Jan 6, 2020

Everyone is bungling the Iran-Iraq story.

Everyone is bungling the Iran-Iraq story.

Also: should we be worried about a retaliation?

New to Tangle?

This is an independent, ad-free, non-partisan politics newsletter. If you found this online or someone forwarded you this email, you can subscribe below.

Sign up now

Today’s read: 8 minutes.

What’s happening in Iran and Iraq? Also, a question about Iran’s planned retaliation and some frightening news about American teenagers.

President Trump delivers remarks from his Mar-a-Lago resort after the strike on Qassem Soleimani. Photo: The White House.

Horror in Australia.

Wildfires in Australia are so large they’d span almost the entire continental United States. The heat from the fires is so intense it’s causing its own weather patterns. Unthinkable heatwaves and dryness from climate change have precipitated the catastrophe, though they aren’t the only cause. In this post-apocalyptic video, one Aussie films a scene on the side of the road. Nearly 500 million animals are reportedly dead.

What D.C. is talking about.

Iran and Iraq. Both countries are in turmoil after a drone strike killed Qassem Soleimani on Friday morning last week, sending Iraq’s diplomatic ties with the U.S. into question and escalating an already fraught relationship with Iran. Soleimani was an Iranian general who was also deeply involved in Iraqi politics, which is why you saw funeral processions for the dead general over the weekend. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. To the U.S., he was considered a terrorist or “bad guy” by many politicians on the left and right. In Iran, he was revered as a war hero by some and seen as a symbol of the authoritarian regime by others. In Iraq, Soleimani was hated by many who viewed him as a symbol of Iran’s overreach into their domestic politics. But he was also responsible for Iranian-backed militias who helped fight ISIS in the region, and in that sense, some Iraqis felt he was a war hero. Even the Iraqis who hated Soleimani, though, were probably not happy about how he died. A U.S. airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital city, was seen as an attack on Iraq’s sovereignty. That’s why, on Sunday, the Iraqi parliament voted to expel U.S. troops from Iraq. That vote doesn’t make things “official,” but it’s the first step towards removing troops who are currently stationed there with the permission of the Iraqi government in an effort to fight back ISIS. In the meantime, Iran announced it would no longer abide by any limits of the 2015 nuclear deal, which was designed to limit its capacity to create nuclear bombs and has threatened some “35 U.S. targets in the region as well as Tel Aviv,” which an Iranian commander said, “are within our reach.”

What the right is saying.

President Trump is threatening everyone. Saturday night, he tweeted a threat that he would target 52 Iranian sites, including cultural sites (a war crime) if Iran retaliated for the death of Soleimani. He also threatened Iraq, saying if it followed through by expelling U.S. troops then he would destroy its economy with the same devastating financial sanctions the U.S. uses in Iran. According to Axios reporting, the president has told advisers that he believes it’s ridiculous America pays billions of dollars supporting Iraqi forces who he views as incompetent and disloyal to America. Others on the right seem to be falling in line behind the president and the administration, quickly decrying Soleimani as a terrorist with American blood on his hands. They’ve written off the swathes of mourners for Soleimani as people under the thumb of the regime. And they are reminding everyone, frequently, that the killing of Soleimani was both a response to Iran’s killing an American contractor and because of an imminent threat to Americans that Soleimani was behind.

What the left is saying.

It depends on which lefties. Some more left-center folks are asking, “What the hell is the plan?” Iraqis are our allies, not our enemy. Trump is threatening to destroy their economy with sanctions and is only isolating them, which will lead many in Iraq (the ones who haven’t already) to turn towards Iran as an ally. It’s not unlike the administration’s sudden abandonment of our Kurdish allies in Syria, which immediately led to new alliances and opened the door for authoritarian regimes like Iran and Russia. If Iraq follows through on expelling U.S. soldiers, that would be a huge boon for ISIS, who could again wreak havoc in the region without U.S. soldiers. In the meantime, the anti-war left is louder and prouder than it has ever been. Celebrities like Colin Kaepernick and politicians like Rep. Ilhan Omar have been outspoken, saying the latest killing of Soleimani continues the tradition of American imperialists bombing black and brown people in far-off countries we don’t understand. Others are pleading with Americans to remember that Iran and Iraq’s government don’t fully represent the people, the regular citizens, who will suffer most from what comes next.

