This was judicious, but it’s hard to resist the temptation to taunt a guy who’s so given to taunting others for their perceived weakness. Couldn’t he switch parties for just a day so that righty media can spend a few enjoyable hours calling him the Ultimate Cuck?
I mean, that’s what he’d be doing on his own Twitter feed right now if Obama had wimped out 10 minutes before go time after an American UAV was shot down.
I guess we’ll have to content ourselves with the fact that the president declined to order a massive new war in the Middle East. For now.
“An age of wonders,” said Michael Brendan Dougherty in response. “A moral and spiritual reprobate articulates a classical Augustinian just war argument. And conservative Christians hate it.” Well, hawkish Christians, but yes, that’s most of them. My solution to this quandary: Let Tucker and Hannity karate-fight live at 9 p.m. on Fox tonight. Winner gets to set U.S. Iran policy.
Theories are kicking around on social media about the strange timeline in Trump’s tweets. Theory one, the Trump-friendly theory: It was an orchestrated “head fake,” as described by Jazz earlier today. Trump didn’t change his mind about the attack at the last minute; it was a bluff from the jump aimed at frightening Iran by convincing them that we’re now thisclose to war. I’m skeptical, though. If all Trump wanted to do was head fake, he could have arranged for a leak from the White House that he was about to give the order for a massive attack — and had a change of heart at the last second. According to the Times, however, he actually did give the order. Planes and ships were in position and “military and diplomatic officials were expecting a strike.” That’s a long way to go for a bluff, and fantastically risky given that someone down the chain of command could have potentially moved a few minutes too soon, launching the attack before Trump could call it back.
Theory two, the hardcore anti-Trump theory: The guy was out to lunch, as usual. He may have ordered the strike and then only realized a few minutes before it began that lots of people were about to die, which would all but guarantee an Iranian reprisal in which lots of Americans in the region died too. Then he’d have to escalate further. How did that not occur to him before? Did his staff not even brief him on expected casualties until 10 minutes before launch? What the hell’s going on in that building?
Theory three: It was an ego trip. Never can count out that possibility when it comes to Trump.
A source told me 30 minutes ago that Trump was pleased with his own performance last night, loved being in command by ordering the strikes and by then ordering the stand-down. And the president just… tweeted it. https://t.co/tUPSym7inn
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) June 21, 2019
Theory four, the prosaic explanation: As always, he’s indecisive and changes his mind a lot. He seemed to change it publicly yesterday, in fact. Probably he was briefed about casualties from the start but (per the Times) Bolton, Pompeo, and Gina Haspel were all recommending retaliation to him, no doubt warning him that failure to act would amount to “provocative weakness” inviting another Iranian escalation. That might have sold Trump — temporarily. But as he thought further, weighing the casualties and the prospect of having the next 18 months consumed with managing a huge war that directly contradicted his pledge to keep America out of the Middle East, he decided against it.
What Trump clearly has always wanted with Iran is a great big beautiful diplomatic deal that will outshine the one brokered by his nemesis, Barack Obama. Lefties were asking on Twitter this morning why Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran if he’s so reluctant to go to war with them, since that’s the logical end result of escalation. The obvious answer is that it’s a leverage play aimed at new negotiations. This is how a real-estate mogul processes stalemates: Walk away from the table, rattle one’s saber, then hope/expect that your opponent will cave and ask for negotiations on terms that are more favorable to you. He’s fully expecting that this standoff ends with Iran requesting an unprecedented summit with the White House. In fact, according to Reuters, he had that message relayed again to Iran last night in the hours before the big (canceled) attack:
Earlier on Friday, Iranian officials told Reuters that Tehran had received a message from Trump warning that a U.S. attack on Iran was imminent but saying that he was against war and wanted talks on a range of issues…
“In his message, Trump said he was against any war with Iran and wanted to talk to Tehran about various issues,” one of the officials told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“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.”
I’m not sure how effective a leverage play can be when it’s increasingly clear that Trump, not Iran, is the party that’s more desperate to negotiate. Just like I’m not sure how intimidating Trump’s “madman” persona really is to America’s enemies at this point if he’s on Twitter wringing his hands about “disproportionate” attacks. The point of the “madman” strategy in foreign policy is to convince your rivals you’re apt to do something crazy and disproportionate if they don’t bend to your will. Now here’s Trump saying the opposite, that he cares too much about Iranian lives to pull the trigger. Given his obvious reluctance to go to war and his insistence on talks, it’s Iran that momentarily has the leverage and controls the field of play. If they want to escalate further, they can by attacking another American interest. What’s Trump supposed to say if they shoot down six more unmanned American drones tomorrow? If they want talks, they can have those too. If they want to just forget this whole thing happened and go back to leaning on Europe to provide them with relief from U.S. sanctions, they can also do that by refraining from any further attacks. Very clearly, though, Trump’s preference is talks and a renegotiation of the Obama nuclear deal.
And given his track record in renegotiating other deals, like NAFTA and the USMCA, the new Trump nuclear deal would likely end up looking verrrrrry similar to the old Obama nuclear deal. I’m surprised Iran hasn’t realized that yet. If they want sanctions lifted, just meet with Trump, agree to re-christen the Obama nuke deal the Trump Disarmament Protocols or whatever, and they’re done.
Personally, I think Trump pulled back because he knows that war with Iran would be jarringly discordant with the tone of the reality-show world we all now live in, which he’s created for us. It’d be like an episode of “Jackass” where someone gets murdered. The Trump presidency isn’t supposed to involve wars, it’s supposed to involve him feuding with Bette Midler on social media. If the Iranians want his attention, they should start trolling him on Twitter instead of doing crazy things with bombs and missiles.
Here’s Brian Kilmeade all but calling Trump a wimp on “Fox & Friends” this morning. Given the freakishly outsized influence Fox programming has on Trump’s thinking, someone needs to tell this guy to shut his mouth before we end up in World War III.