While Trump and other U.S. officials have accused Iran of orchestrating the storming of the U.S. embassy compound, the extent of the Iranian government’s involvement remains unclear. What is clear is that at least some of the demonstrators were aligned with Tehran-supported Iraqi militia groups, including Kataib Hezbollah, which the Trump administration says was behind a rocket attack on U.S. personnel in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk several days ago that killed an American contractor. The U.S. military then retaliated by conducting air strikes against Kataib Hezbollah’s bases along the Iraq-Syria border and killing 25 militia members, leading to Tuesday’s protests.
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The attack on the U.S. embassy has placed Trump in a vulnerable position in part because it raises questions about his performance as commander in chief, which is perhaps what prompted his ally in the Senate, Lindsey Graham, to try to preempt criticism on Tuesday by declaring that in sending Apache helicopters and more marines to secure the diplomatic facility, the president had “put the world on notice” that “there will be no Benghazis on his watch." As the situation at the embassy stabilized, Trump similarly tweeted that “our great Warfighters” and “the most lethal military equipment in the world” had been “immediately rushed to the site,” making his response “the Anti-Benghazi!” (He wrote all this, perhaps prematurely, while protesters are still camped out around the embassy. He also interspersed it, “just for a little change of pace,” with a retweet about ultimate fighting.) Later on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced that the U.S. would deploy about 750 additional troops to the region in the coming days.
The incident will also pile pressure on Trump because the protesters, who have vowed to remain at the embassy until all American troops and diplomats depart Iraq, are in a sense pushing against the open door of Trump’s resistance to being there in the first place. The heavily fortified U.S. embassy in Iraq, the largest American diplomatic facility in the world, is a $750 million testament to the colossal disaster that was the U.S. military intervention to “liberate” Iraq. Trump has condemned George W. Bush’s decision to invade the country and vowed to end America’s endless wars there and elsewhere in the Middle East. The Trump administration, in fact, proposed major staff cuts at the embassy in Baghdad only weeks before it came under assault.
While Trump hasn’t yet reacted to this episode by announcing the withdrawal of the 5,000 U.S. troops still in the country to fight the Islamic State or a drawdown of America’s diplomatic presence there, others have responded by pointing to the exits. The drama at the embassy “should be the final straw in our long occupation of Iraq,” said Benjamin Friedman, the policy director at the think tank Defense Priorities, which advocates for more military restraint in U.S. foreign policy.