Iran Could Still Strike Back at the U.S.

The Islamic Republic is too weak to wage a conventional war on the U.S. — but that doesn’t mean it poses no threat.

How might Iran respond to the death of Qasem Soleimani? Ever since the Trump administration’s January 3 killing of Soleimani, the Islamic Republic’s top military commander, that question has been on the mind of policymakers in Washington and the American public at large.

Iran’s January 8 rocket attack on U.S. military bases in Iraq clearly constituted part of its response, but Iranian leaders quickly made clear that more retaliation is forthcoming. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself has said that, while the rocket attack was a “slap” at the United States, it was “not enough,” and the Islamic Republic will continue its opposition to the United States with the ultimate goal of driving America out of the Middle East altogether.

Doing so, however, is likely to prove difficult for Iran. As a recent analysis by CNBC notes, sanctions leveled by the Trump administration over the past two years have inflicted extensive damage on the Iranian economy. The country’s GDP shrunk by nearly 10 percent last year, and its exports of crude oil declined from a peak of 2.5 million barrels per day to less than 500,000 daily.

Domestic conditions, meanwhile, are deteriorating. Inflation is on the rise within the Islamic Republic and is now pegged at over 30 percent. So, too, is joblessness; nearly a fifth of the country’s workforce is currently estimated to be unemployed. Meanwhile, governmental expenditures have surged as Iran’s ayatollahs struggle to keep a lid on an increasingly impoverished, and discontented, population.

All of this, according to CNBC’s analysis, profoundly limits Iran’s ability “to fund a war” against the United States. But that doesn’t mean the threat from Iran is nonexistent. Iran still has the ability to “ramp up its aggression against the U.S.” through the use of its network of proxy forces in the region.

That network is extensive — and lethal. It comprises not only Iran’s traditional terrorist proxies, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia and the Palestinian Hamas movement, but also assorted Shiite militias in Iraq (the so-called “Hashd al-Shaabi”) and even Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Recently, it has also made use of theShi’a Liberation Army” (SLA), a group of as many as 200,000 Shiite fighters — drawn from Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere — that has been trained and equipped by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and deployed to foreign theaters such as Syria.

Notably, these forces appear to have been thrown into chaos, at least temporarily, by the killing of Soleimani. Reports from the region suggest that Iraqi militias are “in a state of disarray” after the death of the Iranian general, and aren’t currently ready to strike U.S. or allied targets. Over time, however, we can expect Tehran to regain control and direction of its troops and weaponize them anew against the United States and regional U.S. allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. That is doubtless the top priority of Soleimani’s successor as head of the Quds Force, Esmail Ghaani, who has already commenced outreach to Iranian proxies in an effort to reinforce Tehran’s support for “resistance” activities.

Tehran likewise has another potent tool by which to target the United States: cyber warfare. Over the past decade, the Iranian regime has made enormous investments in its cyber-war capabilities and carried out a series of demonstration attacks on targets such as Saudi Arabia’s state oil company and various U.S. financial institutions to showcase its newfound technological prowess. In the wake of President Trump’s pullout from President Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal, Iran reshaped its cyber-activism against the United States, focusing less on offensive attacks and more on gathering information about potential policy from the notoriously opaque new administration in Washington.

But Tehran’s potential to do significant harm to the U.S. in cyberspace remains. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has warned publicly that Iran could carry out a cyberattack against critical U.S. infrastructure in the near future, with potentially significant “disruptive effects.” And so far, neither the Pentagon nor the State Department has articulated much by way of a strategy to deter Iran from carrying out such attacks, or to mitigate the damage they could do. (In the aftermath of Soleimani’s killing, that lack of strategy has become a matter of growing concern on Capitol Hill.)

Perhaps the most compelling reason to expect an asymmetric Iranian response to Soleimani’s killing, however, is that asymmetric warfare plays to Iran’s inherent strengths. Ever since the regime’s grinding eight-year war with neighboring Iraq in the 1980s — a conflict that Iran lost handily — its leaders have exhibited a strong penchant for military asymmetry over direct confrontation. This preference has only been reinforced by persistent Western sanctions, which have eroded the country’s conventional military capabilities and made the acquisition of spare parts and matériel considerably more difficult.

Soleimani was the regime’s principal architect of asymmetric war, and had devoted nearly a quarter-century to building up the Islamic Republic’s asymmetric potency. That is precisely why his targeted killing by the Trump administration represents such a significant blow to the integrity of Iran’s proxy network — and to the prudence of its time-tested asymmetric strategy. Going forward, Tehran may well have to rethink its approach, and could conclude that the potential costs of continuing its campaign of aggression against U.S. forces in the region are now simply too high. If it doesn’t, however, the very capabilities that Soleimani spent his career cultivating will remain the most potent weapons the Islamic Republic has to wield against the United States.

