- The New York Times reported that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan proposed a plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran attacked U.S. forces or advanced their nuclear weapons development.
- Many U.S. and European officials are worried that expanding military influence could lead to a conflict between the U.S. and Iran, arguing that Washington is promoting the confrontation, which has been escalating in recent months.
- The State Department ordered all non-essential embassy and consular employees to leave their posts in Iraq Wednesday, also issuing a separate travel advisory warning U.S. citizens not to travel to Iraq “due to terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict.”
Ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalated Monday when it was reported that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan proposed a plan that would send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran attacked U.S. forces or sped up their nuclear weapons development.
The story was first reported by The New York Times, which spoke to Administration officials who were present at a meeting of top security aides on Thursday. Officials told the Times that the plan does not explicitly call for invading Iran, a move that would require a lot more troops.
However, many officials were still reportedly shocked by the number of troops called for in the proposal. The Times noted that the 120,000 troops would almost approach the number of U.S. forces that invaded Iraq in 2003.
Many are skeptical that President Trump would want to send so many U.S. forces to the Middle East in the first place. While people high up in his administration like National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have pushed for hardline policies against Iran, Trump has been more reluctant.
On May 5, Bolton announced that the U.S. was deploying an aircraft carrier strike group and Air Force bombers to the Middle East in an effort to counter Iran.
In a statement, Bolton said that the move was “in response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” but did not elaborate. The Trump administration has since said that U.S. intelligence showed Iran’s proxy groups mobilizing in Iraq and Syria to attack U.S. forces.
Trump, however, has made it clear that he does not want to get involved in another conflict in the Middle East and has actively pushed to remove U.S. presence in Syria.
Trump, outright denied the Time’s report on Tuesday but did not rule out military intervention.“It’s fake news, OK?” Trump told reporters.
“Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we’re not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”
Divisions in the Administration
The divisions between Trump and his advisors are representative of broader divisions in the Trump administration.
While some in the administration fall in the same camp as Bolton and Pompeo, others do not agree with their approach, arguing that hard-lines instead of diplomacy will only encourage more aggression.
Some officials have said that deploying troops to the Middle East would just give Iran and its proxies more targets to strike, which could risk drawing the U.S. into a conflict. Others still point out that more troops would reverse efforts of both the Trump and Obama administration to remove U.S. troops from the Middle East.
That said, some officials and experts believe that Pompeo and Bolton actually want a confrontation with Iran. One U.S. official who spoke to the Times said the intelligence Bolton and others have cited as showing an increased Iranian threat was actually just “small stuff.” Even going as far as to say that it did not merit the military plan that has been proposed.
The official also said that the goal of the sanctions on Iran is to draw Iran into an armed conflict with the U.S.
Those divisions regarding the situation with Iran also extend beyond the U.S. and to its allies.
According to the Times, military and intelligence officials in both the U.S. and Europe have said the most aggressive actions have actually come from the U.S., and not Iran. Those same officials also expressed concern that Bolton has pushed Trump into backing Iran into a corner.
During his tour in Europe, Pompeo tried to rally European leaders against Iran, but they did not take the bait. Following a meeting in Brussels on Monday, European officials told reporters they had urged the U.S. to restrain from escalating the situation, out of fear that it could lead to conflict with Iran.
Privately, several European officials said Bolton and Pompeo are pushing Trump to take a series of steps that could put the U.S. on a course for war.
On Tuesday, senior British military official Major Gen. Chris Ghika, who is also the deputy commander of the U.S.-led military coalition against ISIS, pushed back against the U.S.’s claim of an Iranian threat presented in their intelligence.
“There has been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq or Syria,” Ghika told reporters at the Pentagon.
U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, gave a rare statement in response. “Recent comments from [Operation Inherent Resolve’s] deputy commander run counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from US and allies regarding Iranian backed forces in the region,” the lead spokesman for U.S. Central Command said in a statement.
Iraqi officials have also been skeptical of the intelligence the U.S. said it has on Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria. On Wednesday morning, the State Department ordered that all non-essential diplomatic personnel at the U.S. embassy and consulate in Iraq leave the country.
The State Department also issued a separate travel advisory, warning U.S. citizens not to travel to Iraq “due to terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict.” Again, Iraqi officials have expressed skepticism over this claim.
The alleged proposal from Shanahan comes as both the U.S. and Iran have been escalating geopolitical tensions in the region in recent weeks.
On April 8, the Trump administration announced that they were designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization in an unprecedented moved that marked the first time the U.S. labeled part of another country’s government a foreign terrorist organization.
Iran’s parliament responded to the U.S designation of the IRGC by passing legislation labeling the entire U.S. military as a terrorist organization a few weeks later, a move that came just days after the U.S. announced they would no longer allow countries that buy Iranian oil to be exempt from U.S. sanctions.
