On Thursday night, President Trump abruptly cancelled an imminent Iranian airstrike. In a series of tweets, he said after asking a General how many would die as a result of the strike, and hearing that number could reach 150, he called it off.
….Death to America. I terminated deal, which was not even ratified by Congress, and imposed strong sanctions. They are a much weakened nation today than at the beginning of my Presidency, when they were causing major problems throughout the Middle East. Now they are Bust!….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 21, 2019
….proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 21, 2019
The President told NBC on Friday that “[the U.S. strikes] were not proportionate…I thought about it for a second and said: You know what? They shot down an unmanned drone…and here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within half an hour after I said go ahead.”
Trump’s decision can be viewed in any number of ways.
Some will say the President showed restraint. After all, he campaigned on keeping the U.S. out of costly, bloody, needless and unwinnable overseas wars. Instead of rushing headlong into battle following Iran’s second hostile act in the space of a week, he responded to Iran’s provocation in a mindful and measured manner. His concern for the human cost of the strikes revealed the compassionate side of his nature.
Iran has shot down an unmanned U.S. drone, however, they have not crossed the administration’s “redline.” The Washington Post reported that, according to their sources, Pompeo had “privately delivered warnings intended for Iranian leaders that any attack by Tehran or its proxies resulting in the death of even one American service member will generate a military counterattack.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered one of these messages, the Post learned, during a trip last month to Baghdad. “Pompeo told Iraqi leaders in a message he knew would be relayed to Tehran that a single American fatality would prompt the United States to hit back. That specific warning has not been previously reported.”
A senior administration official involved in Iran policy told the Post that if an American is killed, “That changes the whole thing. It changes everything.”
President Trump wisely has no interest in bringing democracy to Tehran, because he is keenly aware of the folly in that. He does not want war with Iran. His goal is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
And he demonstrated strength by pulling out of Obama’s toothless nuclear deal last year and by restoring crippling sanctions which have devastated the Iranian economy.
Trump’s decision to stand down no doubt confounded Democrats. Many were likely disappointed that he cancelled the strike, because they won’t be able to attack him for his aggression. However, the left is never at a loss to find something to criticize Trump over. They will likely berate him for his indecision.
If a New York Times report about Trump’s last minute decision to call off the strikes is any indication, that is likely the path they will take:
As late as 7 p.m. Thursday, military and diplomatic officials were expecting a strike, after intense discussions and debate at the White House among the president’s top national security officials and congressional leaders, according to multiple senior administration officials involved in or briefed on the deliberations.
Officials said the president had initially approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets, like radar and missile batteries.
The operation was underway in its early stages when it was called off, a senior administration official said. Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down, the official said.
To the Iranians and their allies, there is the risk that Trump’s inaction and indecision may be seen as weakness. Powerline’s Paul Mirengoff explains:
It can be argued that if Trump declines to retaliate, Iran may feel sufficiently emboldened that its next attack will cross a red line. In that event, Trump might feel compelled to take severe military action against Iran, whereas now he can maintain credibility with a less destructive strike that might nip things in the bud.
There will be many Americans disappointed by the decision. Fox News spoke to Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) who said:
To shoot down a $200 million plane the size of an airliner that could have easily had 35 people on it, there needs to be a response. Am I disappointed today? Yes.
Ultimately it will be ‘is there a reaction?’ And if there is I think that’s fine. But if there’s not a reaction and we think we can negotiate then I think it will be a bad move.
Asked if he feared the president could look weak, he said: “I think there’s certainly a risk, yes.
An Iranian official told Reuters:
Tehran had received a message from U.S. President Donald Trump through Oman overnight warning that a U.S. attack on Iran was imminent. In his message, Trump said he was against any war with Iran and wanted to talk to Tehran about various issues…He gave a short period of time to get our response but Iran’s immediate response was that it is up to Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei to decide about this issue.
A second Iranian official said: “We made it clear that the leader is against any talks, but the message will be conveyed to him to make a decision…However, we told the Omani official that any attack against Iran will have regional and international consequences.
What happens next depends on Iran. What if they do cross America’s red line?
Trump’s handling of the situation can mean the difference between victory and defeat in 2020. The world is watching.