On the face of it, it’s been a good week for Donald Trump.
He’s killed one of America’s most menacing figures, without a single US citizen receiving so much as a scratch in response.
As the President read his national address from the teleprompter, he appeared strong and decisive and even resisted the temptation to go off-script to, for example, talk about how great an author he is.
He now goes into an election year with a message that he has taken out two of America’s biggest enemies in the space of two months, the other being the leader of the Islamic State terrorist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Mr Trump’s campaign team is already running hundreds of self-congratulatory election ads on Facebook.
But no-one should kid themselves that this is over.
That Qassem Soleimani’s hands were blood-soaked is not in dispute
Mr Trump said on Friday that Iran was “looking to blow up” the US embassy in Baghdad, but declined to give further details.
Trump tweet 1
Regardless, assassinating a senior, serving member of a foreign government which boasts considerable military might is no small thing.
Iran’s most powerful military general, Soleimani exerted huge influence within and outside the country.
Why the killing of General Soleimani is such a big deal
The death of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani is a watershed moment, even in the long and bloody history of Middle East conflict.
He was hailed as a hero by millions of people throughout the Middle East.
Iran called the killing an “act of war” but its response (so far) appears largely symbolic.
The missiles were fired at 1:20am, the same time as Soleimani was killed five days earlier and didn’t cause a single casualty.
Iran also gave notice to Iraq that it was launching the attack, surely aware the US would be warned in turn.
It looks very much calculated to give the appearance of fire and fury, without risking a further escalation against a much more powerful adversary, led by an erratic and unpredictable President.
It now appears certain there were unwitting casualties after all
Video: Debris litters the crash site
A total of 176 people were killed when a Ukrainian passenger plane came down soon after taking off from Tehran in the hours after the missile strike.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has revealed intelligence that suggests it was shot out of the sky by Iran. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Australians have the same intelligence.
“The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” Mr Trudeau said. “This may well have been unintentional.”
Iran was on a war footing in the hours after launching its ballistic missiles and would have been prepared for an American response from the air.
All indications point to a tragic mistake.
It won’t take long for critics to point the finger of blame at Mr Trump himself.
Even before Mr Trudeau’s press conference, Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, who served for the US military in Afghanistan, implied the President should carry responsibility.
“Innocent civilians are now dead because they were caught in the middle of an unnecessary and unwanted military tit for tat” he tweeted.
Innocent civilians are now dead because they were caught in the middle of an unnecessary and unwanted military tit for tat. My thoughts are with the families and loved ones of all 176 souls lost aboard this flight.
For his part, the President seemed quick to wash his hands of any responsibility when asked about the cause of the crash.
“Someone could’ve made a mistake on their side, it was flying — it has nothing to do with us — flying in a pretty rough neighbourhood.”
“I have my suspicions,” Mr Trump said when asked about the reports earlier on Friday.
“Some people say it was mechanical, I personally don’t even think that’s even a question. Personally.”
Going forward, there are several potential US-Iran flashpoints
Iran, which has so far refused to hand over the black box from the plane crash, could take offence at the US accusations it shot down the plane, heightening tensions. The head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Authority said the allegations were false because “if a rocket or missile hits a plane, it will free fall”.
Iran has opened the door to enriching uranium, but Mr Trump has made clear he’ll never allow Iran to get a nuclear bomb under his watch.
Mr Trump has promised even harsher sanctions on Iran, even though his “maximum pressure” campaign is the very thing that pushed Iran to attack Persian Gulf shipping and Saudi oil fields.
Iran’s proxies could launch revenge attacks without Iran’s say-so.
Mr Trump could say or do something else to fan the flames again.
In Washington, members of Congress are so worried things will spiral out of control from here, they’re voting to try and limit Mr Trump’s ability to take further military actions against Iran without specific congressional approval.
This Media Post will serve as a reminder that war powers reside in the Congress under the United States Constitution. And that you should read the War Powers Act. And that you’re not a dictator.
It’s unlikely to pass through a Senate controlled by Mr Trump’s political allies, but several Republicans have indicated they would vote for a similar measure in the Senate.
On Thursday, Republican Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul emerged furious from an administration briefing on Iran.
Sen. Mike Lee: "To come in and tell us that we can't debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran — it's un-American, it's un-Constitutional, and it's wrong."
Mr Lee described it as “probably the worst briefing I’ve seen,” saying he was unconvinced of the “legal, factual and moral justification” for the attack.
“It’s un-American. It’s unconstitutional. And it’s wrong” he said.
Week was expected to be dominated by Trump impeachment trial debate
Congress has returned from the Christmas break. The articles of impeachment against the President are still being held up in the House, as Democrats demand a “fair trial” in the Senate.
Today, @SenateMajLdr McConnell made clear that he will feebly comply with President Trump’s cover-up of his abuses of power and be an accomplice to that cover-up. The American people deserve the truth. #DefendOurDemocracy
There will be no haggling with the House over Senate procedure. We will not cede our authority to try this impeachment. The House Democrats’ turn is over. The Senate has made its decision. This is for the Senate, and the Senate only, to decide.
They want four of Mr Trump’s closest advisors, past and present, who have intimate knowledge of his dealings with Ukraine, to give evidence.
Most prominent among them is former national security adviser John Bolton, who was quietly penning a book while the impeachment inquiry was gathering evidence.
This week, as the news of Soleimani’s killing was being digested, Mr Bolton dropped his own bombshell.
I have posted a brief statement regarding testimony on the Ukraine impeachment matter before the Senate at:
“I have concluded that, if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify,” he said in an unprompted statement posted on his website.
Until now, he has complied with a White House directive not to cooperate in the impeachment investigation.
As such, his comments breathed new life into the Democrat’s case for withholding the articles of impeachment.
Hope that all House Republicans will vote against Crazy Nancy Pelosi’s War Powers Resolution. Also, remember her “speed & rush” in getting the Impeachment Hoax voted on & done. Well, she never sent the Articles to the Senate. Just another Democrat fraud. Presidential Harassment!
To force Mr Trump from office, the Democrats need 20 Republicans in the Senate to turn on him, a most improbable scenario.
But to subpoena key witnesses, like Mr Bolton, to give evidence under oath in the Senate, Mr Trump’s opponents need on only four Republicans on side.
If Republicans start to believe Mr Trump represents a genuine threat to American security, they have a convenient method of bringing him to heel.