Today’s read: 6 minutes.
Good morning and good afternoon. Today is a special, abbreviated, Friday edition of Tangle to address the drone strike that killed Iran’s top military leader last night. If you were forwarded this, or found this article online, and want to receive regular updates from Tangle, you can sign up for free below.
Gen. Wassim Soleimani, who was killed last night in Iraq. Photo: WikiCommons | sayyed shahab-o- din vajedi
What D.C. is talking about.
Gen. Qassim Soleimani. Early Friday morning, Iran’s top military commander was killed in a drone strike at Baghdad International airport that was authorized by President Donald Trump, according to American officials. Soleimani was killed along with several high-ranking Iraqi militia leaders backed by Iran after an American MQ-9 Reaper drone attacked a convoy leaving the airport. As The New York Times put it, “General Soleimani was the architect of nearly every significant operation by Iranian intelligence and military forces over the past two decades, and his death was a staggering blow for Iran at a time of sweeping geopolitical conflict.” Soleimani was considered by most Americans as an evil man, and he’s been responsible for hundreds of American deaths over the years. But both President Barack Obama and George Bush resisted killing the leader for fear of what comes next: an unthinkable escalation in the Middle East. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, called for three days of mourning before retaliation, saying “a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands.”
What the right is saying.
Mostly: Republicans are saying that Trump is justified in his attack. As the right sees it, Soleimani is a terrorist who was responsible for hundreds of American deaths during the Iraq war and was one of the gravest threats to American soldiers in the Middle East. “Why are congressional Dems outraged that he’s finally dead?” Ted Cruz asked on Twitter. On CNN, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he has “every expectation” that people “in Iran will view the American action last night as giving them freedom.” Jesse Kelly, a conservative columnist who has been critical of the “neocons” behind many wars in the Middle East, celebrated Soleimani’s death. “Yeah, I can oppose America’s absurd neocon foreign policy while also celebrating the death of a terrorist piece of rat vomit who killed our brave warriors and if you don’t like it, well, there’s the door.” Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary under George W. Bush, said on Fox News that “I think it is entirely possible that this is going to be a catalyst inside Iran where people celebrate this killing of Soleimani.”
What the left is saying.
Mostly: Democrats are saying Soleimani is bad, but this is not good. Democrats in Congress were kept in the dark about the attack, which even in today’s politically divided world is pretty startling. “Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question,” Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, wrote on Twitter. “The question is this - as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?” Every major Democratic presidential candidate echoed a similar line of thought: Soleimani is bad, but what’s the plan? And why didn’t Trump come to Congress for authorization? Tulsi Gabbard, who has been criticized by the left for Fox News appearances and echoing Trump's talking points, went on Fox News this time to denounce Trump. “Trump talked a lot in his campaign for the presidency, and even since he's been in office, about how he wants to end forever wars. But his actions tell a different story.” Bernie Sanders went the furthest, calling this an assassination and issuing a statement that did not include any condemnations of Soleimani. He later posted on Twitter that he “would not apologize” for being right about the war in Iraq, the war in Vietnam and the war in Afghanistan. Former Vice President Joe Biden said Trump “just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox.”
I went to bed early last night. When I woke up and read the dozens of news alerts on my phone, I literally said “holy sh*t” out loud. It’s tough to understate the magnitude of this action, and the potential outbreak it will cause. Without question, it is a huge escalation. Of course, like all major moments in the Middle East, nuance has been abandoned. Soleimani is absolutely responsible for the deaths of American soldiers: he was helping protect the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and also provided Iraqi fighters with bomb-making equipment and training during the height of the Iraq War. He is a “bad guy,” and plenty of Iraqis don’t like him because his power in the region is seen as meddling in the Iraq world. He’s also orchestrated the killings of pro-Democracy demonstrators in Baghdad as recently as the last few months. But he’s revered by some, too. Because he was such a powerful, shadowy force in the region, he was also someone who had contact with every major player in the Iraqi political scene. And he helped Iran fight ISIS in Iraq. So there are plenty of Iraqis who view him as a powerful war hero that helped keep them from the grip of terrorism.