Then things really started to ramp up when Bolton announced that the U.S. was deploying military forces to the region to counter Iran on May 5.
Iran reacted the news a few days later, announcing that they would stop complying with some of their commitments under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, like restrictions on building stockpiles of enriched uranium and heavy water, which are used in nuclear reactors.
Iran also said that if the other countries that signed the deal do not work to ease the restrictions imposed by the U.S. in 60 days they would slowly stop their compliance with the restrictions outlined in the deal piece by piece.
Shanahan’s proposed plan appears to be a direct rebuke of Iran’s announcement last week. Shanahan’s posturing seems to explicitly imply that if Iran moves forward with its nuclear development as stated in their ultimatum to the other signatories of the deal, the U.S. could deploy troops to the Middle East, possibly risking an all-out confrontation.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (Fox News)
Iran Blamed for Strike on Saudi Oil Plants
- A massive attack on Saudi oil plants Saturday wiped out nearly 5% of global oil supplies.
- Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack, but U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Iran was behind the strikes.
- President Donald Trump did not directly name who launched the attack but said the U.S. was “locked and loaded” to respond. He later indicated Iran may have been behind the attacks in a tweet Monday morning.
- Saudi officials said on Monday that Iranian weapons were used.
Saudi Arabia Says Iranian Weapons Used in Attack
Saudi Arabia said Monday that Iranian weapons were used for drone strikes that decimated a group of Saudi oil facilities Saturday.
According to reports, the attack wiped out nearly half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production. Saudi Arabia produces about 10% of the world’s oil, meaning that the attacks singlehandedly knocked out 5% of all global oil supplies.
Some have argued it is one of the most significant military operations against Saudi Arabia’s critical infrastructure ever.
Shortly after the strike, Houthi rebels in Yemen issued a statement claiming that they were behind the attacks.
Since 2015, Yemen has been engaged in an incredibly violent civil war between Houthi rebels backed by Iran, and the Yemeni government backed by Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
Saudi Arabia has received a lot of international backlash for launching airstrikes in Yemen that have killed thousands of civilians, also prompting many to question the relationship the U.S. has with Saudi Arabia.
Now, Houthi leaders are describing Saturday’s strike on Saudi oil plants as their “right” to retaliate the airstrikes that have targeted their civilians.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also echoed that sentiment Monday, while speaking at a joint news conference.
“Yemeni people are exercising their legitimate right of defense,” he said. “The attacks were a reciprocal response to aggression against Yemen for years.”
Despite the fact that the Houthis claimed responsibility for the attacks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took to Twitter Saturday to blame Iran.
“Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy,” he wrote. “Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply. There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”
Pompeo also called on other nations to “condemn Iran’s attacks,” and added that the U.S. was working to make sure “Iran is held accountable for its aggression.”
The following day, President Donald Trump also addressed the incident on Twitter, though he did not directly blame Iran like Pompeo.
“Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked,” he wrote. “There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”
However, Trump seemed to reference Iran more specifically in another tweet on Monday, where he noted an earlier incident involving a U.S. drone being shot down in contested airspace.
“Remember when Iran shot down a drone, saying knowingly that it was in their ‘airspace’ when, in fact, it was nowhere close,” the President wrote. “They stuck strongly to that story knowing that it was a very big lie. Now they say that they had nothing to do with the attack on Saudi Arabia. We’ll see?”
Iran for its part has denied any involvement in the attacks. Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, responded to Pompeo’s claims in a tweet on Sunday.
“Having failed at ‘max pressure’, @SecPompeo’s turning to ‘max deceit’ US & its clients are stuck in Yemen because of illusion that weapon superiority will lead to military victory,” he said. “Blaming Iran won’t end disaster. Accepting our April ’15 proposal to end war & begin talks may.”
Implications Moving Forward
While announcing that Saudi officials claim Iranian weapons were used in the attack, a Saudi military spokesperson also said that the strikes did not originate from within Yemen.
U.S. officials have separately confirmed to the media that they are operating on the assumption that the strikes did not come from inside Yemen. A number of officials and experts have also claimed that the Houthis do not have the capabilities to initiate a strike of this scale on their own.
Some U.S. officials have additionally told reporters that they do not believe the strikes originated in Iraq, debunking an earlier theory.
Neither U.S. nor Saudi officials have not provided evidence that Iran launched the strike or that Iranian weapons were used. However, on the other side, Houthi leaders have also not provided any evidence that they carried out the attack.
Currently, senior U.S. officials are reportedly deliberating about how to respond.
Many foreign leaders are again warning the U.S. not to get drawn into a war. Leaders in both Britain and Germany condemned the attacks on Monday but did not directly blame Iran.
