Emile Nakleh, UNM - Minding Foreign Policy During the Pandemic

Emile Nakleh, UNM
Minding Foreign Policy During the Pandemic


It was on April Fool’s Day, April First, 2020, that President Donald Trump tweeted: “Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on U.S. troops and/or assets in Iraq. If this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!”

I don’t think anyone thought the president was April fooling, and if he was, the joke was very unfunny, although who could suppress a laugh at Trump’s “sneak attack” accusation.  It’s not like he praised Iran when it did the opposite, previewed its missile attack on two Iraqi bases where U.S. troops are stationed, an alert that may have held casualties to – at last count – 50 or so Americans injured and no fatalities.

By Trump’s chessboard calculus, he took Iran’s most valued knight off the board when he assassinated Islamic Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Suleimani and all they did was damage some pawns.

Trump’s claim that Iran’s restrained response showed he and America had won only makes sense if you can freeze time right there and call “Game Over!”

Call all you want, time doesn’t care.  It leaves what’s been done or not done behind, where it can never be undone and moves onto the next thing, and usually a lot of next things started up in the can’t be undone left behind.

Like that assassination, which also burned off the battlefield one of Iran’s Iraqi proxy militia commanders, and left behind a need for revenge, which has produced a series of small-scale but life-threatening attacks on U.S. troops and contractors in Iraq.

The U.S. has already once responded with a “harder blow” than the one the militiamen delivered to no noticeable effect.

By the way, to the president, the people killed in these most recent exchanges of fire have been “Iran proxies,” but to almost all Iraqis, they are Iraqis.

The next “sneak attack” in Iraq is about as predictable as a spring sandstorm, when it will happen is unknown, that it will happen is pretty certain.

And the heavier the price the president orders in response, the deeper he drives a wedge between the U.S., the government of Iraq and its people.



Emile Nakhleh is the Director of the Global and National Security Institute at the University of New Mexico.  He was for more than a decade a Senior Intelligence Service officer and Director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program at the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the author of A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World and Bahrain: Political Development in a Modernizing State. He has written extensively on Middle East politics, political Islam, radical Sunni ideologies, and terrorism.

Since retiring from the government in 2006, he has consulted on national security issues, particularly Islamic radicalization, terrorism and the Arab states of the Middle East. Nakhleh holds a doctorate in International Relations from American University. He is the author of numerous academic books and scholarly articles, as well as the recipient of several senior commendations and distinguished medals for his service.










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