My take.

First, the seemingly universal cry of “this might lead to war with Iran!” is a little nuts to me. I’m pretty sure we’re already at war. Iran killed an American contractor. We killed 25 members of an Iranian-backed militia. Iranian-backed militia members stormed the U.S. embassy in Iraq and (allegedly) had devised such a dangerous, destructive plan we killed the second most powerful person in all of Iran with a drone strike. Then we deployed 3,500 troops to the Middle East. That sounds a lot like war to me.

Some people on the left have me ripping my hair out as they martyr Soleimani as a victim of U.S. imperialism. Look: there is nuance in everything, and I am certainly not going to sit here and make the case that his death is a “good” thing. But I heard far less outcry when Barack Obama was droning civilians. If you’re unsure about Soleimani but want to paint America as an aggressor, just take the U.S. out of it altogether. Soleimani is not just responsible for the deaths of Americans during the Iraq War, but for the deaths of innocent Iraqi and Iranian civilians who have been fighting for freedom and Democracy in both Iran and Iraq.

For folks on the right, listening to you pretend that Donald Trump is a trustworthy commander-in-chief whose word we should take on matters of war and peace is also absurd. I am not, for one moment, believing the line that Soleimani “posed an imminent threat” in a way that made this unstabilizing move absolutely necessary. On the contrary, the administration has provided zero evidence of an imminent threat and has had a hard time answering questions about the strike, even on friendly cable television like Fox News. Iran and the U.S. have been exchanging proxy war attacks for 15 years. Let’s not forget that we invaded Iraq under the leadership of George Bush on the lie that it was harboring “weapons of mass destruction,” a lie many in or advising this administration participated in. I also got a laugh when Fox News host Ainsley Earhardt, who for three years has catered to the president by warning of “the deep state,” suddenly flip-flops and tells us to trust the intelligence community when it comes to war. Huh?

As for Trump: he ran on a promise of reducing war and spending in the Middle East. There are now more troops in the Middle East than there were when he entered office, and another 3,500 troops are headed that way as I write this. I’ve said for a long time that the simple genius of Trump’s candidacy and his presidency is that he takes every position on everything, making sure everyone hears just enough of what they like in order to support him. He is, in reality, a vacuum of political ideology, and his foreign policy is no different. In the same breath that he claims he wants to end the forever wars, he vows to rain hellfire on any country that speaks ill of the U.S. Now we are seeing the hawk side of Trump.

This weekend, I wrote a story in Vox about the funeral processions in Iraq and what they showed us about Soleimani’s legacy there. If you want to read that story you can find it here.


Important read.

Over the holidays, I wrote about the rise of anti-Semitism that is running rampant in New York City. The best story I’ve read about this terrible new trend came from Vox’s Jane Coaston, who dissected the conspiracy theories in some communities of color that lead to hatred of Jews. You can read about them here.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Asking questions is easy. You can ask questions by simply replying to this email and writing in.

Q: I’ve heard a lot on the news about Iran’s threats to respond and how dangerous Trump’s decision to do the drone strike was. It seems like there is a lot of concern about a terrorist attack or an Iranian attack. Are you worried about something happening in the U.S.? Do you think Americans are in danger?

- Janet, Des Moines, Iowa

Tangle: There has definitely been a lot of frightening rhetoric since the strike that killed Soleimani, and I have participated in that rhetoric. I said in Tangle on Friday: “I would not want to be in the Middle East or in Israel — a country Iran has repeatedly threatened and a top U.S. ally — right now. What’s most frightening is the resources and reach Iran has and the threat of an attack in the U.S. or Europe, which would almost definitely unleash a full-fledged war in Iran.”

I think my emphasis here would be on the first part of that take. Being an American in the Middle East right now, given Iran’s pledge for revenge, would be uncomfortable. I’ve sourced a good bit of reporting here from experts on the region, and I noted in one issue that the managing editor of Iraq Oil Report told me he would be looking to leave Baghdad “ASAP” if he were there right now. For someone who travels extensively in Iraq, that is a pretty concerning take on the state of things.

