotiations on terms that are more favorable to you. He’s fully expecting that this standoff ends with Iran requesting an unprecedented summit with the White House. In fact, according to Reuters, he had that message relayed again to Iran last night in the hours before the big (canceled) attack:

Earlier on Friday, Iranian officials told Reuters that Tehran had received a message from Trump warning that a U.S. attack on Iran was imminent but saying that he was against war and wanted talks on a range of issues…

“In his message, Trump said he was against any war with Iran and wanted to talk to Tehran about various issues,” one of the officials told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“He gave a short period of time to get our response but Iran’s immediate response was that it is up to Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei to decide about this issue.”

I’m not sure how effective a leverage play can be when it’s increasingly clear that Trump, not Iran, is the party that’s more desperate to negotiate. Just like I’m not sure how intimidating Trump’s “madman” persona really is to America’s enemies at this point if he’s on Twitter wringing his hands about “disproportionate” attacks. The point of the “madman” strategy in foreign policy is to convince your rivals you’re apt to do something crazy and disproportionate if they don’t bend to your will. Now here’s Trump saying the opposite, that he cares too much about Iranian lives to pull the trigger. Given his obvious reluctance to go to war and his insistence on talks, it’s Iran that momentarily has the leverage and controls the field of play. If they want to escalate further, they can by attacking another American interest. What’s Trump supposed to say if they shoot down six more unmanned American drones tomorrow? If they want talks, they can have those too. If they want to just forget this whole thing happened and go back to leaning on Europe to provide them with relief from U.S. sanctions, they can also do that by refraining from any further attacks. Very clearly, though, Trump’s preference is talks and a renegotiation of the Obama nuclear deal.

And given his track record in renegotiating other deals, like NAFTA and the USMCA, the new Trump nuclear deal would likely end up looking verrrrrry similar to the old Obama nuclear deal. I’m surprised Iran hasn’t realized that yet. If they want sanctions lifted, just meet with Trump, agree to re-christen the Obama nuke deal the Trump Disarmament Protocols or whatever, and they’re done.

Personally, I think Trump pulled back because he knows that war with Iran would be jarringly discordant with the tone of the reality-show world we all now live in, which he’s created for us. It’d be like an episode of “Jackass” where someone gets murdered. The Trump presidency isn’t supposed to involve wars, it’s supposed to involve him feuding with Bette Midler on social media. If the Iranians want his attention, they should start trolling him on Twitter instead of doing crazy things with bombs and missiles.

Here’s Brian Kilmeade all but calling Trump a wimp on “Fox & Friends” this morning. Given the freakishly outsized influence Fox programming has on Trump’s thinking, someone needs to tell this guy to shut his mouth before we end up in World War III.

The post Trump: I called off the Iran strike 10 minutes before it began because I didn’t want a disproportionate response to a drone shootdown appeared first on Hot Air.

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Bernie: No, I don’t believe Trump and Pompeo when they say that Iran attacked those oil tankers

Westlake Legal Group bs-1 Bernie: No, I don’t believe Trump and Pompeo when they say that Iran attacked those oil tankers Trump The Blog tankers Pompeo Oil Japan Iraq Iran investigation Independent gulf of tonkin corbyn Bolton Bernie Sanders

Another reminder of how strange it is that an anti-war conspiracy theory is circulating in respectable-ish wings of American politics and not only is Donald Trump not a proponent, he’s the head of the government that’s being targeted by it.

Bernie’s British counterpart, Jeremy Corbyn, also questioned Iran’s culpability in the tanker attack recently and got ripped for it by the Tory foreign secretary:

Sanders won’t be so easily shamed. He came to his MSNBC interview today armed with the proverbial receipts for his position, the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the Saddam WMD fiasco, and he enjoys some unlikely support for his skepticism among top U.S. allies. In particular, the Japanese government is reluctant to spoil its friendly relations with Iran by accepting American claims that Iran bombed the tankers without further proof:

But Japanese government officials remain unconvinced, the sources said. “The U.S. explanation has not helped us go beyond speculation,” said one senior government official.