What Doesn’t Kill Him Makes Him Stronger

The more Trump lies, the more he is empowered to lie.

Facts don’t matter to millions of Americans anymore. That is just the truth. Republicans bewitched by Donald Trump have devalued the import of truth.

It is a sad truth and a dangerous one. What is the operational framework of a society when the truth ceases to be accepted as true?

There may be precedents in other countries, but one would be hard pressed to find a precedent here. It is becoming cliché now to say that we are in uncharted territory with Trump and his regime, but that is precisely where we are.

.. Every day there is no catastrophe, every day yet another never-before-seen, outrageous scandal emerges from this administration and Trump is not destroyed by it, it strengthens him and numbs us and steels his supporters.

The more he lies without paying a price for it, the more he weakens the power of the truth to defend right and condemn wrong. And he expands his latitude to lie more.

.. Rather than lying less, Trump is increasing the frequency of his lying.

.. Trump has gone from making 4.9 false claims a day to now making 6.5 a day.

.. “Just stick with us, don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news,” before telling them, “Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening.”

.. he has used the power of the position to project a sort of hypnotic disregard and amnesiac self-delusion upon the people who follow him. So much of what Republicans once said they believed has now been betrayed.

.. He boasts about being strong while simultaneously whining about being assailed.

.. His griping, in a weird way, is what fuels his gasconade. He insists to his supporters that he is being treated unfairly and their reflexive defense of him prevents them from even entertaining the fairest of criticisms.

Indeed, the more Trump is rebuked by his opponents, the more his base rallies.

.. Among [Republicans], 64 percent strongly approve of Trump, who is experiencing an almost unheard-of level of support from members of his own party.”

.. The White House had previously denied any knowledge that McDougal had even sold her story. That clearly was a lie. Trump not only knew; he was discussing buying it from the seller.

.. Rather than cowering in shame at his deception and his unseemliness, Trump simply goes on the attack, tweeting outrage and indignation

.. We are all trapped, for the time being, held hostage by

  • an empowered president,
  • a self-neutered Congress, and a
  • cultish horde of Trump voters.

But it is the vote that is the most likely way to curb this rolling tragedy. The midterm elections are only a little more than 100 days away.

Trump’s short-term achievements will cost conservatives

Amos went to Israel at a time of great prosperity to tell the nation God would destroy it for failing to care for its widows, its poor, its orphans and its refugees.

Everyone looked around at the success, riches, and plenty and mocked the prophet.

.. ch, and it has become far easier for conservatives to turn a blind eye to injustices than speak up.

.. More and more conservatives are modeling Trump’s bad behaviors. His vulgarity, his thin skin, his willingness to insult and demean, and his willingness to degrade his office are now reflected in conservative political leaders who increasingly see their goal as beating the other side instead of advancing ideas and sound public policy.

.. The party of small government is perfectly happy to grow government as long as Trump is spending the money. The party of limited government is perfectly happy to have a powerful chief executive as long as Trump is wielding the power. Trump and his supporters have also doubled-down on unwise precedents set by the Obama administration. President Barack Obama investigated leaks to reporters such as James Rosen; Trump now seems to revel in the idea of shutting down whole networks whose coverage he hates. Republicans who decried the left’s hostility to free speech in the Obama years now champion censorship of their opponents.

.. It is safe to say many of the president’s supporters have concluded that arguments and debates no longer work, so they will take what they can get as quickly as they can before the tide rolls in and washes this administration away.

.. The short-term gains of this administration, like those of the last, are being achieved by executive order and appointment. So too then can the gains of this administration be wiped out as easily as those of the last.

.. There will always be partisans on the left who hate anything those on the right do. But they are not who conservatives have to worry about. Conservatives have to worry about those in the middle who are persuadable. They have to worry about minority voters increasingly skeptical of the secular drift of the Democratic Party. They have to worry about younger voters.

.. It has become harder to make the case for family and morality as prominent evangelicals applaud and justify the bad behaviors of a thrice-married adulterer who believes immigrants should be judged based on their nation of origin, not the content of their own character.

.. not only has Anthony M. Kennedy not retired from the Supreme Court, but also he has drifted left.

.. the precedent is now there for Democrats to just ignore a replacement who Trump nominates. The conservatives who rallied to Trump to save the high court may very well lose it because of him.

.. Though many conservatives, myself included, have cheered the successes of this administration, most of them are easily reversible and, along the way, it will be harder and harder to separate the successes from the low character and behavior of the man whose name is connected to them. Conservatives may no longer care, but for most Americans, character still matters. At some point, those on the right will pay the price.

