Lazy Caturday Reads: Trump’s Stupid Iran Gambit

Good Afternoon!!

There are several articles at major news sources today claiming to describe the process by which Trump decided to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Sorry, I don’t buy it. Trump doesn’t make decisions in the orderly manner in which aides and gullible reporters like to describe. I think this Twitter thread by The Hoarse Whisperer makes more sense.

This article at The Daily Beast supports Hoarse’s argument: Trump Told Mar-a-Lago Pals to Expect ‘Big’ Iran Action ‘Soon.’

In the five days prior to launching a strike that killed Iran’s most important military leader, Donald Trump roamed the halls of Mar-a-Lago, his private resort in Florida, and started dropping hints to close associates and club-goers that something huge was coming.

According to three people who’ve been at the president’s Palm Beach club over the past several days, Trump began telling friends and allies hanging at his perennial vacation getaway that he was working on a “big” response to the Iranian regime that they would be hearing or reading about very “soon.” His comments went beyond the New Year’s Eve tweet he sent out warning of the “big price” Iran would pay for damage to U.S. facilities. Two of these sources tell The Daily Beast that the president specifically mentioned he’d been in close contact with his top national security and military advisers on gaming out options for an aggressive action that could quickly materialize.

“He kept saying, ‘You’ll see,’” one of the sources recalled, describing a conversation with Trump days before Thursday’s strike.

Meanwhile, he told Congress nothing. This thread that JJ pointed me too is also very helpful. I won’t post the whole thing because it’s long; but I highly recommend reading the whole thing on Twitter.

Read the rest on Twitter.

More Iran reads:

Abigail Tracy and Vanity Fair: “The Administration’s Track Record Doesn’t Inspire Confidence”: After Killing Soleimani, Trump Confronts a Credibility Gap.

The Washington defense and diplomatic communities are not exactly mourning the death of Qasem Soleimani, a powerful Iranian commander who was killed by a U.S. airstrike on Thursday night. “Soleimani was a murderer and the major source of violence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon for three decades,” said, former ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns, echoing a near-unanimous position. “He was an enemy of the U.S., responsible for hundreds of American deaths.”

But many in Washington believe that the killing of this dangerous man made the world a much more dangerous place, and now, in a moment of ominous quiet, a new landscape is being mapped. Among diplomats I spoke with familiar with the region, there was little doubt that Iran would respond forcefully to Soleimani’s killing. “A real retaliation is going to come months from now,” a former ambassador to a country in the region said. And Iranian leadership left little doubt that this would be the case. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, called for three days of national mourning and vowed revenge. “His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands,” he said in a statement. Thus far, clarity is lacking as to how the decision to kill Soleimani was made, and the diplomatic corp, deeply skeptical of Trump to begin with, tends to see it as an impulsive act. “It was of course a serious escalation,” said a former diplomat who worked on Middle East issues, “and seemingly devoid of strategic rationale.”

Does Trump know what’s next? Of course not.

There is also an acute fear within the diplomatic community that the Trump administration has failed to plot its next moves on the chessboard. “The emphasis now should be on de-escalation. But we [have] every reason to assume that Trump has not thought through the full implications of this event and the repercussions it will unleash. In other words, there likely is no strategy in place to de-escalate,” Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment and Iran expert, told me. “When Trump violated the Iran nuclear deal, official communications with Tehran were severed. There is no deconfliction channel. With a hollowed-out State Department, we do not have the capacity to carry out the intense diplomacy required to manage a spiraling crisis.”

Read more expert opinions at the Vanity Fair link.

Wesley Clark at The Washington Post: Killing a top Iranian military leader was a whack-for-tat move.

Like the killing of Osama bin Laden, the strike on Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad on Thursday appears to be a stunning confirmation of U.S. military and intelligence capabilities. Like bin Laden, Soleimani was responsible for many American deaths; the Quds Force he led targeted and killed Americans, as bin Laden’s al-Qaeda did.

But there the similarities end. Soleimani was no stateless outlaw. He was a decorated public figure in a nation of more than 80 million people. He was the most renowned of the Iranian generals, hugely popular within Iran — and in Iraq, where supporters of an Iranian-backed militia stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad early this week.