Japan has been seeking more concrete evidence through various channels, including Foreign Minister Taro Kono who is likely to have made the request during a call with his counterpart on Friday, the sources said…

If having expertise sophisticated enough to conduct the attack could be a reason to conclude that the attacker was Iran, “That would apply to the United States and Israel as well,” said a source at the Foreign Ministry.

Iraq is on their minds too:

“We can’t make any statement based on a presumption,” said the senior diplomat, adding that the U.S. government should disclose more information on the Hormuz incident.

Another government source referred to the Iraq war, which the United States initiated after intelligence analyses of Iraq falsely pointed to the country possessing weapons of mass destruction…

A former Cabinet member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party even suggested the possibility of a U.S. conspiracy behind the tanker attacks.

Angela Merkel has been more diplomatic about it, claiming that she takes the United States’s allegations about Iranian culpability “very seriously,” but she’s noncommittal too. Germany’s more worried about what remains of the nuclear deal falling apart if Iran doesn’t get some relief from U.S. sanctions soon. Siding with Trump on the tanker incident might rupture relations between Tehran and Europe, raising tensions in the Gulf further, risking a U.S.-Iran war, and possibly leading Iran to attempt a nuclear “breakout.”

As Ed noted earlier, Trump himself is attempting to find a path between his hawkish advisors on the one hand and his interest in some sort of grand bargain with Iran on the other. He’s siding with U.S. intelligence (this time) in accusing Iran of bombing the tankers — but he’s downplaying the incident, calling it “very minor,” certainly not grounds for war. That’s one thing that makes Bernie’s false-flag insinuations here ring hollow: There’s little evidence that Trump himself wants a military conflict, in which case the alleged “false flag” with the tankers is supposedly a pretext for … what, exactly? Presumably Sanders would say that he’s less concerned about Trump’s appetite for war than about Bolton’s and Pompeo’s, but Trump’s advisors haven’t led him around by the nose on foreign policy. His two summits with Kim Jong Un doubtless made his hawkish deputies’ skin crawl, but they happened anyway. CNN is reporting this afternoon, in fact, that Trump has warned his staff recently that “he isn’t interested in wading into another conflict in the Middle East” and “regime change should not be in the cards.”

To my mind, the best argument for believing that Iran really is behind the tanker attacks is how “very minor” they were. An enemy power looking to frame Iran for the bombing wouldn’t have an incentive to go small; they should have wanted to go big, making the attack as devastating as possible. The more blood and oil spilled in the explosion, the more ruthless and renegade Iran would appear. In reality, the mines that exploded on the tankers’ hulls not only didn’t do much damage, they were placed safely above the water line seemingly to ensure that the ships wouldn’t be flooded. The bombings smacked of a symbolic gesture, something calibrated to send a message without damaging the ships so heavily that a military response would be required. That’s exactly in line with Iran’s goals. They wanted to signal their impatience with U.S. sanctions and to suggest to their European friends that they might close oil commerce in the Gulf if they don’t get economic relief soon, but they didn’t want to risk a conflagration from it. So they took a couple of potshots at the tankers. Point made, no harm done. Who else in the region would have that same incentive?

The post Bernie: No, I don’t believe Trump and Pompeo when they say that Iran attacked those oil tankers appeared first on Hot Air.

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Pompeo: Iran is responsible for today’s tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman

Westlake Legal Group mp-1 Pompeo: Iran is responsible for today’s tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman War The Blog tanker strait Pompeo Oman Iran hormuz gulf attack

Maybe those reports last month about an elevated Iranian threat in the region weren’t the product of John Bolton’s febrile imagination after all.

Read Ed’s post from this morning if you haven’t yet. The attack on the tankers is confounding considering that each had business with Japan and came at a moment when … Shinzo Abe was in Tehran for the first trip by a Japanese head of state in decades. The White House is trying to isolate Iran’s regime internationally, if only to pressure them into talks; Iran obviously wants to avoid isolation, which is why it took the meeting with Abe. Why would it risk blowing up its own international diplomacy with a new tanker provocation? Afterwards, Iran’s foreign minister described the attack on the tankers as beyond “suspicious,” a dark insinuation that either the U.S. or an ally — the Israelis? the Saudis? — was responsible.

