Threat recedes, powder keg remains
A mob attack on an American diplomatic outpost, besides terrifying the occupants, is the stuff of nightmares for the U.S. administration responsible for protecting it.
Look to Jimmy Carter's fate after the 444-day hostage siege in Tehran four decades ago, or how the killings of Americans in Benghazi, Libya, tarred Hillary Clinton's record as secretary of state.
That was very much on Donald Trump's mind when pro-Iranian Shia militiamen on Tuesday penetrated the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad to protest U.S. airstrikes against militia units. The president didn't express the thought into a full sentence at first, but it came through when he tweeted, "The Anti-Benghazi!"
American Apache helicopters flew overhead and Marine reinforcements were ordered in. The protesters retreated from the embassy compound but camped outside.
Though Iraqi security forces belatedly intervened to help expel the intruders, the Baghdad government also was furious about the airstrikes — a retaliation for a rocket-attack death of an American contractor — as a violation of its sovereignty. But Trump chose to thank Iraq's leaders for a "rapid response upon request" and blamed Iran.
Even if the danger to the embassy has eased, the danger of a broader regional conflict has grown. Tensions with Iran have been building since Trump pulled out of the Obama-made nuclear deal and ratcheted up sanctions. Trump in September called off an airstrike at the last minute after a missile strike against the Saudi oil industry that was attributed to Iran.
Trump tweeted "will be held fully responsible" for assaults on U.S. facilities and "will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!"
Caught in the muddle
The Baghdad standoff revived the debate largely along partisan lines over just how well Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign to force Tehran to the nuclear negotiating table is working out.
One of the 2020 Democratic contenders, Pete Buttigieg, tweeted: "Our civilian diplomats and our military are now becoming targets of proxy attacks caused by Iranian aggression, in an environment made more volatile by the erratic foreign policy of Donald Trump."
Another, Elizabeth Warren, went further, tweeting, "Trump’s reckless decisions to walk away from the Iran Deal and now to launch airstrikes in Iraq without Iraqi government consent have brought us closer to war and endangered U.S. troops and diplomats."
But Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted Trump "deserves credit for responding decisively." To Democrats who criticized the U.S. airstrike retaliation after a series of Iran-backed Iraqi militia rocket attacks, Rubio said, "Eventually they killed an American but these people think we should do nothing?"
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has been with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, said the president "is determined to protect American personnel and expects our Iraqi partners to step up to the plate. No more Benghazis."
No 'beautiful letter' to follow?
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, unhappy he hasn't won new concessions from the Trump administration, warned that his country will soon show a new strategic weapon to the world.
Kim said he no longer felt bound by a self-imposed moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles.
The announcement comes a week after the world braced for a “Christmas gift” that Kim promised to send to the United States.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News: "We’re hopeful that … Chairman Kim will make the right decision — he’ll choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war.”
Janison: Privilege trumps all
For Trump, the privileges of office go beyond claiming to be impeachment-proof or immune to congressional inquiries, or above constitutional restrictions on personal favors and gifts from overseas, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
His recent intervention on behalf of Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL reviled among several of his own colleagues as a bloodthirsty killer, marked a favorite Trump use of presidential privilege. He created a triumphant story about himself as rescuing a heroic warrior from military bureaucrats.
A military court system had already found the worst charges couldn't stick. But Trump tossed out minor punishments and elevated Gallagher to hero status, disregarding a Navy secretary and the fellow SEALs who turned him in.
Gallagher had voices on Fox and supporters such as felon former NYPD Commissioner Bernie Kerik in his corner, and that was enough for Trump's rank, privilege and whims to prevail.
Trials and vacillations
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is catching flak from Democrats and some in his own party for pledging to coordinate with the White House in setting up an impeachment trial, he may face another problem: pinning down what Trump wants.
Trump tweeted favorably Tuesday about a Fox commentator's argument that the GOP Senate majority should vote to dismiss the article of impeachments without trial because "they are defective on their face."
But he also tweeted claims Tuesday that it's the Democrats who don't want a trial "in order to protect Sleepy Joe Biden" and his son Hunter. At times, Trump has seemed to press for a full trial with witnesses that would not just acquit but exonerate him.
Trump Winery's grapes of wrath
Almost a year after the Trump Organization, reacting to news stories, started culling undocumented workers from its properties, the ax fell on at least seven who toiled at the Trump Winery in rural Virginia, reports The Washington Post.
The terminations took place after the workers had finished the annual grape harvest. One worker, a tractor driver from Honduras named Omar Miranda, said, “They didn’t make this decision in the summer because they needed us a lot then."
A lawyer advising Miranda, Anibal Romero, said, "Trump has known about these workers for months" but waited until their product was made, and, "He then discards them like a used paper bag. Happy New Year. You’re fired.”
The Trump Organization did not respond to questions about the dismissals, the report said.
What else is happening:
- Trump spent nearly 1 of every 5 days of 2019 at one of his golf clubs, according to a CNN tally.
- Trump tweeted Tuesday that he plans to sign a preliminary trade deal with China in Washington on Jan. 15 and travel to Beijing sometime later in 2020 for talks on a phase two agreement.
- Former Trump 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski tweeted he decided not to run for senator from New Hampshire. "I am certain I would have won," said Lewandowski, who isn't taking a chance on being proved wrong.
- Trump signed a bipartisan measure to fight robocalls that could reduce them if not make them disappear, The Associated Press reported. It gives authorities more enforcement powers and requires phone companies to help block robocalls without charging consumers.
- The 1600 is going on a one-day holiday hiatus. We'll be back on newsday.com on Thursday night and in subscribers' inboxes on Friday morning. Not signed up? It's easy — just go to newsday.com/the1600.