September 17, 2019

Saudi Oil Facilities Attacked

Editor's note: We couldn’t be more proud of one of our teammates, Isaac Rose-Berman, who penned his first op-ed this week in USA Today: “How college students can bridge American divides: 'Study abroad' in Alabama or New York.” Please give it a read, and share far and wide!

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that “U.S. intelligence indicates Iran was the staging ground for a debilitating attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry… U.S. officials shared with Saudi Arabia the intelligence reports and their assessment that Iran launched more than 20 drones and at least a dozen missiles at the Saudi oil facilities on Saturday… But Saudi officials said the U.S. didn’t provide enough proof to conclude that the attack was launched from Iran, indicating the U.S. information wasn’t definitive. U.S. officials said they planned to share more information with the Saudis in the coming days.” Wall Street Journal

See past issues

From the Left

The left is critical of President Trump’s support for Saudi Arabia and cautions against the use of military force.

On Sunday, “President Trump declared that the United States was ‘locked and loaded,’ a phrase that seemed to suggest he was ready to strike back. But then he promised to wait for Saudi Arabia to tell him ‘under what terms we would proceed.’ His message on Twitter offered a remarkable insight into the deference Mr. Trump gives to the Saudi royal family…  It was hard to imagine him allowing NATO, or a European ally, such latitude to determine how the United States should respond. But for Mr. Trump, the Saudis have always been a special case, their economic import having often overwhelmed other considerations in his mind…

“In his comments to reporters on Monday, Mr. Trump seemed intent on avoiding the perception that he was taking direction from the Saudis. If there is any response to the strikes on the oil facilities, he said, then the Saudis would play a part themselves — if nothing else, by financing it. Which, of course, made it sound like the United States was willing to be, in effect, a mercenary force for the Saudis.”
Peter Baker and David E. Sanger, New York Times

“The idea that the United States military would be at the beck and call of Saudi leaders was odd enough. But then Trump clarified Monday morning that it wasn’t even about us needing Saudi oil. ‘We don’t need Middle Eastern Oil & Gas, & in fact have very few tankers there, but will help our Allies!’ he said. So the ‘America First’ president who pledged a noninterventionist foreign policy is threatening to go to a war with little strategic interest for the United States because ... he just wants to help?
Aaron Blake, Washington Post

“Mr. Trump’s ability to respond effectively is severely limited compared to previous U.S. presidents. Few believe his pronouncements, so barring the presentation of overwhelming evidence, claims of Iranian responsibility will not persuade even close U.S. allies. European states that joined U.S. operations to secure the Persian Gulf in the past are very reluctant to do so now, because they fear Mr. Trump will drag them into a war. Even some of Iran’s foremost adversaries don’t want a conflict with Iran presided over by an erratic and unstable U.S. president, who already canceled one military strike at the last minute. The attack should not go unanswered, but the best response may not be a military one.
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“The problem is that our maximum pressure is putting the Islamic Republic in a corner economically but not politically or militarily… One possibility might be for the administration to propose that the French host a meeting of the parties to the Iran nuclear deal — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, as well as Germany and the Iranians — with the aim of discussing the Iranian nuclear program and the regional dangers. True, there is a risk that the United States will come under pressure to rejoin the nuclear deal or drop sanctions, but the Iranians and the other participants should also know that if this fails, a dangerous escalation could be the result… if Trump is to avoid a crisis that might soon spin out of control, he will have to act soon.”
Dennis Ross, Washington Post

“Whether it's a Trump-Rouhani meeting in New York or private discussions between US and Iranian experts to lay out the parameters for meaningful negotiations, the national security team should not miss the forest for the trees: Iran is a bad actor, but by making a series of policy missteps the administration has aggravated those threats. Removing any one of those threats, starting with nuclear ones, should be a priority. Doing so will require the President to do something out of character -- admit that he was wrong about withdrawing from the nuclear deal without any realistic plan to renegotiate it.”
Samantha Vinograd, CNN

Some argue that Saudi Arabia has “been exporting their murderous anti-Americanism for decades. Their citizens were behind 9/11 and they bear a fair amount of responsibility for the rise of ISIS as well. They’ve been fighting Yemen forever and their current war has included endless atrocities… Internally they’re as repressive a regime as you can imagine, even more so than Iran. Just recently they murdered a critic and then carved him up with a bone saw to get rid of the evidence. They are forever trying to get America to lay down American lives in their endless proxy wars against Shiite Iran… nothing Iran has done holds even a tiny candle to Saudi Arabia’s behavior.”
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

Others argue that “Biden was almost the only one on the stage who talked like a normal person. There was a point near the end of the debate when he was talking about getting men involved in stopping domestic violence and he said that we need to keep ‘punching’ at it… I knew that the twitterati and the analysts would tut tut. Ol’ Joe is just out of touch! He doesn’t know you can’t use words like that. Meanwhile, every non-political junkie watching the debate thought there was nothing wrong with this. Biden was just using ordinary language, not worrying too much if it was fully approved by the woke brigade.”
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

From the Right

The right is divided as to the proper response.