But, as Ed asked, how easy would it be for a saboteur to hit a pair of tankers in the Gulf of Oman and then vanish without Iran detecting it?

CBS has a key detail from Pentagon sources:

A U.S. defense official told CBS News national security correspondent David Martin that the U.S. has video of a small boat coming alongside one of the tankers that was attacked and removing an unexploded “limpet” mine — a type of explosive that can be stuck manually to the side of a vessel. It is the same type of weapon U.S. officials say Iran used to attack four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah last month.

A defense official also told WaPo that he suspected limpet bombs were used, and that the attack was perpetrated “by Iran or forces under its influence.”

Normally a country might follow a “closed fist” or “open hand” diplomatic approach, but maybe Iran’s trying some of both. The open hand was extended to Abe out of politeness, to hear his pitch about talks with the U.S. and to show European governments caught between Trump and Iran that Tehran wants good relations with the rest of the world. The closed fist was the attack on the tankers, done with enough plausible deniability that Iran could claim to Abe that it wasn’t responsible but with enough of a signature that the U.S. would get the underlying message — that Iran doesn’t want talks and will continue to punish the international oil industry if the U.S. doesn’t back off on sanctions. (“Analysts say that whoever was behind the recent attacks may be trying to make the point that there is no way around the gulf routes,” as the NYT notes.) Iran didn’t want to risk sending that “closed fist” message directly to the White House by attacking an American tanker and risking war, so it sent the message indirectly instead.

Sounds like the message was received too. We don’t really want talks, Trump tweeted afterward, not very convincingly:

Here’s Khamenei rebuffing the idea of diplomacy with the U.S. during his meeting with Abe.

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Pompeo: We’re ready to talk to Iran — without preconditions

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Lots of agita about this yesterday on social media. Didn’t America’s right wing have a collective aneurysm in 2007 when Obama said at a Democratic primary debate that he’d talk to Iran without preconditions? We sure did!

Our Republican Secretary of State has embraced the Obama position. Important footnote, though: The Obama position also happens to be the Trump position. Don’t the people freaking out about Pompeo remember that POTUS said the same thing last year?

You can play the “What if Obama did it?” game to gauge righty hypocrisy with virtually every outre thing Trump does, but I do think it’s possible to have opposed talks with Iran in 2008 and to support them in 2019 for reasons other than rank partisanship. Time does matter in a situation like this. I can remember feeling incensed at reports circa 2008 that the U.S. wanted to talk to the Taliban to see if the two sides could feel their way towards some diplomatic resolution in Afghanistan. We were less than a decade removed from 9/11 and already we were looking to accommodate the jihadi enemy? Unthinkable. Outrageous.

Eleven weary years of stalemate later, the choice has narrowed to talks with the Taliban or unilateral withdrawal and outright forfeiture of the country to the bad guys. What do we have to lose by hearing them out?

Same goes for North Korea, although in that case the options have narrowed not to “talks or defeat” but to “talks or nuclear war.” A decade ago, it was possible to believe that sanctions might grind down the regime before it managed to build a nuclear ICBM. In 2019 it’s no longer possible. As gross as it was to see the president of the United States reward Kim Jong Un for his brinksmanship with a face-to-face summit, I grudgingly supported Trump on it just because the alternative is unthinkable. He tried something bold diplomatically to avert cataclysm. It’s hard to fault him for it.

Although it’s easy to fault him for all the vomit-generating warm words he’s wasted on Kim since then.

Talking to Iran without preconditions is reluctantly defensible along the same lines. We’ve been waiting a long time for the Great Pumpkin of regime change to arrive there. We expected that the Iraq war would frighten them into a more modest regional role. We hoped that jettisoning the nuclear deal would force them to the table for fear of new sanctions by the United States. It may be worth following that last strategy for awhile longer but eventually, and maybe sooner than we think, Iran will reach the point that North Korea has in developing a nuclear weapon with intercontinental reach. What then?

