Tensions between the United States and Iran have de-escalated since the death of Soleimani and the Iranian response. After the Iranian government fired missiles at American-manned military bases in Iraq, it quickly became clear that the attacks allowed Iran to save face but proved they did not intend to push the U.S. to further escalation. For the moment, U.S. action has established peace through deterrence and taken out the Middle East’s top instigator of terror. But the developments in Iran are far from finished.
In the aftermath of the missile strikes, the Iranian military shot down a commercial airliner. The Ukrainian Airlines flight took off from the airport in Tehran and within minutes the plane was struck and destroyed. Everyone onboard was killed. The Iranian government initially maintained that they did not know why the plane had crashed, but it soon became clear that it had been shot down by their air defense system. The government scrambled to explain the human error behind the mistake and announced an investigation. The Iranian foreign minister blamed the error on “American adventurism.” Mark Esper rightly called Iran’s attempts to play the victim ridiculous and unfounded.
Of everything that’s happened in the last month, riots in Iran may prove to be the most significant development for the Iranian regime. After the government shot down the commercial airline, protesters flooded the streets calling for freedom and reform. Police used tear gas and water canons to dispel the protesters, but the riots have continued. Amid reports that police were using deadly force against the protesters, President Trump warned the Iranian government against killing its own citizens.
The coverage of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran and the political differences between the parties over foreign policy in the Middle East can obscure the reality that Iran is one of the most oppressive countries in the world. People flooding the streets and calling for change is a major development. Iran may have reaped the whirlwind, if not from the United States, from their own people.
Imminent Attacks and Justification
The Trump administration has been on the defensive. Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper have been making the rounds on the cable news channels defending their decision to strike and kill Soleimani, but the two officials and the President have sounded different notes on the imminent attacks the Iranian commander was planning. The “Gang of Eight” was briefed with intelligence reports on Soleimani’s plans and agreed that military force was warranted to stop Soleimani’s plan of attack, but that the intelligence did not need to be released to Congress. On Face the Nation, Esper clarified that he and the President believed there was an imminent attack planned on four embassies in the Middle East, but in the days since he has not uncovered tangible plans of the attacks. He also emphasized that the U.S. has reset a healthy level of deterrence against future action from Iran and that taking out Soleimani was justified and made the world a safer place.
The conflict with Iran has been met with a skeptical reception by Democrats and Republicans alike. The sticking point continues to be the intelligence about the “imminent attacks” Soleimani was planning, and whether or not the Trump administration’s explanation adds up. Of the many who applauded the death Soleimani, there are many who have trouble trusting information that comes from the Trump cabinet. After attending a private defense briefing this week, Republican Sen. Mike Lee criticized the lack of information and unwillingness to engage in discussion, calling it insane, unacceptable, and the worst briefing he had ever seen. These are strong words from Lee, usually supportive of the administration, and someone familiar with American military operations. But his remarks are indicative of growing distrust for Trump and Pompeo.
For many in this group, the nearest example will always be WMDs in Iraq. The Republican party has suffered a loss of credibility among voters from both parties over the mistaken intelligence reports that led to the Iraq war. While the criticisms of the Bush administration have probably been overplayed, the lack of WMDs haunts any justification of military action in the Middle East. And that doesn’t account for any of the skepticism the Trump administration has earned over the last three years. As the threat of escalation has waned in the last week, so have the comparisons to the Iraq war, but the distrust will be more difficult to shake. One of the best things the Trump administration could do between now and November would be to organize a trust-building campaign - beginning by sharing forthright, honest, and appropriate intelligence on military action.
Imminent Attacks Against Justification
There’s another aspect to the resistance, though, and this goes beyond the reasonable and measured skepticism across the political spectrum by those who are wary of the Trump administration’s ability to carry out a sustained campaign of deterrence against Iran. The mainstream media is still scrambling to oppose the Trump administration on every point - even if that means finding ways to side with Iran and one of the world’s most prolific terrorists. It’s one thing to believe that Iran is the most strategic partner to build policy around in the Middle East. The Obama administration sought to approach the Middle East through the Iran nuclear deal, preferring Iran over Saudi Arabia as the more strategic of two evils. The Trump administration has made the opposite choice. Agree to disagree. But it’s another thing to criticize the immorality of Mohammed bin Salman and Benjamin Netanyahu and obscure and omit the actions of the Iranian government, Qassim Soleimani, and the Ayatollah.
The New York Times’ coverage has fallen into this second category. Describing the missile attacks that killed U.S. contractor Nawres Hamid, the authors wrote, “The confrontation may have actually begun by accident. For years, Iran has sponsored proxy forces in Iraq, competing for influence with American troops who first arrived in the invasion of 2003.” These forces, including the terrorist group Kataib Hezbollah, began launching rockets at military bases where U.S. forces were stationed. Not looking to escalate the conflict with the U.S., the Iranian-sponsored forces had been careful not to kill any Americans, a red line for the U.S., but when they struck a base near Kirkuk and killed an American citizen, the President began making plans to respond. Here’s how the NYT spun the story: “The rockets landed in a place and at a time when American and Iraqi personnel normally were not there and it was only by unlucky chance that Mr. Hamid was killed, American officials said.” It’s a stretch to call coordinated and sustained missile strikes a bit of bad luck, and it’s an even worse look to consider the death of an American citizen at the hands of a terrorist organization an “accident.”
