Trump’s Threat To Sanction Iraq Is Ridiculous And Stupid

President Trump is making ridiculous threats against the regime in Iraq that are likely to draw it closer to Iran.

Responding to moves by the Iraqi Parliament to demand the withdrawal of American troops from the country in the wake of the assassination of Iranian Revolutionary Guard leader Major General Qassim Suleimani,  President Trump is reacting in what can only be called a bizarre manner:

President Trump said Sunday that the United States would not leave Iraq on “friendly” terms and threatened to impose sanctions on the country if forced to withdraw American troops

“If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on Sunday afternoon when asked about the vote by Iraq’s parliament to end U.S. troop presence in the country.

“If there’s any hostility, that they do anything we think is inappropriate, we are going to put sanctions on Iraq, very big sanctions on Iraq,” Trump added.

Trump made the remarks to reporters while traveling from Palm Beach, Fla., to Washington, D.C., after a two-week stint at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Earlier Sunday, the Iraqi parliament voted in favor of a resolution calling on the country’s government to work toward ending U.S. troop presence there after a U.S. airstrike killed a top Iranian general in the capital of Baghdad. American forces have maintained a presence in Iraq since 2014 as part of the operation targeting ISIS.

The bill is subject to approval by the Iraqi government.

Trump also at one point Sunday suggested that American forces wouldn’t leave Iraq unless the country paid the U.S. back for its “expensive air base” there, an apparent reference to the Al Asad Air Base.

“We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. Long before my time,” Trump said. “We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.”

Of all the things that the President has said or tweeted in the days since Friday’s assassination, this is perhaps the most ridiculous. First of all, as I noted yesterday, the vote by the Iraqi Parliament is non-binding and, due to the fact that the majority of Iraqi MPs boycotted the session during which the vote took place, of questionable legitimacy at best. Additionally, the Iraqi Prime Minister is currently serving in caretaker mode and, while he has voiced some support for the idea of expelling American forces, it’s unclear if he’d actually sign the matter into law and whether it would have any legal effect at all.

Given that, the vote on Sunday was mostly symbolic, even though it does send a message to the Trump Administration that it needs to be careful about how it handles our relationship with Baghdad in the future since it is clear that the mood there is turning significantly anti-American in light of Friday’s attack. In that regard, threatening sanctions if the Iraqis decide to stand up for their sovereignty strikes me as a move that is guaranteed to cause a negative reaction in Baghdad and in other parts of the country.

The larger point, of course, is that taking a step like this is more likely to cause Iraqi leaders and civilians to become more sympathetic toward Iran rather than dissuade them from doing so. As many observers have noted over the weekend since Solemani’s death, the main concern in Iraq today is that the country is once again about to be turned into a battlefield for reasons beyond the control of the people or their leaders.

It started, of course, with the 2003 invasion that was, we later learned, based on faulty intelligence and quite honestly of questionable validity even when it was believed to be true. After that invasion and the downfall of the regime of Saddam Hussein, the nation became a battlefield between the United States and guerilla groups that ravaged the country for much of the final years of the Bush Administration.

Not longer afterward, those guerilla groups, as well as remnants of the Saddam-era Iraqi military emerged as a force that later came to be known as ISIS, beginning a battle that spread into Syria and which led to attacks on minorities in western Iraq and sustained battles between ISIS forces and Iraqi Kurds aided by the United States. Now, the nation appears to be turning into the site of a proxy war between the United States and Iran at the same time that pro-Iran militia groups based in the southern part of the country become more powerful. Given all of this its understandable that Iraqis would be sick of it all and sick of the extent to which, from their perspective, American forces seem to be poised to turn the country into a battlefield for the third time in roughly 20 years.

Finally, as Jazz Shaw notes, doing things like threatening sanctions seems guaranteed to push Iraq into Iran’s arms at an even faster pace:

[I]f we really do want Iraq to be a lasting ally and remain a rare beacon of actual democracy in that part of the world, we can’t allow them to fall fully under the influence of Iran. It’s true that those two nations have recently friended each other on Facebook, but their relationship status is still listed as “it’s complicated.” The death of Saddam Hussein didn’t just erase centuries of antagonism between the Sunni and the Shiites overnight. But at the same time, there’s no arguing that Iran’s influence inside of Iraq has been growing and not everyone in Iraq is unhappy about it. That doesn’t bode well for the west or the future of a stable, democratic Iraq.

