I admit ignorance up front here in presenting the question to readers: Is this normal protocol? It seems bizarre to me that the Pentagon would prepare a strike plan for the president and not inform him ASAP about projected casualties, especially given Iran’s formidable reach in the region. The more Iranians died in a U.S. strike, the harsher the Iranian response to the U.S. would need to be. And the harsher the Iranian response was, the more Americans would die and the more Trump’s presidency would quickly be consumed by the likelihood of a war much bloodier and more protracted than the Iraq war was.

How can you ask him to deliberate for hours over a strike without giving him all of that information up front, then spring it on him 30 minutes before go time, with assets already being positioned?

Or is he just BSing here?

A former special counsel to the Pentagon strongly suspects BS.

The idea of a heroic last-minute intervention by the president to gauge the cost in human life, as if the subject was only then being broached for the first time, smells like a Trumpy tall tale, although possibly for strategic reasons. It presents Trump, the ultimate decisionmaker, as a man seeking peace, which is exactly how he wants Iran to view him. Remember, Trump’s goals in this standoff are negotiations, negotiations, and negotiations. Pitting himself symbolically as the one person in the government who’s worried about Iranian lives while the U.S. war machine ramps up might be his way of trying to earn Iran’s trust.

There’s also this. Gen. Jack Keane passed along a rumor on Fox this afternoon that might explain Trump’s curious remark in the Oval Office yesterday that someone down the Iranian chain of command may have miscalculated in targeting a U.S. drone:

Was Trump the truth about Iran’s miscalculation? Maybe he and his team prepared a strike plan in the morning, Iran somehow communicated to the U.S. its apologies for mistakenly downing the drone, and then Trump called off the reprisal. The tall tale about last-minute concerns involving proportionality may just be his way of letting Iran save face. Instead of Trump humiliating the regime by revealing that they told him they didn’t mean to target the drone, his made-up story about not wanting to kill Iranians operates as a peace gesture to them.

Although this wouldn’t explain why the strike plan progressed as far as it did, with the Times claiming that military and diplomatic officials expected a strike as late as early evening. Kori Schake thinks the likeliest explanation for Trump’s last-second change of heart is hesitancy and strategic incoherence, as usual:

Trump has actually done much worse than Obama did with his “red line” comment, since Obama didn’t commence operations only to then send a panicked message through an emissary assuring Iran’s leaders that he wanted negotiations instead, or publicly downplay the nature of the threat. Trump did both of these things, after providing Congress “very strong and compelling evidence” that Iran had sabotaged two tankers in international waters. And he contradicted public, factual reports made by the military command…

The problem with Trump administration policy on Iran isn’t that it won’t go to war. It’s that it keeps constructing policies that require the use of military force to achieve objectives, when the president has repeatedly made clear he’s unwilling to take that step. The administration points a gun but won’t pull the trigger, and that will encourage other adversaries to challenge America in other theaters.

I don’t know that all Trump policies here require military force. He’s presented Iran with a binary choice: Sanctions or negotiations. There’s no third option, including war, so long as Iran doesn’t force Trump’s hand by killing an American somewhere. They can bomb tankers, they can knock out U.S. drones (well, one drone), but in the end it’s sanctions or negotiations so long as no Americans die.

Maybe. The longer this standoff drags on, the more American hawks will dog him for not showing “toughness” with a military response, and that’ll start eating at his ego. Chris Wallace dogged him today, “neutral” media outlets are starting to needle him, his hawkish sycophants in Congress are getting impatient. As much as Trump might prefer a strategy in which he doesn’t have to use the military so long as Iran doesn’t kill any Americans, it’s just not in the cards. If they shot down a half-dozen U.S. drones tomorrow to taunt him, he’d have to act purely to save face. Which, probably, is why he allegedly sent that message to Iran last night (via Oman) once again asking for talks. He knows his options for avoiding war are running out. He needs Tehran to work with him, now.

Here’s Lindsey Graham, who’s kissed a lot of presidential ass over the past three years to have influence at a moment like this, laying it on the line yesterday: “If they do anything else against an American asset and this president doesn’t respond like Ronald Reagan, then that’s a signal to North Korea and the entire world we’re all talk.”