The Consequences of Trump Being Trump

Many are unmoved by incidents such as the ill-timed “Pocahontas” crack or even the anti-Muslim retweets, because they see the anger over these incidents as an expression of either political correctness or a desire on the part of the media and the Left to silence worries about Islamist extremism.

.. most in the GOP to treat the president’s faults as an acceptable price to pay for putting Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, along with the reversal of many Obama policies and victory over ISIS.

.. Nor has he been able to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to establish an aura of competence or a sense that the country is in good hands. To the contrary, the tweets and the gaffes have fed a narrative that Trump is out of control.

.. With each such absurdity, Trump chips away not only at his own stature but also at the ability of his party to unite Republicans or to win independents and centrist Democrats.

.. The assumption that a Trump presidency could consolidate or expand Republican control of Congress — the necessary predicate for any of the policies or changes that conservatives claim to want to implement — is being undermined primarily by Trump, not the criticisms of his opponents. Each episode of Trump behaving poorly and demonstrating bad judgment — such as the tweets that can be interpreted as an embrace of a conflict with all Muslims rather than just Islamists — obscures his achievements and reinforces the image of his administration as a circus.

.. Trump is providing an otherwise leaderless and intellectually bankrupt Democratic party with exactly what it lacked in 2016: the ability to mobilize its base of minorities and educated whites by giving them a reason to turn out in the kind of numbers they failed to do for Hillary Clinton.

.. If Trump continues to be Trump, and there’s no sign he can be reined in, Republicans are bound to pay a price for it.

The GOP health-care bill shows the need for regular order.

Kennedy was the showy performer in that ugly spectacle, but Senator Biden, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was the stage director. Prior to Bork’s nomination, Biden had in fact said that he would support it: Bork was, after all, a distinguished legal scholar with a long history in public service. Bork had many challenges in front of him: For one thing, he was very sharp-elbowed in intellectual disputes, which had not won him very many friends.

.. The Senate majority leader at the time was Democrat Robert Byrd, a man who had rejoiced in the title of Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan, and who held a grudge against Bork for his role in the Watergate scandal, during which Bork had fired special investigator Archibald Cox on the orders of President Richard Nixon.

.. The Senate majority leader at the time was Democrat Robert Byrd, a man who had rejoiced in the title of Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan, and who held a grudge against Bork for his role in the Watergate scandal, during which Bork had fired special investigator Archibald Cox on the orders of President Richard Nixon.

.. The Democratic primary field was very full: There was Biden

.. Biden could not afford to stand by his earlier assessment of Bork and announced his opposition to the nomination shortly after it was made formal.

.. The 14 hours Senator Byrd had spent filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not prevent him from becoming the Democratic leader in the Senate.

.. The Bork nomination, on the other hand, was an ordinary piece of government business elevated by Democrats to the status of national emergency in the service of narrow partisan interests. Biden was running for president, Kennedy was running for conscience of the Democratic party, and Byrd, frustrated by Republicans’ lack of cooperation on a number of his spending priorities, had promised: “They’re going to pay. I’m going to hit them where it hurts.”

.. The hysteria and vitriol directed at Bork were of a sort rarely seen since the early 19th century. But they quickly became commonplace.

.. But the rules of the game are not all there is to the game. What in another context might be called “sportsmanship” is in politics a question of prudence and even of patriotism, forgoing the pursuit of every petty partisan advantage made possible

.. The progress from Robert Bork to Merrick Garland is a fairly obvious story, but there is more to it than that:

  • The increasing reliance upon legislative gimmicks such as omnibus spending bills and retrofitting legislation to fit with the budget reconciliation process,
  • the substitution of executive orders and open-ended regulatory portfolios (“the secretary shall . . . ”),
  • the prominence of emergency “special sessions” in the state legislatures,
  • the absence of regular order in the legislative and appropriations process —

all are part of the same destructive tendency. Procedural maximalism in effect turns the legislative system against itself, substituting the exception for the rule and treating every ordinary item of business as a potential emergency item.

.. at the time, their numbers in the Senate were enough to secure their victory without a filibuster. But the course they set in those hearings — one of maximal confrontation, of reaching for whatever procedural cudgel is close at hand — led directly to our current state of governmental dysfunction.

.. at the time, their numbers in the Senate were enough to secure their victory without a filibuster. But the course they set in those hearings — one of maximal confrontation, of reaching for whatever procedural cudgel is close at hand — led directly to our current state of governmental dysfunction.

.. The recently proffered Republican health-care bill instantiates much of what is wrong with our politics:

The bill was constructed through an extraordinary process in which there were

  • no hearings,
  • no review from the Congressional Budget Office, and
  • no final text of the legislation until shortly before the vote.
  • The process is erratic and covert rather than regular and transparent.
  • It was put together in a purposeful way to avoid substantive debate and meaningful public discourse,

making the most of the majority’s procedural advantages for purely political ends.