With a rational President, we wouldn’t even be talking about the idea of imposing sanctions against a nation we supposedly want to be an ally. But we’re not dealing with a rational President, nor are we dealing with one who seems to care about the way the world would react to what he says. This isn’t some reality show where Donald Trump can say ridiculous things without consequence, it’s the real world where what a President says can have real consequences. What we’re learning is that a President without a filter is precisely the wrong thing to have during an international crisis. Sadly, that’s exactly what we’ve got.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Iran, Iraq, National Security, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Teve says:

    Technically, Iran is not withdrawing from the JCPOA. As its statement says, it will continue cooperating with the IAEA and will “return to its commitments” if US sanctions are lifted. For all practical purposes, however, the JCPOA is dead and Iran’s nuclear program is alive again. Here’s the scorecard so far following our attack on Qassim Suleimani:

    *US officials unanimously say we should expect retaliatory attacks on US assets.
    *The Iranian nuclear program is back in business.
    *The Iraqi parliament has voted to demand that US forces leave its territory.
    Nice work, Mr. President.

    -K. Drum

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  2. CSK says:

    A segment of Cult45 over at Hot Air is stoutly maintaining that Trump, as a “business leader,” is merely “negotiating” here.

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  3. Kathy says:

    With a rational President, [..]

    Or a real president, rather than an Orange Imitation.

    A real president would not use Iraq as a base of operations against another country without even a heads up to the Iraqi government. A real president would especially not do that after having engaged in another controversial attack that drew protesters to the US embassy in Baghdad.

    Back in the mid-80s Reagan authorized a bombing attack on Libya as retaliation for terrorist attacks. the raid involved Navy A-6 bombers based on carriers in the Mediterranean, and Air Force F-111 bombers based somewhere in the UK.

    The latter took a long, circuitous route out over the Atlantic, rounding the Iberian peninsula, before heading into the Mediterranean, because France, Spain and Portugal did not grant permission for the bombers to fly over their territory.

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  4. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Why are we stuck with these Republican ideas that don’t work?
    ~Tax cuts don’t pay for themselves, and the benefits don’t trickle down.
    ~And the NEOCON dream of Democracy at the point of a gun is never going to work.
    Yet here we are again, on the precipice of another war that will accomplish nothing.
    And c’mon…Trump couldn’t make money running a casino, but he’s going to be able to prosecute a war against one of the most difficult adversaries in today’s world? Surrounded by staff that has almost no experience, and even less credibility?

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  5. Kathy says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    And he will do so on the cheap, and Iraq will pay for it!

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  6. Michael Cain says:

    There doesn’t seem to be a definitive* count, but from things I’ve read my estimate of the vote is 170-158 (170 who were there and voted yes, 158 who were opposed and didn’t show). The vote was split along the usual sectarian lines. I would describe that less as “parliament demanded that US troops leave” and more as “parliament is narrowly divided on the subject of the US staying.” In some ways that’s even worse: it looks a lot like choosing sides in an impending civil war.

    * Iraq’s parliament doesn’t appear to publish a journal of proceedings, at least not at their website.

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  7. Pete S says:

    This is tied closely to the last post, about how much money Trump is raising. As long as he is raising money and moving towards re-election I cannot believe Trump or the pathetic party he represents would think anything he does is stupid.

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  8. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Why are we stuck with these Republican ideas that don’t work?

    Please see Doug’s previous post, on GOP fund raising. Our billionaires want these policies and they can afford to buy them.

    ETA to add – Pete S, great minds think alike.

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  9. gVOR08 says:

    @Michael Cain: Yeah, it’d be better if the headlines said, “Iraq Parliament Narrowly votes to possibly remove US troops” or “Iraq Parliament takes symbolic vote”. Instead we get “Iraq Parliament Expelling US Troops” so six months from now the Dim Bulb in Chief can claim troops still being there is a victory.

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  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “But the American people should know we’ll make the right decision.”
    –Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

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  11. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Doug. Bullies, gonna bully. Maximal threats and coercion are the only way he knows to get what he wants when bribery and simple demands don’t work. But you’re right it is dumb and will have the opposite desired effect.