I’ll repeat what I said last year too after Trump’s comments, that “talks without preconditions” is more digestible when you’ve worked to improve your bargaining strength. One of the things that alarmed righties about Obama calling for talks as a candidate was that it played into the fear that he’d be a pushover as a commander-in-chief. He hadn’t even taken the job yet and was already seemingly inviting Iran to the Oval Office. In Trump’s case, though, he’s torn up the nuclear deal, bombed Iran’s client in Syria twice, hugged Saudi Arabia’s crown prince as tightly as he can, and most recently ordered a naval build-up in the Gulf to deter possible attacks by Iran on U.S. interests there. He’s not pitching “talks without preconditions” so much as he’s pitching “talks without preconditions or else.” If U.S. muscle-flexing ends up frightening Iran into conciliation, talks may be worth holding.

In lieu of an exit question, a trip down memory lane.

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Tucker Carlson: For John Bolton, war with Iran would be like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and his birthday rolled into one

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Weird but true: Given the president’s devotion to watching Fox News and the dearth of dovish voices around him, Carlson may have more influence in keeping America out of war with Iran with his commentaries than anyone else in the United States.

Even weirder yet also true: If the U.S. and Iran were to start firing at each other tomorrow, Fox’s 8 p.m. guy and its 9 p.m. guy would find themselves poles apart on this issue.

And despite nationalists’ apprehensions about intervention abroad, there’s zero question which side of that dispute Fox’s audience would take. Tucker would suddenly find himself a lonely figure as a right-wing critic of America’s newest assault on the Axis of Evil.

His guest in the clip below is over the top in questioning whether Bolton is trying to engineer a Gulf of Tonkin incident to justify war with Iran but, as best as the NYT can tell, it’s true that the evidence of a growing Iranian threat is thin. Even some U.S. allies aren’t seeing it.

Intelligence and military officials in Europe as well as in the United States said that over the past year, most aggressive moves have originated not in Tehran, but in Washington — where John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, has prodded President Trump into backing Iran into a corner.

One American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential internal planning, said the new intelligence of an increased Iranian threat was “small stuff” and did not merit the military planning being driven by Mr. Bolton. The official also said the ultimate goal of the yearlong economic sanctions campaign by the Trump administration was to draw Iran into an armed conflict with the United States…

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s efforts this week to recruit European countries to back the administration’s steely posture on Iran are being received coolly…

Privately, several European officials described Mr. Bolton and Mr. Pompeo as pushing an unsuspecting Mr. Trump through a series of steps that could put the United States on a course to war before the president realizes it.

A top British commander in the western effort to defeat ISIS says he’s seen “no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq or Syria.” Iraqi intelligence officials are also reportedly skeptical of U.S. claims that the Iranians are plotting something.

It’s possible, obviously, that the intel which the U.S. has is sturdier than the Times sources realize and/or that naysayers are downplaying it for political reasons, because they oppose an attack on Iran for prudential or ideological reasons. In particular the bit about Bolton and Pompeo leading an “unsuspecting” Trump around by the nose seems aimed at playing upon Trump’s vanity, knowing how much he detests being seen as a catspaw of his deputies. Carlson’s commentary here complements that, starting with a reminder that the president commands the U.S. military, not John Bolton. If you don’t trust POTUS to oppose a major war with Iran on the merits, appeal to his vanity. Or maybe show him this poll and remind him how politicians who supported the last major war in the Middle East have fared in recent presidential elections. (2004 worked out okay for Dubya, of course.)

But it’s also possible that the intel really is thin and that the hawkish faction led by Bolton is being opportunistic in citing it as a reason to turn the long cold war between the U.S. and Iran hot. It may be Bolton’s misfortune in this matter that the recent plot to oust Nicolas Maduro by having his top advisors desert him en masse failed so miserably a few weeks ago. Had the intelligence behind that plot been borne out, Trump naturally would have more faith in the intel detecting an Iranian threat to U.S. proxies in the Middle East. As it is, having been burned by the failure in Venezuela, he’s destined to be more skeptical now. The failure in Caracas may have foiled the plans for Tehran.

