By Lambert Strether of Corrente
Normally, although I don’t like the Wall Street Journal’s editorial line, I take the perhaps old-fashioned view that many if not most investors can’t completely lie to themselves, and so there’s a market for reporting excellence, especially on firms (e.g., Boeing) for which the Journal caters. But a recent article on Iraq, “Trump Pushes Iraq, Threatens Sanctions After Vote to Expel U.S. Troops,” has shaken my faith. Of course, not all the stupid comes from the WSJ. U.S. officials helped!
So this will be a very simple post: I’ll just go through the article, pluck out as many solecisms as I can, throw them into buckets, and comment briefly on them. The buckets: Obtuseness, outright errors, lazy reporting, ignorance, strange omissions, and a general inability to look outside our foreign policy establishment’s imperial mindset. I’ll just take the paragraphs in order.
President Trump threatened Iraq with sanctions and a billfor billions of dollars if the U.S. is forced to withdraw its troops from the nation after the Iraqi parliament, responding to a U.S. airstrike that killed a powerful Iranian general on its soil, voted in favor of expelling American forces
Mr. Trump balked at leaving Iraq without reimbursement.
As Yves has pointed out, what you do with a bill is pay it. What Trump has just done is put a price on our withdrawal from Iraq. In other words, it’s a deal. At the very least, this is a policy innovation (and did anyone in the IMF — or the Kremlin — notice?)
(2) Lazy reporting:
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said pressure from Iran prompted Mr. Abdul-Mahdi and Iraqi lawmakers to act.
We not only whacked Soleimani at the Baghdad Airport, we whacked an Iraqi citizen, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Surely the Iraqis had reasons of their own to act, beyond Pompeo’s 1-dimensional chess? Yet the Journal simply quotes Pompeo, without contextualizing his remarks.
Iran has vowed harsh retaliation, stoking fears of wider conflict across the Middle East, where Gen. Soleimani cultivated a network of proxies that could be activated to strike U.S. interests.
(4) Lazy reporting:
In Washington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said late Sunday the chamber would this week introduce and vote on a war-powers measure to limit Mr. Trump’s actions involving Iran. Mrs. Pelosi said the resolution would be similar to one introduced by Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.), who last week filed a measure to force debate and a vote in the Senate ending further military operations in Iran.
It is not clear to me whether Omar Ilhan and Barbara Lee’s Resolution is the same as the resolution that CIA Democrat Elissa Slotkin is to “lead,” according to Pelosi, although both are based on a Senate Resolution from Tim Kaine (!). This is the sort of detail I would expect first-class reporting to clarify. (As of this writing, neither resolution is available to congress.gov.)
In a reminder of the increasingly hostile climate for U.S. troops, two rockets were fired into Baghdad’s Green Zone, where the U.S. Embassy and coalition troops are located, and a third landed outside of it, an Interior Ministry official said. Six civilians were wounded.
This is not new:
It has been happening for years. I lived in Baghdad from 2003 to 2006, and for most of that time I never had to set an alarm clock, because mortars from Sadr City, aimed at the Green Zone, would always wake me up just after dawn. https://t.co/7ud6hLquqR
— Andrew MacGregor Marshall (@zenjournalist) January 4, 2020
(6) Strange omission:
The events have demonstrated the growing power of Iran-backed groups like Kataib Hezbollah, which Iraqi security forces have been unable to prevent firing rockets at bases housing U.S. troops.
A week or so ago, there were enormous protests in Iraq both against corruption, and against Iran’s presence in Iraq. What happened to them?
(7) Outright error:
Iraq’s Foreign Ministry summoned U.S. Ambassador Matthew Tueller on Sunday, denouncing the U.S. attack as a violation of the coalition’s mission to fight Islamic State and train Iraqi security forces.
Wrong. Agence France Presse:
The Iraqi foreign ministry on Sunday summoned US ambassador Matthew Tueller to condemn American strikes on Iraq that killed a top Iranian general, an Iraqi commander and other local fighters.
“They were a blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty,” the ministry said in a statement, and “contradict the agreed-upon missions of the international coalition.”
Surely the Iraq Foreign Ministry’s statement was available to the Journal. So why erase the “blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty”?
(8) Imperial mindset:
Before the vote, a senior State Department official said the U.S. had been working with its allies in Iraq to prevent its taking place, characterizing the killing as supporting the sovereignty of Iraq against Iran.
The Iraqi government faced a choice, the official said, as to “whether they want to be an Iranian satellite state or whether they want to be a sovereign nation-state of good standing in the international community.”
Why on earth would anybody think we have the right to make that judgement? In fact, from 30,000 feet, our increasing loss of soft power is the context for our increasingly desperate and futile use of hard power.
U.S. officials said the strike on Gen. Soleimani was part of attempts to deter imminent attacks against American personnel in the region.
When “U.S. officials” say “imminent,” they are applying the “Bethlehem Doctrine,” explained by Craig Murry here:
What very few people, and almost no international lawyers, accept is the key to the Bethlehem Doctrine – that here “Imminent” – the word used so carefully by Pompeo – does not need to have its normal meanings of either “soon” or “about to happen”. An attack may be deemed “imminent”, according to the Bethlehem Doctrine, even if you know no details of it or when it might occur. So you may be assassinated by a drone or bomb strike – and the doctrine was specifically developed to justify such strikes – because of “intelligence” you are engaged in a plot, when that intelligence neither says what the plot is nor when it might occur. Or even more tenuous, because there is intelligence you have engaged in a plot before, so it is reasonable to kill you in case you do so again.
I am not inventing the Bethlehem Doctrine. It has been the formal legal justification for drone strikes and targeted assassinations by the Israeli, US and UK governments for a decade.
By omitting to clarify that in the national security establishment, “imminent” means the opposite of what a dull normal would think it means, the Journal propagates a black-is-white level of disinformation.
Readers, feel free to use this post as an open thread for your musings on the extremely dynamic series of events in the Middle East. And I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s wrong with this story, so feel free to dig deeper. If the WSJ had reported on the Boeing 737 MAX the way it’s reporting on Iraq, we’d think the only problem was pilot error.