As for what’s going to happen now, it’s anyone’s guess. Iran has pledged retaliation and I have every reason to believe they’ll follow through. 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. Rep. Elise Slotkin, a former CIA analyst who was a Shia militia expert, released the best statement of any politician I’ve seen (I linked to it in full below). She said that every administration she’s worked for has struggled with how to handle Soleimani, especially as his power exploded, but the biggest question has always been what would happen if he were killed: “The two administrations I worked for both determined that the ultimate ends didn’t justify the means... The Iranian government has vowed to retaliate and avenge Soleimani’s death and could do so in any number of ways: against our diplomats and service members or high-ranking military officers, against our allies and partners in the region, or through targeted attacks in the Western world. It is critical that the administration has thought out the moves and counter-moves this attack will precipitate and is prepared to protect our diplomats, service members and citizens serving overseas.”
Now, if you read that and think to yourself that you’re confident we’ve prepared for the next moves and the security of our country and allies, then maybe you feel comfortable with where we are at. To be frank, I don’t feel that way. This all feels to me like swift escalation that perhaps didn’t come with a ton of planning for what’s next.
Ben Van Heuvelen, the Managing Editor of Iraq Oil Report, said in text messages to Tangle that he did “not think a big war was inevitable,” but also alluded to the potential for things to get out of control. He said the killing of Soleimani is probably closer to the killing Franz Ferdinand — the heir apparent to Austria-Hungary whose 1914 assassination is widely considered the cause of World War I — than it is to the killing of Osama bin Laden. “If I were in Baghdad right now I would be looking to leave ASAP,” Van Heuvelen said. “I’m sure Iranian operatives in Iraq are going to look at any American as a potential target.”
As for the domestic political side of this, I’m very interested to see how things play out. Behind only the “wall” he promised to build, one of Trump’s biggest assurances to supporters was that he would bring troops home and stop wasting money “fighting in the sand” over in the Middle East. This strike, and basically every action Trump has taken since then, says differently. He’s just fighting different wars in the Middle East. We saw a troop increase to the region last week and if there is any Iranian retaliation I can only imagine more troops will head that way. Of course, they will sell this much like the killing of bin Laden was sold: a bad man is dead, which is a win for the U.S. It also puts Democrats in an odd position of criticizing an action that killed an enemy of the United States.
But at the same time, I can’t imagine the thirst for war in America has ever been lower. Conservatives and liberals on both sides of the aisle — the voters — seem so exhausted by the trillions of dollars our military has spent fighting wars. Will Democrats win this moment by convincing the public Trump is breaking his promises and walking us into another war? Will it elevate the isolationism promoted by Sen. Sanders? Or will Trump’s supporters and Republicans rally around this moment as a victory for America and a necessary evil? It’s too early to tell, but I absolutely think how this plays out in the public could impact the 2020 election.
A story that matters.
Big pharma raised sticker prices on hundreds of drugs when 2020 began this week. There has been a lot of political pressure to lower prescription drug prices, and it’s been a promise of both Congressional Democrats and Trump for some time. But the increases went into effect for some of the world’s most popular drugs, including the arthritis treatment Humira, the multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera, the HIV/AIDS drug Truvada and Pfizer’s breast cancer pills. Many of the price hikes aren’t justified. While drug price increases don’t always lead to more drug spending (discounts given to health insurers play a big role in final out-of-pocket costs for users), more often than not — they do. You can read more from Axios here.
- $34.5 million. The amount of money raised in Q4 by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
- $24.7 million. The amount of money raised in Q4 by presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.
- $22.7 million. The amount of money raised in Q4 by presidential candidate Joe Biden.
- $22.2 million. The amount of money raised in Q4 by presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.
- $16.5 million. The amount of money raised in Q4 by presidential candidate Andrew Yang.
- $11.4 million. The amount of money raised in Q4 by presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar.
- $3.4 million. The amount of money raised in Q4 by presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard.
- $135.4 million. The total amount of money raised by each of these candidates combined in Q4.
- $46 million. The amount of money raised in Q4 by President Donald Trump.
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An Uber driver says she is one step closer to becoming a lawyer after a random passenger paid off her college debt when he heard her life story, CNN reports. Latonya Young said she drives Uber at night and works as a hairstylist during the day. A 43-year-old single mother, Young was telling her story to a passenger about how she had to drop out of college because of a $700 debt she couldn’t pay off. He surprised her by paying it off. She went back to school and graduated with an Associate’s Degree, and is now pursuing her bachelor’s degree with the hope of going to law school. The man who paid her debt off, Kevin Esch, attended her graduation and has kept in touch with her. Click.