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January 03, 2020

“We’ve got your back” beats “Thank you for your service”

We should never send troops – or diplomats - into harm’s way unless we are willing to defend them. Defending them means both firing back when fired on and preventing attacks in the first place. Defending our troops and diplomats requires disproportionate – not tit-for-tat – response. They are not pawns to be traded-off for pawns on the other side. It is entirely appropriate if killing an American private costs a general his life. General Qassem Soleimani had many American lives on his hands; by his own boasts, he was ready to take more.  It’s fortunate that we were able to end his bloody career with the only apparent collateral damage being a few of his partners in crime.

The America troops in Iraq are there lawfully. Their presence was requested by Iraq (they may be unrequested now by an Iranian-fearing government in Iraq). The US Congress authorized their presence both in an open-ended war against terror resolution in 2001 and in a 2002 resolution for war in Iraq. The troops are funded by annual appropriations passed by Congress.

Iran and Iranian proxies have been steadily testing America’s resolve. They shot down an unarmed drone; Trump decided not to retaliate saying no Americans were harmed. They blew up much of a Saudi refinery; neither Saudi Arabia or the US retaliated. The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), nominally Iraqi militias but under the effective control of Iran, have been firing missiles at US bases in Iraq. A little over a week ago, they managed to kill an American contractor and injure several other Americans.

Turned out the redline against harming Americans was not drawn in sand. The US responded with airstrikes which killed 27 members of Kataib Hezbollah, a PMF militia. Interestingly, Congresspeople seemed not to object to this response – just pawns for pawns.

PMF militias then attacked the US embassy in Baghdad, something they wouldn’t have done without the support of Iran and couldn’t have done without the acquiescence of the Iraqi government. An attack on an embassy is the same as an attack on the sovereign territory of the embassy’s owner; it is an act of war. If you are as old as me, you remember that the Iranian regime went unpunished for occupying the American embassy in Tehran and holding American’s hostage. I’m sure Soleimani remembered that.

We reinforced the embassy as we should have. We refrained from shooting more than teargas at the militia storming the gates. Soleimani rushed in from Syria. He was either met or accompanied by Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Forces. The Pentagon said they were planning an attack on American interest; that’s not very hard to believe even without specific intelligence. Incredibly we knew exact details of the visit including when the convoy would be isolated on an airport road. We acted both to prevent future attacks and to make clear that even high-ranking generals responsible for American deaths are as vulnerable as their troops to our retaliation. It was an opportunity we had to use.  We did.

The President has the authority to protect American troops on a mission approved by Congress; he did that. There was no time to consult with Congress and the possibility of leaks would have endangered the mission, the troops, and the diplomats. He does owe Congress a full report.

The argument that this will make the world more dangerous because it angers the Iranian leadership is absurd; they already hate us; they are already dedicated to our destruction. We have been the “Great Satan” since the days of Jimmy Carter. Hopefully, and it’s only a hope, they will moderate their behavior when our response punishes more than just Iranian surrogate pawns.

We owe it to our troops and our diplomats to view this action and our actions in the coming days in a non-partisan way. Doesn’t matter whether you love Trump or hate him; doesn’t matter how impeachment or the next election is affected; what matters is what’s best for American and what will best protect American lives.

We can withdraw our troops and diplomats from Iraq. That’s what Iran wants but it is a far better alternative then leaving them there and refusing to defend them both reactively and proactively. We cannot let any Iranian “revenge” go unanswered. We must continue disproportionate response when Americans are harmed or threatened anywhere in the world. This is how we say “Thank you for your service!”

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