Exit quotation from citizen Donald Trump, November 29, 2011: “In order to get elected, @BarackObama will start a war with Iran.”

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Tucker Carlson on Venezuela: When was the last time we successfully meddled in another country?

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If you can’t think of an answer, let Trump and Mike Pompeo know as soon as possible. And I do mean as soon as possible.

“The President has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent. Military action is possible. If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do,” Pompeo said on Fox Business Network. “We’re trying to do everything we can to avoid violence. We’ve asked all the parties involved not to engage in the kind of activity. We’d prefer a peaceful transition of government there, where Maduro leaves and a new election is held. But the President has made clear, in the event that there comes a moment — and we’ll all have to make decisions about when that moment is — and the President will have to ultimately make that decision. He is prepared to do that if that’s what’s required.”

What sort of developments on the ground would “require” the U.S. to act? An all-out attack by Maduro on Venezuelan civilians? Ironically, that’d be a reprise of Obama’s justification for assembling the coalition against Qaddafi in Libya, that members of the United Nations have a responsibility to protect vulnerable populations from war crimes committed by their own government. Trump endorsed intervention in Libya in 2011 on humanitarian grounds then predictably ran away from it after the post-Qaddafi period proved violent and chaotic. Currently he’s rooting for the country’s new Qaddafi-esque military strongman to march on the U.S.-backed government in Tripoli. Don’t look to POTUS for consistency on any of this. He’s probably gung ho to take out Maduro for no grander reason than that dealing a famous socialist a bruising defeat would be sweet symbolism for 2020 and would get all the kooks on the far left of the Democratic Party yelling at him.

Tucker’s going to yell at him in the meantime, though:

“Would the overthrow of [President Nicolás] Maduro make Venezuela a more stable, prosperous country? More to the point, would it be good for the United States?” Carlson said, specifically pointing to calls for intervention from Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). “Before the bombers take off, let’s just answer a few quick questions, starting with the most obvious: When was the last time we successfully meddled in the political life of another country? Has it ever worked? How are those democracies we set up in Iraq and Libya and Syria and Afghanistan?”

Carlson further claimed sanctions against the South American nation hurt America’s middle class by increasing gas prices. If pro-interventionists “are indeed good people, why do they seem to care more about Venezuela than they care about this country, the one they run?” he said.

He can beat up on Rick Scott all he wants but Scott knows who his constituents in Florida are and knows what they want to hear. Even Democrats in Florida are siding with Juan Guaido, realizing that they’d have a political problem with both Cuban expats and Venezuelan expats if they backed a Castro-supported cretin like Maduro. (The White House continues to emphasize Cuba’s role in propping up Maduro in public pronouncements, which is both true and good politics. Pompeo’s even taken to noting that Cuba has essentially invaded the country.) Tucker knows who his constituents are too, though: He’s pitching to an audience of one here, Fox News’s most loyal viewer. What happened to the isolationist Donald we all thought we knew from the Republican primaries? Why is General Haftar’s attempt to impose “stability” on Libya praiseworthy while Maduro’s attempt to impose “stability” on Venezuela worthy of U.S. military intervention?

He gets too cute with his own argument at points, though. It’s true that interventionists routinely demagogue isolationists as callous towards war crimes but Carlson demagogues interventionists when he accuses them of caring more about Venezuela than about the U.S. (Although, full confession, this Onion quickie yesterday did make me laugh.) And he’s missing the point when he says that U.S. intervention would cause a massive refugee crisis. One reason that Trump has been sold on confronting Maduro, I’d bet, is the belief that U.S. intervention might actually stave off a protracted civil war and prevent a refugee crisis. Interventionists have spent the better part of 10 years claiming that if America had jumped into Syria early and aggressively Assad might have been dislodged and a “political solution” brokered that would have spared the country from years of havoc. Because it didn’t, the war became a maelstrom and Europe was left to find sanctuary for fleeing Syrians. Whether U.S. intervention really would have made the war better or worse is unknowable — and its unknowability is part of Carlson’s point, that interventionists always think they know how the script’s going to go and they never, ever do. But Tucker himself is claiming a weird degree of certainty in believing that U.S. intervention can only make the refugee problem worse. What if we stay out, the Venezuelan military splits, Maduro hangs on as stubbornly as Assad did, and we get a 10-year civil war anyway with enthusiastic Russian and Cuban participation?