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    HAHAHA. That’s a good one.

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  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    Seen this?

    The DoD’s just told Iraq we’ll leave. Possibly a bluff to see if the Iraqis will beg us to stay. If not it’s the end of our ability to fight ISIS in the ME.

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  13. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    All this winning is exhausting me.

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  14. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It seems it’s a notice for repositioning US forces within Iraq, not a notice they’re leaving the country.

    On other matters, Esper is walking back the whole idiot idea of bombing cultural sites.

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  15. Kathy says:

    Et tu, Bibi?

    From the link:

    But the response of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was particularly striking, as he has been one of Trump’s staunchest supporters on the world stage.

    He told a meeting of his security cabinet on Monday: “The assassination of Suleimani isn’t an Israeli event but an American event. We were not involved and should not be dragged into it.”

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  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: It seems that the repositioning would necessarily be outside the borders of Iraq if it is “in deference to the sovereignty of the Republic of Iraq, and as requested by the Iraqi Parliament and the Prime Minister” unless I misread the previous articles about what the Iraqi Parliament resolution stated.

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  17. mattbernius says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    “Sir, in deference to the sovereignty of the Republic of Iraq, and as requested by the Iraqi Parliament and the Prime Minister, CJTF-OIR will be repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement,”

    Boy, I bet a lot of Obama’s critics from the right are going to suddenly forget about all their complaints about the December 2011 Status of Forces situation (i.e. the last time we were told to get out and how weak it was of Obama to not force Iraq to keep forces there).

    To be fair, I suspect some on the left are going to flip flop as well.

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  18. mattbernius says:

    @mattbernius:
    Interesting statement on that letter (which I think was probably leaked to freak out Lindsay Graham in hopes that he can change Trump’s mind):

    Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley: “That letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released…poorly worded, implies withdrawal, that is not what’s happening”

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  19. Joe says:

    With a rational President, we wouldn’t even be talking about the idea of imposing sanctions against a nation we supposedly want to be an ally.

    I think you could more generally end this sentence at “With a rational President, we wouldn’t even be talking.” As with so many provocations that come across a national leader’s desk, a rational President would ignore them and let the process play itself out until there was a constructive inflection point to weigh in and be heard rather than be a constant part of the chatter. But, that’s not who we have.

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  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    More fun. Netanyahu’s thrown Trump under the bus:

    Both Israel and Nato stressed they were not involved in the airstrike on Thursday. The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has already expressed disappointment in the lukewarm reaction of Washington’s European allies.

    But the response of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was particularly striking, as he has been one of Trump’s staunchest supporters on the world stage.

    He told a meeting of his security cabinet on Monday: “The assassination of Suleimani isn’t an Israeli event but an American event. We were not involved and should not be dragged into it.”

    The Saudi deputy defence minister, Khalid bin Salman, who is also the younger brother of the kingdom’s crown prince, was in Washington on Monday to urge restraint, joining a growing international chorus.

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  21. Moosebreath says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    “The DoD’s just told Iraq we’ll leave.”

    I think it means something very different. DoD is telling the soldiers on their way to Iraq they can’t take their personal cell phones.

    “Burns acknowledged the decision is unusual given that many troops routinely deployed already do have personal electronic devices and can even purchase them overseas. The decision, he said, was made in part because the elements of the 82nd that are deploying are part of a rapid response forces and it’s not clear where they may eventually be sent.”

    Seems to me that they are expecting to try to move them around without being traced. Which sounds like the opposite of what they’d do if they were leaving.

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  22. mattbernius says:

    @mattbernius:
    Oh, I thought the letter had been leaked to the press, not sent to our ally. #SoMuchWinning

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  23. Pylon says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Arguably Bibi gets a lot more political mileage out of enemies being alive and supposedly a threat but not actually attacking, than actual conflict.

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  24. JohnMcC says:

    I was struck by the demand that our President would make of the Iraq government that they pay for the ‘improvements’ to the property we’ve installed at, for example, Al Sadr Airport. Made me wonder what sort of interest we can charge the Vietnam govt for all these years of using Danang and Camron bay.

    Such a brilliant idea to make the most insane and ridiculous random thoughts passing through the dark mind of that heavy-set blowhard down at the end of the bar into actual possible American policy. Enforced by the Marines. In Iraq. Can you imagine that?! We’ll laugh about that tomorrow. Maybe.

