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.