From the Right

The right is divided as to the proper response.

Some argue that “Iran’s Sept. 14 drone attack against oil facilities in Saudi Arabia was not a mere nation-against-nation dust-up, but an assault against the global economy. As the nation with the greatest wherewithal to retaliate without escalating the retaliation into a full-scale regional war, the United States is well positioned to teach Iran a lesson it won’t soon forget… The U.S. has the capability to penetrate Iranian air defenses, cripple a few Iranian facilities with highly targeted air strikes, and leave without providing Iran an obvious target at which to hit back. Iran does not have the force-projection capabilities to strike back at the U.S.”
Quin Hillyer, Washington Examiner

“The game changer in international oil markets is the audacity of the attack, in its precision and exposure of the vulnerability of Saudi oil infrastructure. And now everyone knows it can happen again. This isn't about Saudi Arabia at all. It is about American leadership and commitment to a global economic order… Pompeo and the Donald Trump administration must now follow through with ramifications for the accusation against Iran. If Tehran is responsible, they must share evidence of Iran's culpability in the attacks. And then the United States must act, and act resolutely. To decline retribution would only embolden Iran and its Houthi allies.”
Karen Young, Al-Monitor

Others urge diplomatic pressure. “The U.S. has long been the guardian of the Gulf and cannot allow this sensitive region, with its ample oil reserves, to be hostage to Iranian terrorism. [But] this is not to suggest a rush to rash action. The Islamic Republic has offered us a unique opportunity to mobilize the international community against it. Iran’s remaining oil customers should be pressed to discontinue their purchases and thus their further subsidization of a regime bent on breaking international law. The theocracy’s most important vulnerability is still its weakening economy, and it is that nerve that Washington should continue pinching. Given this latest Iranian act of terror, the Trump administration may have stumbled on a unique opportunity to multi-lateralize its strategy of maximum pressure.”
Ray Takeyh, Washington Examiner

It’s worth noting that “American energy independence, finally realized under the policies of President Donald Trump, means ‘no blood for oil.’ And that’s true even when the world’s oil supply is threatened… America is in a stronger position now than it was ten years ago when similar geopolitical circumstances caused oil prices to skyrocket to an all-time high of $146 a barrel… right now, in coal mines and in fracking fields and on oil rigs and ocean platforms across this nation, there are millions of American energy workers whose toil and sweat mean that our energy security is sovereignty. Their labor in our energy industry means fewer of our brave military will go overseas to protect, fight, and die, for America’s interests.”
Daniel Turner, Fox News

“There are plenty of reasons why prudence demands the United States does not pull the trigger. For one, there is no formal defense alliance between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, which means that we are not obligated to come to their defense. And Iran, never content with exhibiting weakness, would most certainly respond if American missiles started flying into their airspace. There is no way for President Trump to be confident that a U.S. operation against Tehran wouldn’t spiral into a full-blown war…

“One of the most compelling reasons Trump should not launch an attack, however, is constitutional. Without an authorization from Congress, an attack against Iran would be illegal, unconstitutional, and a violation of separation of powers. The president may be the commander in chief, but the Congress holds the ultimate power over when and where the country goes to war.”
Daniel DePetris, Washington Examiner

“If a dozen drones or missiles can do the kind of damage to the world economy as did those fired on Saturday—shutting down about 6 percent of world oil production—imagine what a U.S.-Iran-Saudi war would do to the world economy. In recent decades, the U.S. has sold the Saudis hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment. Did our weapons sales carry a guarantee that we will also come and fight alongside the kingdom if it gets into a war with its neighbors?… the nation does not want another war. How we avoid it, however, is becoming difficult to see. John Bolton may be gone from the West Wing, but his soul is marching on.”
Patrick Buchanan, The American Conservative

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“After adding in the ultra-millionaire’s tax and factoring in the other capital taxes Warren wants to levy — on financial transactions, on unrealized capital gains, on corporations — we’d be asking every billionaire to hand over more than two-thirds of their total wealth over a 10-year period. If the government actually managed to collect it, their fortunes would rapidly erode — and so would tax collections. The plan might be a good way to smash wealth, but it’s a terrible way to fund the nation’s health-care system…

“If Warren makes it to the White House, and tries to pass a plan, the Congressional Budget Office will eventually attach more reasonable numbers, with more defensible assumptions, sparking an even more spectacular political blowback than the one that greeted Friday’s announcement. Outside of the progressive Twitterati, there isn’t necessarily an enormous constituency for spending $20.5 trillion to herd every American into a national health insurance program; there would be even less support for spending what Warren’s plan would actually cost.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

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