If the killing of Soleimani was a response to that attack, it was clearly disproportionate: We suffered no casualties in the embassy standoff. Proportionality might have been some diplomatic pressure on Iranian authorities in Iraq or elsewhere or, a notch up, seizing another Iranian ship. That makes what comes next highly unpredictable. And failing to think ahead to the likely Iranian next steps is extremely dangerous….

No doubt the attack was intended to be preemptive as well as punitive. Soleimani and his team were certainly planning responses to U.S. actions. But here the question is whether this strike prevented further Iranian strikes or simply made escalation inevitable. Regardless of Soleimani’s charisma or strategic genius, it’s unlikely that the loss of a leader will so cripple Iran’s capacity to strike back that the escalatory cycle will be broken.

More at the WaPo link.

David Corn and Matt Cohen at Mother Jones: With a War Against Iran Brewing, Don’t Listen to the Hawks Who Lied Us Into Iraq.

Shortly after the news broke that a US airstrike in Baghdad ordered by President Donald Trump had killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force, Ari Fleischer went on Fox News and proclaimed, “I think it is entirely possible that this is going to be a catalyst inside Iran where the people celebrate this killing of Soleimani.”

Here we go again.

Fleischer was press secretary for President George W. Bush when the Bush-Cheney administration deployed a long stretch of false statements and lies—Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with al Qaeda! Saddam had WMDs! Saddam intended to use WMDs against the United States! Saddam’s defeat would lead to peace and democracy in Iraq and throughout the region!—to grease the way to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. In that position, Fleischer was a key spokesperson for the war. Prior to the invasion, he promised the war would lead to a bright future: “Once the Iraqi people see that Saddam and those around him will be removed from power, they’ll welcome freedom, they’ll be a liberated people.” Instead, Iraq and the region were wracked with destabilization and death that continues to this day. About 200,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives in the chaos and violence the Bush-Cheney invasion unleashed, and 4,500 US soldiers were killed in their war.

Back then, Fleischer was just one of many cheerleaders for the Iraq war inside and outside the administration. In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush-Cheney officials (including Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney), neocon pundits, Capitol Hill lawmakers, and some liberal pundits were beating the drums of war, inciting the public with claims that Saddam was a direct and immediate threat to the United States. They insisted that a war with Iraq would be quick, easy, and cheap and turn Iraq and the Middle East into a bastion of democracy brimming with gratitude to the United States. They were wrong, they were misguided, they were arrogant, and in some cases they outright lied to whip up fear and boost popular support for the war. With Trump’s attack in Baghdad prompting talk about another US war in the Middle East, it’s a good time to remember those who misled the public prior to the Iraq war, so if they now try to participate in the national discourse about Trump’s potential war with Iran, we won’t get fooled again. At least not by them.

Read the rest at Mother Jones.

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Trump Thinks Attacking Iran Will Get Him Reelected. He’s Wrong.

Beginning in 2011, and continuing through the next year, Donald Trump began obsessively predicting that President Obama would start a war with Iran in order to be reelected. Trump stated it publicly, on at least a half-dozen occasions, explicitly positing that attacking Iran would help Obama win reelection.

Trump posted tweets on that same theme throughout 2012, including just weeks before Obama’s victory over Republican candidate Sen. Mitt Romney….

Just like Trump’s notions that Obama would direct his attorney general whom to investigate or not, or pressure the Federal Reserve to loosen the money supply in order to help his party win the next election, Trump’s attacks on Obama were the purest form of projection. They reflect his cynical belief that every president will naturally abuse their powers, and thus provide a roadmap to his own intentions.

And indeed, Trump immediately followed the killing of Qasem Soleimani by metaphorically wrapping himself in the stars and stripes. No doubt he anticipates at least a faint echo of the rally-around-the-flag dynamic that has buoyed many of his predecessors. But Trump’s critics need not assume he will enjoy any such benefit, and should grasp that their own response will help determine it.Clic

One salient fact is that it’s not 2001, or even 2003. A poll earlier this summer found that just 18 percent of Americans prefer to “take military action against Iran” as against 78 percent wanting to “rely mainly on economic and diplomatic efforts.”