Or consider these two headlines published on the NYT Obituaries twitter account only hours apart; “Sam Wyche, who was the last coach to lead the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl, but who was later fined by the National Football League for barring a female reporter from the team’s locker room, has died” and in comparison, “Qassim Suleimani, Master of Iran’s Intrigue and Force, Dies at 62.” It seems impossible that anyone could make such an egregious error of moral proportionality, but mainstream media outlets engage in this kind of speck and plank confusion constantly. It’s disingenuous, hypocritical, and should not be tolerated by the American people.
Times like these make everyone wish for a solution to the fake news problem in the U.S. On the night of the Iranian missile strikes, it was close to impossible to know what was happening. Missiles or rockets? Are there Americans or Iraqis dead? Was this another Boeing crash or foul play? Now we know the truth. The Iranian government fired rockets, no one was killed, and in the mayhem, the Iranian defense forces shot down one a commercial airliner that took off from their own airport. But the evening should serve as a case study for media discernment. Just because someone tweets it doesn’t make it true. Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar wins the award for the worst tweet. He posted a doctored picture of Obama shaking hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with the caption, “The world is a better place without these guys in power.” There are so many things wrong with this single post. Gosar probably mistook Rouhani for Soleimani. President Obama never met either man. The original picture showed the former President shaking hands with the former Indian PM Manmohan Singh. Rouhani is still in office. Gosar’s tweet is still up. Patience and prudence may be too much to ask in the Twitter age, but a general regard for the truth shouldn’t be.
Stories to follow:
New polls in Iowa show the Democratic landscape is shifting. While Biden is surging in national polls, Sen. Bernie Sanders is leading a close race in Iowa. Biden is fourth in Iowa trailing Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg, but the top four candidates are only separated by five percentage points.
Fivethirtyeight just released their primary polling model. Nate Silver gained notoriety when his model correctly predicted the correct outcome for 49 states in the 2008 election and all 50 states and Washington D.C. in the 2012 election. He published an explainer this week that walks through some of the theory behind election forecasting.
Nancy Pelosi is expected to pass the articles of impeachment on to the Senate this week after losing support from members of her own party over the unnecessary delay. The House Judiciary Committee will need to appoint managers for the articles and then they will send them to Mitch McConnell for the Senate hearing. Pelosi claims to have withheld the articles over a disagreement with McConnell over the rules and procedures for the trial. She also believes new evidence has come to light. McConnell has reminded House Dems that they got to conduct their inquiry without any Republican input or interference. They called only the witnesses they wanted to hear from, and they have completed their task. Sen. Josh Hawley has proposed legislation with other Republican senators to dismiss the charges if they are not delivered to the Senate within twenty-five days.
“A Strange Split in the UMC” - Carl Trueman, First Things
This is the best thing I’ve read on the Methodist split expected this summer. Trueman makes a really stunning point, and one that is indicative of more American Christianity than we’d like to admit - “To fight over same-sex marriage while tolerating heresy on foundational doctrines is to make oneself vulnerable to the charge of being motivated less by fidelity to the Christian faith and more by homophobia.” The cultural pressure is much stronger than the doctrinal pressure for most churches. It’s important that we remember there is a hierarchy of importance when it comes to doctrine and when the broader secular culture is allowed to choose what’s most important it never goes well for the church.
“Andrew Jackson in the Persian Gulf” - Ross Douthat, The New York Times
Great analysis takes a specific issue and uses it to give you tools for all kinds of other issues. That’s what Douthat has done in this op-ed on the Trump administrations foreign policy. Drawing from Walter Russell Mead’s fourfold distinction in Special Providence, he explains the Hamiltonian, Wilsonian, Jeffersonian, and Jacksonian approaches to foreign policy. These four categories make sense of policy disagreements across the spectrum, especially those in the Republican party and shed light on accepted ways to think about how the U.S. should function in the world. Delightfully helpful.
“Why Do People Believe in Hell?” - David Bentley Hart, The New York Times
Read this article and listen to The Briefing this morning. Al Mohler summarizes Hart’s argument and puts it in perspective. There’s more going on here than just an argument against the belief in Hell. How many theological articles make it into the New York Times? There’s a version of “Christianity” that secular elites want to promote, and this fits the bill. Hart takes a dogmatic stance against a doctrine the church has always broadly believed, and although I appreciate his biting style, he treats Christians and Christian history with an approach that borders on academic dishonesty. We should welcome, study, and appreciate the level of dialogue Mohler brings in his analysis. This article gives us a glimpse into the spiritual, theological, cultural, and social dimensions of our country and our times.
“Packer’s Dusty Puritan Discovery Still Guides and Helps” - Jason G. Duesing, For the Church
If you’ve ever read Knowing God, Fundamentalism and the Word of God, or A Quest for Godliness you might owe more than you know to some busy work J.I. Packer undertook 75 years ago in the Oxford library. Packer discovered John Owen and the English Puritans sorting through a stack of donated books and they’ve never left his mind or his heart. It’s hard to fathom the influence the Puritans have had on modern evangelicalism, not to mention Packer’s own influence on so many young Christians and theologians, and some of that influence can be traced to this single serendipitous encounter.
“What to Expect from the 2020s: The World’s Big Thinkers Make Their Predictions” - The Sunday Times
What will life be like by 2030? There have been lots of predictions about the new decade, but this is by far the best. Scientists, philosophers, authors, and historians look ahead at space exploration, technology, foreign policy, and social issues. You might need a trial subscription to read the full article, but in this case it’s probably worth it.
Cole Feix is the President of So We Speak and a regular writer. Subscribe to get the Weekly Speak in your inbox every Monday.