Trump wins his standoff with Iran

Democrats warned that President Trump’s decision to take out Iranian terrorist mastermind Qasem Soleimani had put the United States on the path toward a cataclysmic war with Iran. They were dead wrong. Trump won his standoff with Iran.

When Trump drew his red line — warning Tehran that if it killed even one American, the United States would respond militarily against Iran — the regime never expected him to enforce it. His decision to kill Soleimani clearly stunned Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and left his regime chastened. A regime that regularly threatens “Death to America!” and promises to wipe Israel off the face of the earth suddenly embraced proportionality and legality. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran would “respond, but we will respond proportionally, not disproportionally. We will respond lawfully, we are not lawless people like President Trump.” Quite a departure for the world’s premier state sponsor of terrorism.

Iran’s retaliation was just as muted as its threats. Tehran could have targeted large, heavily populated U.S. bases across the Persian Gulf, all of which are within range of Iranian missiles. Instead, it fired a handful of missiles at bases in Iraq, in an attack that deliberately did not target American troops. The Iranians warned Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in advance of the attack — a message they knew he would pass on to the United States. To control the outcome, they carried out the strike themselves, rather than relying on Shiite militia proxies in Iraq, who might accidentally kill an American. According to Fox News’s Jennifer Griffin, the Pentagon “believes there was a political decision taken in Tehran NOT to kill Americans … Even within that target, the Iranians chose to hit dirt rather than runways … so as not to escalate militarily.”

The objective appeared to be political, not military. They wanted their people to see Iranian missiles firing at the Americans, without actually killing one — provoking an even more devastating U.S. response. And once it was over, Zarif announced on Twitter that Iran’s response was complete and meekly added that “we do not seek escalation or war.”

In other words, the Iranians blinked. All the overwrought warnings of a U.S.-Iran conflagration were wrong. Trump understood what his critics did not — that the Iranian regime’s No. 1 priority is the preservation of the regime. Before the Soleimani strike, Iran doubted Trump’s resolve. After the Soleimani strike, they knew Trump was serious when the president warned that next time “Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.” Trump has treated Iran for what it is — a bully. When confronted, bullies back down.

Far from provoking war, Trump’s action against Soleimani might have prevented one. Iran had been escalating for months — striking allied oil tankers, U.S. drones and Saudi oil facilities — with no significant U.S. response. This failure to respond emboldened Tehran. Had Trump allowed Iran to get away crossing his red line and killing an American, they would have been further emboldened. Instead, by taking out Soleimani, Trump put the regime on its heels. As the president put it in his address to the nation Wednesday: “For far too long … nations have tolerated Iran’s destructive and destabilizing behavior in the Middle East and beyond. Those days are over.”

In his excellent speech, Trump rightly castigated the Obama administration for providing the Iranian regime with billions in sanctions relief as part of its nuclear deal, noting that “The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration.” He might well have added that Soleimani’s reign of terror was directly subsidized by those funds. When Trump came into office, Iran was on the march across the Middle East — in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen — thanks in part to the money President Barack Obama released. We were promised that the nuclear deal would alter Iran’s malign behavior. Instead, it was an accelerant. With his maximum-pressure campaign, Trump has removed the accelerant. And with his strike against Soleimani, he has eliminated the mastermind of Iran’s proxy wars across the Middle East and restored deterrence. Now he must maintain it.

Read more:

U.S. conflict with Iran: What you need to read

Updated January 8, 2020

Here’s what you need to know to understand what this moment means in U.S.-Iran relations.

What happened: President Trump ordered a drone strike near the Baghdad airport, killing Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful military commander and leader of its special-operations forces abroad.

Who was Soleimani: As the leader of the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, Soleimani was key in supporting and coordinating with Iran’s allies across the region, especially in Iraq. Soleimani’s influence was imprinted on various Shiite militias that fought U.S. troops.

How we got here: Tensions had been escalating between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled out of an Obama-era nuclear deal, and they spiked shortly before the airstrike. The strikes that killed Soleimani were carried out after the death of a U.S. contractor in a rocket attack against a military base in Kirkuk, Iraq, that the United States blamed on Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia.

What happens next: Iran responded to Soleimani’s death by launching missile strikes at two bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq. No casualties were reported. In an address to the nation, Trump announced that new sanctions will be imposed on Tehran.

David Axelrod Interviews Jeff Roe (Episode 177)

(29:50 min)

Running negative ads that have enough of a kernel that you can keep a straight face, though others might say you were taking liberties

Ran ads arguing that an opponent sold ads for Penthouse (a scientific journal owned by Omni magazine, which owned Penthouse).

I “own” my ads. Every candidate signs off on the ads.

Defense: It was a very tough year, you can’t let opponent “hang around” after Labor day.

Implied that an opponent was drunk when accident occurred  (knew had a few DUIs, but not necessarily then).

Are there any boundaries?  Have you ever written a script that goes too far?

The voters set the limit.  You can’t run ads that don’t work, that are not believable.  Candidate have a brand.  You can’t run ads contrary to their brand.

An opponent committed suicide.

 

Rush Limbaugh is my hero (42 min)

I would be to the right side of the Freedom Caucus.

Litmus Test: abortion, guns

Republican Base

  • very conservatives: 20-50%
  • somewhat conservative: 25%
  • establishment: 25%
  • 80% approval rating
  • 1/3 of the party would leave with Trump