Click the link to read the rest.

More from CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski:

 


Tuesday Reads: Hopeful Views and Crazy News

Illustration by Aïda Amer, Axios

Good Morning!!

Last night Lawrence O’Donnell interviewed Rachel Bitecofer about her accurate prediction of 2018 election results and her current prediction for the 2020 presidential race.

Rachel Bitecofer is assistant director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, where she teaches classes on political behavior, campaigns, elections, and political analysis and conducts survey research on public policy issues and election campaigns. Her work and analysis has been featured in many media outlets such as The New York TimesThe Washington PostUSA TodayNPR, and she is a contracted commentator on CBC Radio. Her book, The Unprecedented 2016 Presidential Election (Palgrave McMillan) is available via Amazon. Her unique election forecasting model accurately predicted Democrats gaining 42 seats 5 months before the 2018 midterms.

Bitecofer has describes her model for the 2018 and 2020 elections at The Judy Ford Center for Public Policy: With 16 Months to go, Negative Partisanship Predicts the 2020 Presidential Election.

In July of 2018, my innovative forecasting model raised eyebrows by predicting some four months before the midterm election that Democrats would pick up 42 seats in the House of Representatives. In hindsight, that may not seem such a bold prediction, but when my forecast was released, election Twitter was still having a robust debate as to whether the Blue Wave would be large enough for Democrats to pick up the 23 seats they needed to take control of the House of Representatives and return the Speaker’s gavel to Nancy Pelosi.

Based on its 2018 performance, my model, and the theory that structures it, seem well poised to tackle the 2020 presidential election – 16 months out. I’ll serve up that result below, but first let’s set the table by reviewing my model’s 2018 forecasting success.

Rachel Bitecofer

Not only did I predict that they would gain nearly double the seats they needed, but I also identified a specific list of Republican seats Democrats would flip, including some, such as Virginia CD7, that were listed as “Lean Republican” by the majority of race raters at the time. At a time when other analysts coded even the most competitive House races for Democrats as Lean or Tilt Democrat, I identified 13 Republican-held districts as “Will Flips,” 12 as “Likely to Flip,” and 6 as “Lean Democrat.” I also identified a large list of “Toss Ups,” from which I would later identify the remaining “flippers.” In addition, I identified some “long-shot toss-up” districts that could be viable flips under some turnout scenarios. Of the original 25 districts I identified as definitely or highly likely to flip, all but one, Colorado CD3, did so, possibly because the party failed to invest in their nominee there.

What does the model say about 2020?

Barring a shock to the system, Democrats recapture the presidency. The leaking of the Trump campaign’s internal polling has somewhat softened the blow of this forecast, as that polling reaffirms what my model already knew: Trump’s 2016 path to the White House, which was the political equivalent of getting dealt a Royal Flush in poker, is probably not replicable in 2020 with an agitated Democratic electorate. And that is really bad news for Donald Trump because the Blue Wall of the Midwest was then, and is now, the ONLY viable path for Trump to win the White House.

Why is Trump in so much trouble in the Midwest? First, and probably most important, is the profound misunderstanding by, well, almost everyone, as to how he won Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in the first place. Ask anyone, and they will describe Trump’s 2016 Midwestern triumph as a product of white, working class voters swinging away from the Democrats based on the appeal of Trump’s economic populist messaging. Some will point to survey data of disaffected Obama-to-Trump voters and even Sanders-to-Trump voters as evidence that this populist appeal was the decisive factor. And this is sort of true. In Ohio, Trump managed the rare feat of cracking 50%. Elsewhere, that explanation runs into empirical problems when one digs into the data. Start with the numerical fact that Trump “won” Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan with 47.22%, 48.18%, and 47.5% of the vote, respectively, after five times the normal number in those states cast their ballots for an option other than Trump or Clinton. This, combined with the depressed turnout of African Americans (targeted with suppression materials by the Russians) and left-leaning Independents turned off by Clinton (targeted with defection materials by the Russians) allowed Trump to pull off an improbable victory, one that will be hard to replicate in today’s less nitpicky atmosphere. Yet, the media (and the voting public) has turned Trump’s 2016 win into a mythic legend of invincibility. The complacent electorate of 2016, who were convinced Trump would never be president, has been replaced with the terrified electorate of 2020, who are convinced he’s the Terminator and can’t be stopped. Under my model, that distinction is not only important, it is everything.