“In terms of who is responsible, the picture is not entirely clear,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said. “I want to have a very clear picture, which we will be having shortly.”
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a news conference that his country was working to find out who carried out the attacks. China’s Foreign Ministry also warned world leaders against naming a culprit “without conclusive facts.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry took a bit of a firmer stance and warned the U.S. against blaming Iran, saying in a statement that “jumping to conclusions” as the United States often does is “counterproductive” and also calling military retaliation “unacceptable.”
Regardless, many experts are now saying that the attack undermines any kind of hopes for diplomacy between Iran and the U.S. Though to be fair, those chances were fairly slim before this happened.
Iran, for its part, has repeatedly said it will not meet with Trump or any U.S. officials as long as sanctions are in place
As for the Houthis, a military spokesperson said in a statement that foreigners in Saudi Arabia should leave the area near Saturday’s attacks, saying that those facilities could be attacked again at “any moment.”
“We assure the Saudi regime that our long hand can reach wherever we want, and whenever we want,” the spokesperson added.
Oil prices meanwhile skyrocketed following the attack. However, it appears as though Saudi Arabia and oil experts do not expect any long term impacts.
President Trump, however, seemed to be more skeptical of Saudi oil reserves
“Based on the attack on Saudi Arabia, which may have an impact on oil prices, I have authorized the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, if needed,” the President said in a tweet Sunday. “I have also informed all appropriate agencies to expedite approvals of the oil pipelines currently in the permitting process in Texas and various other States.”
“PLENTY OF OIL!” the President tweeted shortly after, seemingly in reference to the attacks on Saudi oil.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)
Parliament Blocks Boris Johnson From Executing No-Deal Brexit
- British Parliament successfully passed a bill that blocks the U.K. from leaving the EU without a deal ahead of the U.K.’s Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.
- The House of Commons denied Prime Minister Boris Johnson a chance to hold snap elections for the second time.
- Parliament has now been suspended until Oct. 19, per Johnson’s request. Opposition lawmakers openly protested the suspension in the House of Commons on Monday.
No-Deal Brexit Block
British Parliament passed a law preventing the United Kingdom from leaving the European Union on Monday ahead of its current Oct. 31 deadline. Lawmakers also passed an order forcing Prime Minister Boris Johnson to release private communications about his Brexit plans and blocked his second attempt to hold snap elections.
Last week, the House of Commons passed a first version of the bill after taking control of the House away from Johnson. After being sent to the House of Lords, it was then passed again and sent back to the Commons, which approved final amendments. The bill was finally enacted into law after receiving formal assent from Queen Elizabeth II.
The passage of the law means Johnson may be forced to go back to the EU and ask for an extension to the current Oct. 31 deadline, something Johnson has repeatedly said he will not do.
Many now fear Johnson will attempt to find a loophole or challenge the law in court after he said Monday he would not allow the U.K. to remain in the EU following the deadline. Others have speculated Johnson might attempt to ignore the law altogether.
Despite this, Johnson said Monday that a no-deal Brexit would be a failure of the state, saying he would be partially to blame.
“I want to get a deal,” Johnson said in a press conference with the Irish Prime Minister. “Like you, I have looked carefully at no-deal. I have assessed its consequences… and yes, of course, we could do it. The U.K. could certainly get through it, but be in no doubt that outcome would be a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible.”
Second Vote for Elections
Johnson also held another vote for elections after a vote in the Commons last week failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed to pass; however, this vote similarly failed to attract that majority.
Johnson has argued he wants the British people to decide how lawmakers handle Brexit through elections, which would open up all 650 seats in the House of Commons three years early. That would also include his own position as prime minister.
Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said he is eager to hold elections but wants the party to focus on ensuring a no-deal is fully blocked ahead of the October deadline. Many lawmakers, however, said they expect elections to be held by the end of the year.
Vote Over Johnson’s Private Communications
The Commons held another vote that requires Johnson to hand over private communications about his Brexit plans.
The order comes after Johnson requested to suspend or “prorogue” parliament an additional week on top of an already scheduled recess. It primarily seeks to investigate why he issued the suspension, which will limit the time lawmakers have to discuss a Brexit deal.
While Johnson has said the prorogue was called to create a “bold” new domestic agenda following Brexit, opposition lawmakers have rebuked the claim and denounced it as a power-grab by Johnson to be able to execute a no-deal, if necessary.
“We will consider the implications of this vote and respond in due course,” a spokesperson for Johnson said after calling the information request “disproportionate and unprecedented.”
Parliament is Suspended
Following Monday’s votes, parliament was suspended until Oct. 14. That means it will only have a little more than two weeks to agree on a deal before it reaches the Oct. 31 deadline.
Notably, the law barring a no-deal Brexit will force Johnson to ask the EU to extend the Brexit deadline until January if a deal is not reached by Oct. 19.
