This week, Iraqi authorities abruptly received the apparent news that U.S. troops would be leaving their country following a vote by the country’s government to demand their exit, which, in turn, followed an abrupt airstrike that killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who’d been in Baghdad at the time. The problem is: the letter announcing U.S. troop departures wasn’t, apparently, accurate. It’s a staggering feat of incompetence, but the Trump administration accidentally announced a major troop withdrawal that was not set to happen. Now, The Dispatch has revealed that the complete breakdown of effective communication included a claim to Congress from the Pentagon that the letter in question had been faked.
At 3:36 P.M. on Monday, Pentagon policy office staffer Annie Dreazen told the House Armed Service Committee that she’d consulted with advisers of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) — the anti-ISIS operation in Iraq and Syria — and they’d told her that the letter was faked.
She wrote, quite straightforwardly:
‘OIR has confirmed with us at the working level that this is active disinformation.’
She added that the Defense Department is “fairly certain that this is a fake,” but, it was not.
Soon after Dreazen’s false explanation, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the letter was a draft that should not have been sent to the Iraqis at all, but it wasn’t faked.
‘It was an honest mistake. That letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released.’
Just shortly before that explanation, Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper had been wringing their hands to the press and asserting that they had no explanation for the letter but America supposedly wasn’t really leaving Iraq, no matter their government’s demands. Esper called the letter “inconsistent with where we are right now.”
The completely false description of the letter as part of some kind of disinformation campaign highlights serious questions about the basic competence of other conclusions that the Trump administration has been running on lately, including that it was supposedly necessary to kill Soleimani in order to stop a supposedly looming major attack. High-level sources told New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi that the evidence for that claim was “razor thin.” Yet, the president has dragged the U.S. further into conflict anyway, with serious looming threats of retaliation from the Iranians.
Trump’s own commitment to aggression is well documented at this point. He repeatedly got out the claim that the U.S. may target civilian cultural sites in Iran before Esper insisted that actually would not happen. In the Iraq troop situation, Trump claimed that he was ready to impose tough sanctions on Iraq in retaliation for any actions against U.S. troops. He said:
‘If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever… If there’s any hostility, that they do anything we think is inappropriate, we are going to put sanctions on Iraq, very big sanctions on Iraq.’
Foreign policy isn’t supposed to be conducted on the whims of an egomaniac.