Last night Bitecofer predicted that the Democratic candidate will win 270 electoral votes. There’s much more interesting analysis at the link above. Read a slightly less technical analysis of Bitecofer’s model by Paul Rosenberg at Salon: Does anyone understand the 2020 race? This scholar nailed the blue wave — here’s her forecast.

Meanwhile, at the moment we are at the mercy of the insane occupant of the White House. Eugene Robinson: Trump is melting down. Again.

Fears of a global recession, greatly exacerbated by Trump’s erratic and self-destructive trade policies, have sent financial markets tumbling. A sharp downturn would close off one of the principal lines of attack the president was hoping to use against his Democratic opponent. He tried it out at a rally in New Hampshire last week: “You have no choice but to vote for me,” he told the crowd, “because your 401(k)’s down the tubes, everything’s gonna be down the tubes” if he loses. “So whether you love me or hate me, you gotta vote for me.”

Fact check: No.

Trump is flailing. He berates his handpicked chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome H. Powell, for not cutting interest rates fast enough to goose the economy. He practically begs Chinese President Xi Jinping for a meeting to work out a trade deal — any trade deal, apparently — and is met with silence. He threatens more tariffs but then backs down, at least for now. According to published reports, he sees himself as the victim of a conspiracy to exaggerate the growing economic anxiety in order to hurt his chances of winning a second term.

He entertains grandiose, almost Napoleonic fantasies — purchasing Greenland from Denmark in what he calls “a large real estate deal,” perhaps, or imposing a naval blockade to force regime change in Venezuela. He apparently spent much of this past weekend fuming about not getting credit for how his New Hampshire rally broke an attendance record for the arena that had been set by Elton John.

And Trump can’t seem to stop railing against a recent Fox News pollthat showed him losing to four of the leading Democratic contenders. The president seems to consider Fox News his administration’s Ministry of Propaganda — indeed, that is the role the network’s morning-show hosts and prime-time anchors loyally play — but the polling unit is a professional operation. “There’s something going on at Fox, I’ll tell you right now. And I’m not happy with it,” Trump told reporters Sunday . He added a threat, saying that Fox “is making a big mistake” because he is “the one that calls the shots” on next year’s general election debates — the implication being that Fox News might not get to broadcast one of them if it doesn’t toe the party line.

The only thing Robinson leaves out is that Trump’s health is going downhill; his dementia symptoms are getting worse by the day.

Trump’s biggest supporters are nuts too, but they are also very influential on social media. Check out this story at NBC News: Trump, QAnon and an impending judgment day: Behind the Facebook-fueled rise of The Epoch Times.

By the numbers, there is no bigger advocate of President Donald Trump on Facebook than The Epoch Times.

The small New York-based nonprofit news outlet has spent more than $1.5 million on about 11,000 pro-Trump advertisements in the last six months, according to data from Facebook’s advertising archive — more than any organization outside of the Trump campaign itself, and more than most Democratic presidential candidates have spent on their own campaigns.

Those video ads — in which unidentified spokespeople thumb through a newspaper to praise Trump, peddle conspiracy theories about the “Deep State,” and criticize “fake news” media — strike a familiar tone in the online conservative news ecosystem. The Epoch Times looks like many of the conservative outlets that have gained followings in recent years.

But it isn’t.

Behind the scenes, the media outlet’s ownership and operation is closely tied to Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual community with the stated goal of taking down China’s government.

It’s that motivation that helped drive the organization toward Trump, according to interviews with former Epoch Times staffers, a move that has been both lucrative and beneficial for its message.

Former practitioners of Falun Gong told NBC News that believers think the world is headed toward a judgment day, where those labeled “communists” will be sent to a kind of hell, and those sympathetic to the spiritual community will be spared. Trump is viewed as a key ally in the anti-communist fight, former Epoch Times employees said.

Click the link the read the rest. We are truly living in the Twilight Zone.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll add some non-crazy links in the comment thread. What stories are you following?