A day prior to that, Johnson will attend an EU summit in Brussels where he will try to strike a deal.
During the traditional prorogation proceedings, many opposition lawmakers broke formality and jeered, chanting “Shame on you!” and holding signs that read, “Silenced,” in reference to Johnson’s suspension.
Before the suspension began, House Speaker John Bercow announced he will be resigning on Oct. 31. Bercow is known for his flamboyant remarks during House proceedings.
“This is not a standard or normal prorogation,” he said Monday.
See what others are saying: (CNBC) (BBC) (Wall Street Journal)
One Person Dies Every 40 Seconds From Suicide, WHO Says
- Despite progress in national suicide prevention strategies, one person dies every 40 seconds from suicide and only 38 countries have prevention practices in place.
- WHO said some ways to help reduce suicide rates are to restrict access to means often used, educate the media on responsible suicide reporting, identify people at risk early, and implement programs to teach young people how to better cope with stress.
- The agency also launched its “40 Seconds of Action Campaign” in honor of World Suicide Prevention Day, encouraging those struggling to take 40 seconds to reach out to someone they trust. You can also support the campaign by initiating private conversations or sharing messages of hope with someone you are concerned for.
One person dies every 40 seconds from suicide, the World Health Organisation said in a news release Monday, ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day.
While the number of countries with national suicide prevention strategies has increased in the five years since WHO issued its first global report on suicide, the agency said the overall number is still too low.
Just 38 counties have strategies in place and the WHO is encouraging more governments to commit to establishing similar life-saving practices.
“Every death is a tragedy for family, friends and colleagues. Yet suicides are preventable. We call on all countries to incorporate proven suicide prevention strategies into national health and education programmes in a sustainable way,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
According to WHO data, nearly 800,000 people die by suicide every year. “While 79% of the world’s suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries, high-income countries had the highest rate, at 11.5 per 100 000,” the WHO said.
“Nearly three times as many men as women die by suicide in high-income countries, in contrast to low- and middle-income countries, where the rate is more equal,” their statement continued.
Their data also found that in 2016, suicide was the second leading cause of death among young people between 15-29, after road injury. For teens 15-19, suicide was the second leading cause of death among girls and the third leading causing of death in boys.
Key Ways to Prevent Suicides
WHO said one way to decrease global suicide rates is to limit access to means often used. The agency said the most common methods of suicide are hanging, pesticide poisoning, and firearms. “The intervention that has the most imminent potential to bring down the number of suicides is restricting access to pesticides that are used for self-poisoning,” WHO said.
For instance, in Sri Lanka, a series of bans on hazardous pesticides lead to a 70% fall in suicides, saving an estimated 93,000 lives from 1995 to 2015, according to the WHO news release.
Similarly, in South Korea, the herbicide paraquat accounted for the majority of pesticide suicide deaths in the 2000s. But when paraquat was banned in 2011-2013, suicide rates decreased by 50% the following year.
The agency also recommends reducing suicide by educating the media on how to report responsibly on the topic, identifying people at risk early on, following up with those at risk, and helping younger people build skills to better cope with stress.
Do you know someone who is feeling suicidal? Don’t miss the opportunity to let them know you care!— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) September 10, 2019
Feeling suicidal often passes with the right support
👉 https://t.co/M0K8sRMUSH #40seconds#WorldSuicidePreventionDay pic.twitter.com/de4z1Qkgu0
World Suicide Prevention Day
The WHO partnered with the World Federation for Mental Health, the International Association for Suicide Prevention, and United for Global Mental Health, to launch a campaign on Tuesday called the “40 Seconds of Action Campaign.”
The campaign encourages those struggling with suicidal thoughts to take 40 seconds to start a conversation with someone they trust about their feelings.
Do you feel like life is not worth living?— World Health Organization Philippines (@WHOPhilippines) September 10, 2019
If you are struggling, take #40seconds to kickstart a conversation with someone you trust about how you are feeling. It’s okay to talk about suicide.
Remember: You are not alone. Help is available. 💚#LetsTalk pic.twitter.com/iiPFdjbMQL
You can also support the campaign by initiating private conversations with someone you are concerned for or sharing a message of hope with someone you know is struggling.
You can support @WHO‘s #40seconds campaign by initiating a private conversation with someone you are worried about or sharing a message of hope with someone who is struggling— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) September 10, 2019
👉 https://t.co/YNVF12ijAl#LetsTalk #WorldSuicidePreventionDay pic.twitter.com/AZcnDXiKob
According to the agency, “If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, talk to them about it. Listen with an open mind and offer your support.” WHO also has a website with more resources about what you can do and how to identify warning signs.
Those struggling with suicidal thoughts can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous 24/7 crisis support in the U.S. from the Crisis Text Line. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.