The president had blinked at making good on his own threat. Around the globe, US allies and enemies were on notice that America might not live up to its word.

“It’s no coincidence that Russia took control of Crimea within the year, and later intervened decisively in Syria to save Assad. Nor that Iran was able to virtually dictate the terms of its nuclear deal with Team Obama.”


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On October 13 President Trump threw down the gauntlet to Iran: "I am authorizing the Treasury Department to further sanction the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for its support for terrorism and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents, and affiliates." Even as the president spoke Secretary Mnuchin announced that the Treasury Department was designating the IRGC as a terrorist entity under a White House Executive Order.

The next day, as often under presidents Obama and Bush, Iran challenged American power. And if the pattern holds, and President Trump fails to respond to the challenge, the ayatollahs will again have humiliated the United States before the world.

General Qassem Soleimani, chief the elite arm of the IRGC, al Qods, reportedly pressured Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar Al-Abadi to issue an ultimatum to the Kurdish Peshmerga to surrender their positions in the Kirkuk oil region. Soleimani then held talks with Kurdish officials removing any doubt of Iran’s role in creating the crisis.

As of today, October 16, Soleimani’s forces attacked Kirkuk.

British MP blames Iran for the violence in Kirkuk

Jack Lopresti, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kurdistan, issued the following statement, pointing out the irony of Iranian-backed forces using American weapons to attack the Kurds: “The terrible events overnight in Kirkuk are mainly made in Iran. The physical presence of IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani in the Kirkuk area proves that in spades and even the Iraqi government acknowledges that he is an adviser to the Shia militia.

In the United States Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain noted that Iraqi forces using US-supplied arms attacked a “valuable” US partner. “I am deeply concerned,” McCain said, “by media reports of military advances by Iraqi government forces against Kurdish positions near Kirkuk. I am especially concerned by media reports that Iranian and Iranian-backed forces are part of the assault.

What will President Trump do?

How will he respond to this latest Iranian challenge to “the world’s only superpower”? Obama was justifiably criticized as weak in backing down from his threat to Assad over using poison gas against civilians. That failure to act on his threat directly resulted in Russia now dominant in Syria and the Middle East. The consequences to America position in the region, and around the world are still unfolding. And was it coincidence that around the time of America’s “Surge” in Iraq that Bush offered, after thirty years non-recognition resulting from the 1979 US Embassy hostage crisis, that the president offered to gift Iran a U.S. interest section, just one step below an embassy? And coincidence also that about that during that same time period that Moqtada al-Sadr, supported and financed by Iran, ordered his Mehdi Army militia to cease fire on American troops?

President Trump’s response to this latest Iranian provocation will describe either a change or continuation of an American policy of retreat from the Middle East, particularly evident in Obama. America’s “allies,” from the Saudis to Egypt and Israel are watching carefully the actions of the new president. American interests in the region: oil, the Suez Canal and the shipping lanes; resisting Russian challenge: these all remain despite America’s military failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. What remains to be seen is whether America has the heart to conduct itself as a superpower.

As von Clausewitz wrote, war is an extension of politics. But politics minus credible threat is toothless diplomacy: an invitation to adventurism and war.

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