Jan 2, 2020

Trump administration: "The game has changed" on Iran

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

Go deeper

U.S. kills top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani

Soleimani (center). Photo: Press Office of Iranian Supreme Leader/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

One of the Iranian regime's most powerful figures has been killed in a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad's international airport, the Pentagon has confirmed.

Why it matters: Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the elite Quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was as revered by Iran's proxies and supporters across the region as he was reviled by Iran's foes, who considered him the mastermind of state-sponsored terrorism.

Go deeperArrowJan 3, 2020

Trump responds to missile strikes: "Iran appears to be standing down"

President Trump said in a White House address Wednesday that Americans should be "extremely grateful and happy" because Iranian strikes hours earlier resulted in no casualties, and Iran now "appears to be standing down."

Why it matters: Iran's strikes came in retaliation for the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, a stunning event that led to immediate fears of war. Trump defended that decision and announced new sanctions on Iran, but did not signal new military escalation.

Go deeperArrowJan 8, 2020

Ripples from Soleimani strike will be felt for years to come

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Tom Stoddart Archive/Getty Contributor, Adam Glickman/Underwood Archives/Getty Contributor, Mehdi Ghasemi/Getty Contributor, NurPhoto/Getty Contributor

The killing of Qasem Soleimani unleashed immediate fears of war — even of World War III — but if no further shots are fired, Thursday's airstrikes in Baghdad will nonetheless generate momentous consequences.

The big picture: Iran has lost its best military strategist, and America has eliminated a man it saw as a singularly destructive actor in the region. But the current U.S. concerns aren't limited to where and when Iran will strike back.

Go deeperArrowJan 7, 2020 - World