June 24, 2019

Close Call with Iran

On Thursday, a US official stated that “a U.S. military drone has been shot down in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.” Reuters

On Friday, “President Donald Trump said [that] he abruptly called off the swiftly planned military strikes on Iran because the likely deaths of 150 Iranians would have been so out of proportion to the shootdown of an unmanned American surveillance drone.” AP News

Both sides agree that calling off the strikes was the right decision:

War is sometimes necessary; this is not one of those times… Some Americans speak blithely about ‘surgical strikes,’ and I fear that many Americans, including those in the White House, don’t get how badly these can go awry. If we kill 150 Iranians in a set of airstrikes, as Trump says had been anticipated, Iranian proxy forces will retaliate by killing Americans in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. Iran or its proxies might strike at Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, while also interrupting the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. We might see Hezbollah strikes on Israel and a new Israel-Lebanon war. The global economy could take a significant hit. The conflict may start ‘surgical,’ but it’s unlikely to end that way.”
Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

“More than choosing not to take the lives of Iranian military personnel – and quite possibly, civilians – President Trump did one better and purposely gave the leadership of Iran some wiggle room in order for them to save face and deescalate the growing tension… President Trump is not looking for his ‘Wag the Dog’ moment to look more presidential. In the best interest of the United States, he is trying to deescalate a highly dangerous situation which could easily spiral out of control.”
Douglas MacKinnon, Fox News

See past issues

From the Left

The left criticizes Trump’s isolationist and erratic foreign policy moves.

“Trump pulled the United States out of a landmark nuclear deal with Iran over the objections of every other country that signed the agreement. Now, he’s stuck in a dangerously escalating standoff with Tehran. He accepted an offer to sit down with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un on the spot, without consulting anyone else. Now, Pyongyang is restarting weapons tests and once again training its rhetorical fire on the U.S. And he hit China with tariffs on U.S. imports after unsuccessfully pushing Beijing to change longstanding trade practices that he deems unfair. Now, the two are at an impasse on trade negotiations, causing anxiety to ripple through the global markets. Two and a half years into his presidency, Trump finds himself increasingly isolated as he forges ahead in each dispute — all exacerbated by his go-it-alone strategy.”
Anita Kumar, Politico

“Explaining his reasoning [for calling off the strike], Trump said it was not ‘proportionate’ to respond to the downing of a US drone by taking human life. Bravo, said anyone nervous about the US launching military attacks on Iran, while wondering how Trump got that close to ordering a strike without realizing it would cost human life… the world is learning that it's certainly worth waiting after Trump makes a threat to see if he follows through. There's a good chance he'll dial it back.”
Zachary B. Wolf, CNN

“In the last few days, President Donald Trump flip-flopped on his order to launch a military strike on Iran and then suddenly delayed his much-hyped mass deportation of undocumented immigrants. Has the impetuous President who seems to tweet first and think second finally become more thoughtful? Or is Trump beginning to consider the prospect of losing re-election in 2020 and now second-guessing some of his more controversial choices?”
Dean Obeidallah, CNN

“Trump has some very good, self-interested reasons to try to stay out of a major military conflict. It would infuriate some of his most fervent supporters, risk economic turmoil, and violate a campaign promise shortly before he’s up for reelection in 2020. The problem? Trump also appears to believe that both his foreign policy strategy and personal brand hinge on being seen as ‘tough.’ With longtime supporters of regime change in Iran holding Trump’s ear, Iran responding aggressively to his ‘maximum pressure’ campaign, and a risk of miscalculation or further escalations from each side spiraling ever higher, he may decide that he doesn’t want to be seen as weak…

“So the ideal outcome for Trump appears to be that he presents himself as extremely ‘tough’ without actually having to deal with a prolonged war. But if he decides he’s failed to achieve that, it’s unclear what his next move would be.”
Andrew Prokop, Vox

“Eliminating the Iranian nuclear threat must be any president’s priority. The Trump administration’s demand that Iran simultaneously halt all its nefarious activities failed utterly, as it sacrificed the nuclear deal and obtained nothing else… Trump needs to lay out a series of reciprocal steps whereby both sides give a little, so familiarity and confidence can be built for more significant discussions.”
Susan E. Rice, New York Times

From the Right

The right generally approves of Trump’s handling of the situation.

The right generally approves of Trump’s handling of the situation.

Trump demonstrated his willingness to pull the trigger early in his administration with the strikes on Syria. It’s a message saying that he actually is erratic and unpredictable (or at least wants to be viewed that way). His unhappiness with Iran’s government could result in some bunker busters raining down on their radar installations, secret nuclear facilities and possibly Mehrabad International Airport for all we know. But this time they lucked out… for now. And the Iranians are left to stew in their own juices for a little while, wondering if the bombs are about to start falling and if just possibly they shouldn’t be working on being less aggressive and more accommodating before it’s too late.”
Jazz Shaw, Hot Air

“Some of Trump’s critics are citing the infamous ‘red line’ Barack Obama drew with regards to the use of weapons of mass destruction by Syrian President Bashar Assad. This is like comparing apples to pork chops. A single instance of shooting down a military drone over international waters is nowhere near using sarin gas against civilians on the scale of unacceptable behavior… [however] Trump has drawn a red line with Iran that he will have to enforce: harm to Americans. He made it clear in his string of tweets that Iran only escaped a military strike because no Americans were injured or killed. If Iran or any of their terrorist stooges harm Americans, the option for military force is on the table.”
Harold Hutchison, Washington Examiner

“The far better course (for now, at least) is to pursue [US] national interests through diplomacy and economic sanctions. Remain calm and maintain pressure. America’s sanctions are hitting Iran hard. Its economy is in shambles. Substantial economic losses are far more painful to the Mullahs than the loss of a missile battery, a radar station, or even 150 troops. Right now, Iran feels pain while the United States does not… Unless circumstances materially change, Iran’s harassment should not be permitted to provoke an escalation.”
David French, National Review

Some, however, caution that “Mr. Trump may have saved Iranian lives now, but his indecision and professed fear of casualties may be risking more American lives later… Squeezed by the U.S. ‘maximum pressure’ campaign, Iran’s rulers are trying to pressure Mr. Trump in return. In recent weeks they have attacked oil pipelines, mined oil tankers, and this week brazenly shot down a $130 million U.S. drone monitoring shipping lanes over international waters. Iran’s bet is that Mr. Trump is so averse to military confrontation that he will ease U.S. sanctions. On the evidence of the aborted mission, they may be right.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

Others argue for a less aggressive approach. “Maximum pressure is making an unnecessary conflict more likely… Never in the Islamic Republic’s 40-year history have the ayatollahs bowed down in servitude, even during more dire times when the country was under an international arms embargo and fighting a militarily superior Iraq. To assume Iran will bow down now is folly and plays into the hands of hardliners within the Iranian government who are resistant to dialogue with the U.S., thwarting genuine moderates among the Iranian citizenry.”
Daniel DePetris, Washington Examiner

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