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  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kathy:
    Now they’ve walked the whole story back. Diszarray much?

    @Moosebreath:
    Yeah, that is strange to say the least. BTW it also makes it harder for the soldiers to receive news.

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  26. Michael Cain says:

    @Moosebreath:

    Seems to me that they are expecting to try to move them around without being traced.

    Yeah, my first thought was who operates the network those personal phones use? Because the network operator can certainly tell you within a few miles (worst case) where those phones are. For a national network, track phones as they move from one part of the country to another part. Identify new phones as they show up. For a while I worked on a project that would let us track phone locations even if they weren’t using our network.

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  27. Michael Cain says:

    @Moosebreath:

    Seems to me that they are expecting to try to move them around without being traced.

    Yeah, my first thought was who operates the network those personal phones use? Because the network operator can certainly tell you within a few miles (worst case) where those phones are. For a national network, they can track phones as they move from one part of the country to another part. Identify new phones as they show up. For a while I worked on a project that would let us track phone locations even if they weren’t using our network. If you only need tens of meters accuracy, disturbingly easy.

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  28. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Re personal cellphones:
    It also makes it harder to record video or audio of activities that might prove to be embarrassing.

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  29. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @mattbernius: A decision to withdraw forces from Iraq would never be made by a 1Star TaskForce Commander. Not even the lead General in-country for operations in Iraq…a 3star general could make this decision. That type of decision could only be made by the Theater Commander, SecDef, or President.

    A task force commander can reposition forces within his/his assigned sector but as a general operating procedure, would use the embassy to make host nation notifications…of a movement (should that be warranted)

    The letter leak was obviously to catfish the media.

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  30. OzarkHillbilly says:

    With a rational Republican party, we wouldn’t even be talking about the idea of imposing sanctions against a nation we supposedly want to be an ally.

    FTFY Doug, you’ll get my bill in the mail.

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  31. mattbernius says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    The letter leak was obviously to catfish the media.

    To what end though?

    My original thought is that this is being floated and they wanted to get blowback on it. But then why actually send it to the Iraqis?

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  32. Barry says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “More fun. Netanyahu’s thrown Trump under the bus: ”

    I think rather that Netanyahu is standing back, in honor of the old saying ‘let’s you and him fight’.

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  33. mattbernius says:

    Senior Iraqi officials tell us that Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is interpreting last night’s letter from the U.S. military commander in Baghdad as a “withdrawal announcement,” even as Pentagon officials describe its sharing as a mistake.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iran-live-updates/2020/01/07/896c70a2-30d5-11ea-9313-6cba89b1b9fb_story.html

    https://twitter.com/AlanSipress/status/1214585017973780480

    Again, if this was intentional catfishing, was this the hoped for effect?

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  34. KM says:

    @mattbernius :
    You know with this administration, it’s not inconceivable somebody thought they were being clever to try a “double-secret-triple-bluff” only for somebody to actually issue the “fake” to the relevant parties because it didn’t look any stupider then the normal crap they pump out. I mean, when your whole shtick is “fake news”and insane decisions, how’s some low-level peon supposed to figure out what’s what if they doesn’t care enough to sound it out?

    As this theory covers most of the “oopies”, weird tweets with correct spellings and general communication snafus over the last few years, it been my default headcanon. Stupid people tripping over themselves, thinking they are clever.

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  35. Teve says:

    What’s the line about don’t suspect clever scheming when stupidity is a good enough explanation.

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  36. Kathy says:

    Breaking news: Iran claims to have launched missiles at US bases in Iraq.

    Of course, this is also an attack on Iraq’s sovereign territory, as I doubt the Iranians asked Iraq for permission to bomb the US bases in their territory. Also, these bases surely hold some Iraqi nationals.

    Maybe Trump’s not interested in war, but maybe the war’s interested in him.

    Fuck them all.

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  37. Lounsbury says:

    The delusions about Iraq of the American hard right as exemplified by the Hotair quote are amusing: “f we really do want Iraq to be a lasting ally and remain a rare beacon of actual democracy in that part of the world, we can’t allow them to fall fully under the influence of Iran.” Beacon of actual democracy… funny.

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