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White House subdued as Iran strikes US bases in Iraq

Updated January 8, 2020 - 12:40 am

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump sought to reassure Americans with a tweet Tuesday night after Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq.

“All is well!” the president wrote. “Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties &damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.”

While CNN incorrectly reported that Trump would make a televised address to the nation from the Oval Office on Tuesday night, press secretary Stephanie Grisham instead issued a written statement.

“We are aware of the reports of attacks on U.S. facilities in Iraq. The president has been briefed and is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team,” Grisham said.

The Pentagon issued a statement that said, “It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. military and coalition personnel at Al-Assad and Irbil.”

Silent on Twitter

Trump’s Twitter feed had remained mostly silent since the president tweeted in the morning that he had met with Saudi Vice Minister of Defense Khalid bin Salman on Monday.

Earlier in the day, the president seemed committed not to further provoke Tehran, but also not to give Iran what it wants — the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

A longtime opponent of the U.S. military presence in Iraq, Trump told reporters Tuesday that, while he wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq at some point, “this isn’t the right point,” before he added that a U.S. troop pullout now would be “the worst thing that could happen to Iraq.”

Sitting in the Oval Office with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Trump also said he would respect international law and not target cultural sites — as he threatened to do over the weekend — even as he bristled at the notion that a U.S. president should be culturally sensitive toward an aggressor that has orchestrated the death of hundreds of U.S. troops.

From the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Mark Esper maintained that the United States is “not seeking war with Iran. I think what happens next depends on them.”

Cory Mills, a former special operations and diplomatic security specialist who spent eight years in Iraq, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he believes that Tehran “had to show response, but they were hoping to hit infrastructure, not American lives.”

“They want to leave room open for de-escalation, and they know Trump’s red line,” Mills added.

Praying for troops

Nevada lawmakers and congressional leaders in both major parties said Tuesday they were praying for U.S. military men and women following the attacks.

Vice President Mike Pence notified congressional leaders about the attacks in phone calls to Capitol Hill as official Washington spent the evening monitoring the events unfolding in the Middle East.

“Praying for the safety of our servicemembers in harm’s way tonight,” said Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., in a tweet shortly after lawmakers learned about the missile attacks on two U.S. military installations.

Both the House and Senate were scheduled to receive a full briefing Wednesday by Trump administration officials, including Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about the U.S. drone strike last week that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq.

Soleimani was the head of the elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has been designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. He was designated as a terrorist by the United States in 2011.

Trump administration officials said the strike was a response to a December attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq and came as Soleimani was planning an imminent attack on U.S. diplomats and service members. Tuesday’s rocket barrage from Iran, a decadeslong U.S. nemesis that has called for Israel’s destruction, came in retaliation for the American strike against Soleimani.

“The safety of U.S. service members and personnel is essential, and I’ll be asking the administration what it’s doing to keep them safe at tomorrow’s Iran briefing in the Senate,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev.

Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., wrote: “Praying for U.S. servicemen and women in Iraq right now.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tweeted: “Closely monitoring the situation following bombings targeting U.S. troops in Iraq. We must ensure the safety of our service­me­mbers, including ending needless provocations from the Administration and demanding that Iran cease its violence. America &world cannot afford war.”

Pelosi’s GOP counterpart, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called for unity.

“Tonight we must be united in the fight against terrorism and those who would do our country harm,” he said on Twitter. “America’s full support is with our courageous service men and women standing the watch.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter. Review-Journal Washington Bureau reporter Gary Martin contributed to this story.

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