Just as the sun crested over the Truman Balcony at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, President Donald Trump was tweeting his way through another murky Middle East mess. Unsurprisingly, the chaos emanates from none other than Iraq, as protesters stormed the gates of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad following U.S. airstrikes on an Iranian-supported militia group known as Kataib Hezbollah. According to Pentagon sources, five F-15s took out the militia’s weapons facilities and command sites.
This was preceded by the death of an American contractor during a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk. Several U.S. service members also were injured. Mr. Trump maintains that Iran is behind the military offensive as well as the escalating violence at the embassy.
As protesters scaled the retaining walls and broke open the gates of the compound, Trump wrote, “Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq.” He continued his Twitter missive with, “They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!” Videos of black smoke circling over the capital city and hundreds of people storming the embassy are hitting the internet at a rapid pace. Much of the footage surprisingly looks like a scene from a Vince Flynn novel without a command performance from Mitch Rapp.
At least not yet.
It doesn’t seem that long ago when Iraqis lined the streets of Baghdad, hailing the American military as it hunted down strongman Saddam Hussein and cornered him in a hole in the ground. Now, even the most casual observer must wonder how Iraq turned into what can be described as a larger, deeper hellhole.
Has American involvement – those glory days of “shock and awe” – engendered a nation filled with angry Iraqis out for American blood? Or is this nothing more than Iranian-inspired theater? Did searching for those nonexistent weapons of mass destruction perhaps kindle a fire that has now grown into a four-alarm blaze?
They’re in reception area. Smoke seen in other videos. Hezbollah refusing calls to leave vicinity:
— آریوبرزن حمیدرضاامینی (@ARIOBARZAN1982) December 31, 2019
American intervention has left a long, broad, and, perhaps, irredeemable imbroglio in large swaths of the Mideast. Propping up the Shah of Iran led us to the mullahs, and the toppling of Saddam did not lead to an Iraq of peace and prosperity, to put it mildly.
Thus, today’s storming of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad leaves little room for Mr. Trump to maneuver. Should he hit back hard, as he indicates in his tweet, or let the flames and chants of “Death to America” die down? With the current withdrawal of American military forces in Afghanistan, the president displays an intuitive understanding of the pitfalls in that region of the world.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.