January 7, 2020

What's going on at the Department of Defense? First, the draft of a letter stating the U.S. would leave Iraq gets leaked:

"One day after Iraq's Parliament passed a resolution to expel U.S. troops following the killing of Iranian General Gassem Soleimani in Baghdad, top military officials had to scramble together a news conference yesterday to contradict its own commanding general in Iraq," Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski said.

"In a letter to Iraqi officials, General William Sealy of the U.S. Command in Baghdad said troops were being repositioned in preparation to leave the country. Then came the walk back from the defense secretary that 'there has been no decision whatsoever to leave.' The chairman of the Joint Chiefs said the letter was a mistake. He called it an unsigned, poorly worded draft, and said it was sent to the Iraqis to coordinate about U.S. troops moving around Baghdad.

"Former NSC spokesman for President Obama Tommy Vietor observed on Twitter, 'I realize that letters go out with typos sometimes, and people make mistakes, but how do you mistakenly send a message to a foreign government that says we're pulling 5,200 troops out of your country? This is not believable.' It's unbelievable."

In addition to the leaked letter, there's also Trump's claim that the U.S. would attack Iran's cultural sites, which is of course a war crime.

"At what we call a bullpen at the Pentagon, a lot of questions about the cultural sites and what the president meant and then there wasn't a lot of clarity on this letter from the general. Was it a draft? Things in the letter we first saw it online that didn't quite make sense," Hans Nichols said.

"It seemed to suggest a withdrawal but didn't quite say it and then officials, Milley came back down, chairman of the Joint Staff, banging on doors trying to clarify further and that's when they really owned the mistake. Obviously, they're going to have a difficult morning at the Pentagon. A clerical mistake, bureaucratic mistake, gives an indication what they're planning for at the Pentagon."

Nichols said the bigger problem for Esper and Milley is that Pentagon officials had to publicly contradict Trump over attacking cultural sites.

"An exceedingly uncomfortable place for anyone to be in any administration, all the more so with this president. Esper was pretty clear yesterday that the United States will follow the rules of the laws of war and that prevents targeting culture sites and the president himself clearly wants the signal that cultural sites are on the table, and that puts, that makes Esper's warning very difficult when it seems in obvious contradiction of the commander in chief. Esper, who has a difficult morning on two fronts."

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