.. As Rod Dreher recently put it, Republicans will have to choose whether they love the rule of law more than they hate the Left.

.. Republican populists who argue that the GOP must play by the same rules in the name of “winning” have very little understanding of what already has been lost and of what we as a nation stand to lose.

The United States will not thrive, economically or otherwise, in a state of permanent emergency.

.. What’s truly remarkable about our current constant national state of emergency is that no one can say exactly what the emergency is. But we all seem to be very sure that something has to be done about it right now, that we must rouse ourselves to excitement about it, and that the ordinary rules of lawmaking and governance no longer apply.

There is not much political mileage to be had from arguing for regular order, transparency, and procedural predictability — but that’s part of what makes those things so valuable. Order in the little things is a necessary precondition of order in the big things. Orderly government cannot be built on a foundation of procedural chaos.

Who Likes Trump’s Tweets and Why

We know who he alienates by this behavior — and that includes many mainstream Republicans as well as Democrats. But who is the audience he is playing to?

.. Mr. Trump and his die-hard followers delight in the shock value of violating social and political norms. They revel in the thumb in the eye. It’s intrinsic to the president’s appeal to his base, and it’s increasingly clear that either deliberately or impulsively, both his conduct and his policies are aimed at that base and not beyond it.

.. There is something about his swagger, his unabashed embodiment of a time when women were eye candy and arm candy. And there is something about the way he strikes back at women who anger him that seems to resonate for some men.

.. The uncomfortable larger question is whether this president’s behavior is encouraging and unmasking resentments about women’s place in society.

.. “A subset of men whom Trump appeals to is threatened by women in power,” she said. “They feel their dominance in society is threatened. This is not coming — generally — from college-educated men or those in suburban or urban centers with strong economic prospects.”

.. unless other political leaders address class grievances, Mr. Trump’s appeal will continue to resonate.

.. “Trump’s persistent insults to high-profile women play to that part of his base that has long been incensed at a definition of political correctness that includes women, L.G.B.T.Q. people, immigrants and other groups — but leaves out working-class whites nursing the hidden injuries of class,” she said. “So long as class remains unacknowledged as a key source of social disadvantage, Trump’s insults will feel to some of his supporters like a delicious poke-in-the-eye of elites.”

.. Mr. Trump has in fact turned politics into performance art. Some have likened what he does to insult comedy of the type practiced by Don Rickles. But insult comics are quick to point out that there is a crucial difference. “Insult comedy underneath it all is about affection,”

.. “I saw Trump be a roastmaster at the Friars Club, but he doesn’t have the skill to do this kind of thing with the right intention underneath it. Is it entertaining to some? I don’t find these tweets entertaining in the least. It’s off-putting and it gets to a scary bully level.”

.. Others were overjoyed that Mr. Trump was upsetting “snowflakes,”

.. others believed that the president was justifiably striking back against attacks on him from Ms. Brzezinski and her co-host, Joe Scarborough. Some insisted there was no sexism involved, that women aren’t exempt from criticism and have to learn to take it, just as men do.

.. Ms. Matthews thinks Mr. Trump’s reaction is more visceral than strategic. “He can’t stand to be criticized, especially by a woman, and he can’t stop himself from lashing out,” she said. “There is no strategic audience he is winking and nodding to. However there is a segment of his base that enjoys his political incorrectness — even at this extreme — and I would say his misogyny.

.. Yet criticism, even from Republicans, has not deterred Mr. Trump and some of his supporters in the past — witness how many denounced him over the Access Hollywood tapes. The president has paid no discernible political price for his actions. So that leaves the question very much open whether behavior once ruled unthinkable is again permissible in America today.

Donald Trump: Press Lying About Inauguration Crowd Size

“And the reason you’re my first stop is that, as you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth,” Trump said.

The approximately 400 CIA employees broke out into applause after Trump said this.

.. “We had a massive field of people. You saw that, packed,” Trump said. He then noted that when he woke up Saturday morning, he turned on the TV and noticed, “I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks and they show an empty field. I said, wait a minute. I made a speech. I looked out. The field was, it looked like a million — a million and a half people. They showed a field where there were practically nobody standing there. And they said, ‘Donald Trump did not draw well.’” 

He added, “We have something that’s amazing because we had it looked — honestly, it looked like a million and a half people. Whatever it was, it was. But it went all the way back to the Washington Monument. And I turn on [the tv], and by mistake I get this network, and it showed an empty field.”

“So, we caught them,” he said. “And we caught them in a beauty, and I think they’re going to pay a big price.” 

.. So Zeke, Zeke from Time Magazine” wrote a fake news story, Trump said. “I would never do that. I have great respect for Dr. Martin Luther King. And it was right there. But this is how dishonest the media is.”