Jan 2, 2020 - World

Trump administration: "The game has changed" on Iran

Mark Esper

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday that there are indications Iran or its proxies may be planning additional attacks on U.S. interests in the Middle East following the assault on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on New Year's Eve, according to AP.

"We will take preemptive action as well to protect American forces and protect American lives. The game has changed, and we’re prepared to do what is necessary to defend our personnel and our interests and our partners in the region. ... Do I think they may do something? Yes. And they will likely regret it."
— Esper to reporters

Why it matters: Esper's comments come two days after he dispatched hundreds of U.S. troops to the region as standby reinforcements, and reflect how the storming of the embassy may have set off one of one of the biggest foreign policy crises of the Trump presidency.

What they're saying: Hossein Salami, commander of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, said Thursday that Iran is not afraid of war with the U.S.

  • "The Iranian nation has not started war in the past incidents but it annihilates any aggressor and the U.S. is aware of this," Salami said, according to Fars News Agency.
  • Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said militia groups will run into a "buzzsaw" if they attempt to overrun the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad again, according to AP.

The big picture: Trump faces a stark choice on countering Iran, Axios' Jonathan Swan reports. If he strikes back hard, he may get a new Middle East war he never wanted. If he does nothing, he may show the type of "weakness" exhibited by Jimmy Carter during the Iranian hostage crisis that he has long derided.

Go deeper: Behind the scenes of Trump's thinking on Iran

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