But Iran has also clarified its threats since then, as bizarre as that is. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon’s Iran-allied Hezbollah movement, said the retribution must target military members of the U.S., not civilians. He said harming American citizens would play into Trump’s hands and hurt Iran’s position globally. Nasrallah said the targets will be “all the U.S. military bases in the region, their warships, every single general and soldier in our lands.”

There’s plenty of reason not to believe anything Nasrallah says, but I also think it lines up with what we’ve heard. And, as other reporters have noted, there is plenty of historical precedent for Iran’s bombastic threats to never come to fruition.

As for what’s next, it’s anyone’s guess. Very few people seem to have real expertise on Iraq or Iran, and a lot of folks who didn’t even know who Soleimani was three years ago — including Trump! — are now sharing their thoughts about him. Iran’s regime has been going after Americans for years and it’s very possible they try to respond to this strike with more attacks of their own. It’s also possible all the big, bold threats are empty. I’d caution everyone to remember the millions of Iraqis and Iranians who will get caught between whatever battle American and Iranian leadership decide to move forward with. And also remind you that thousands of young American men left their families just after the holidays and deployed to the Middle East over this latest escalation.

So, am I worried about something happening in the U.S.? Based on everything we’ve heard since Soleimani was killed, not particularly. I do think the Iranian regime is capable of orchestrating an attack, but I also think they understand the repercussions for doing so. That being said, I stand by my previous writing: I wouldn’t want to be an American in Israel or in the Middle East right now, and I think this is an extremely delicate and tense time. I don’t think you, in Iowa, need to be concerned or worried about any repercussions in your day-to-day, though.

A story that matters.

The suicide rate amongst Americans ages 10 to 24 jumped 56 percent between 2007 and 2017, and it’s now the second-leading cause of death amongst young people. I typically don’t write about suicide because some studies have shown news coverage of suicide helps it spread, but this statistic was just astounding. Unsurprisingly, the rate of teen depression has also skyrocketed during that time period. There have been many alleged culprits for this rise in suicide and depression — namely social media and smartphones — but one of the biggest is the lack of treatment. Of all the things we don’t know, there is one thing we do know: psychotherapies and medication work. And yet, “only 45 percent of teenage girls who had an episode of depression in 2019 received any treatment, and just 33 percent of teenage boys with depression did.” You can read more from the NYT here.

[If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.]


  • 29%. The percentage of GOP voters who said they would cast a ballot for Donald Trump Jr. as president in 2024.
  • 16%. The percentage of GOP voters who said they would cast a ballot for Ivanka Trump as president in 2024.
  • 40%. The percentage of GOP voters who said they would cast a ballot for Mike Pence as president in 2024.
  • 50%. The percentage of active duty military members who say they disapprove of the job Donald Trump is doing, the worst marks of his presidency, according to a mid-December Military Times poll.
  • 42%. The percentage of active duty military members who say they approve of the job Donald Trump is doing, the worst marks of his presidency, according to a mid-December Military Times poll.
  • 23%. The Democratic support for Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg in Iowa, creating a first-place tie heading into the crucial early state, according to a CBS News poll.

Thank you.

I’m so grateful for all of you who have written in and told me how much you enjoy Tangle, and for those of you who submit questions. It makes the early mornings and late nights worth it, and it keeps the fire inside me burning to deliver the news the way it should be delivered. Please: if you want to support the newsletter, consider spreading the word. The best way to do that is to forward this email to friends encouraging them to subscribe, or by posting about Tangle on social media: /

Have a nice day.

A Japanese woman turned 117 years old, extending her record as the world’s oldest person. Kane Tanaka celebrated her birthday at a nursing home in Fukuoka, a city in southern Japan. She celebrated with staff and friends and ate some cake. Tanaka was born prematurely in 1903. She had four children and adopted a fifth. For a little perspective, 1903 was the same year the first west-east transatlantic radio broadcast was made from the United States to England. The Ottoman Empire was still a thing. Ford motor company was founded. Theodore Roosevelt was president. Click.

Subscribe to Tangle

Join 100,000+ people getting Tangle directly to their inbox!