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Pompeo: Maduro was ready to leave Venezuela this morning — until the Russians talked him out of it

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If it’s a lie, it’s a lie in service to a good cause. Guaido’s supporters and members of the military who are loyal to him might take heart from it. Maduro’s supporters and military loyalists will denounce it as Yanqui propaganda but maybe with a quaver in their voices. Imagine being a Venezuelan officer trying to decide whether to stick with Maduro and hearing that he might be preparing to bug out, abandoning you to your fate.

The fact that Pompeo blames the Russians for convincing him to stay is interesting too. It’s very far removed from the Resistance’s working theory that Trump is a Putin stooge. And it’s gratuitous: He could have omitted that detail if he’d wanted to. He didn’t.

“We’ve watched throughout the day, it’s been a long time since anyone’s seen Maduro,” Pompeo said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.”

“He had an airplane on the tarmac, he was ready to leave this morning as we understand it and the Russians indicated he should stay.”

“He was headed for Havana,” Pompeo said.

The Secretary of State refused to say whether Maduro would be permitted to safely depart for Cuba, instead saying that “Mr. Maduro understands what will happen if he gets on that airplane.”

Assume it’s true. What did Putin offer Maduro to convince him to stay and risk becoming South America’s answer to Assad? There are in fact Russian troops in Venezuela as we speak, although reportedly only a small contingent. They may be there to ward off military action by, well, us: VOA reported yesterday that the Russians are probably tasked with operating Venezuela’s aging Russian-made S-300 air-defense missiles in case Trump decides to authorize a bombing run or a no-fly zone in support of Guaido. Two months ago John Bolton explicitly invoked the Monroe Doctrine to justify U.S. interest in seeing Maduro ousted and the unrest in Venezuela end. Where do we stand Monroe-wise on Moscow putting a thumb on the scale for Venezuela and deploying troops to the country?

Pompeo’s insistence on blaming Russia for Maduro’s continued presence is a brushback pitch, I assume, a warning that Trump’s interest in rapprochement with Moscow will sour if they make trouble for him in Venezuela. Civil war would mean a refugee crisis in the making for Central America and eventually the United States, which I’m sure makes it that much more appetizing for Putin. A refugee crush fueled by Syria’s civil war contributed to the immigration crisis that destabilized European governments, weakened Merkel, and led to the rise of Putin-friendly right-wing parties there. He probably believes that turning Venezuela into Syria would do something similar regionally and maybe have secondary effects in the U.S. by deepening the split between America’s left and right over immigration. In the meantime, any opportunity he has to project power abroad reinforces perceptions back home that he’s restored Russia to true “great power” status, the equal of the United States. Flouting the Monroe Doctrine and operating in Venezuela would make that perception that much more vivid.

Trump’s less focused on Russia than on Cuba, which by some estimates has 15,000 military and intelligence operatives on the ground there. That feels a bit like Syria too, with Cuba playing the Iran role as a regional power rushing to the aide of an ideological ally partly in solidarity and partly to protect its own influence by beating back revolutionaries whose success might eventually threaten it too.

We already have a comprehensive economic embargo on Cuba and Trump undid many of Obama’s measures relaxing certain U.S. policies towards the Castro regime two years ago. I assume he means a return to the full pre-Obama status quo ante if Cuba doesn’t pull out. But they’re not going to pull out, as seeing Maduro fall might give freedom-minded Cubans funny ideas about Castro departing too. What does Trump do if both Castro and Putin ignore him and begin prosecuting a war for Maduro against Guaido?

Here’s Pompeo on CNN. Bolton warned Russia today not to meddle but I don’t think they’re listening.

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