This isn’t Trump in boastful rally mode, spiking the football after a show of American military strength. This is Trump sounding subdued because he knows that incidents like this might draw a response that will change the course of his presidency in an instant. He doesn’t want war — he’s made that clear and there’s every reason to think he’s telling the truth.
But Iran gets a say too.
Better hurry up with that diplomacy.
I want to apprise everyone of an incident in the Strait of Hormuz today, involving #USSBoxer, a U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship. The BOXER took defensive action against an Iranian drone…. pic.twitter.com/Zql6nAUGxF
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2019
CNN is reporting that the drone was taken down via electronic jamming, not explosives. As I write this, Iran is claiming that it has no information about one of its drones being missing. Normally we’d expect that: Why would they want to cop to the embarrassment of having had one of their assets blown out of the sky by the Great Satan? In this case, though, a takedown may have been the outcome Iran wanted. They know that Trump is leery of military confrontation; they also know that he doesn’t trust his own hawkish advisors, a fact made clear yet again just this week with news that he’s sending dovish senator Rand Paul to talk to their foreign minister. He’s desperate for talks because he understands, rightly, that the “maximum pressure” strategy he’s pursuing against Tehran has raised tensions to the point where war is more likely than it would be if the two sides were at the table. Sending a drone (possibly an armed drone) to buzz a U.S. ship might have been their way of poking Trump, reminding him that shooting could begin — deliberately or accidentally — at any moment if he doesn’t cave to their demands and ease sanctions as a precondition to talks.
And broadcasting the fact that the drone had been taken down would also allow Iran to play the victim. Another case of American “aggression” in the Strait of Hormuz! But they’re denying it, at least as of 6:15 p.m. ET. Hmmm.
Did this also have something to do with the drone fly-by, maybe?
Adding to the economic pressure on Tehran, the Treasury Department said Thursday it was imposing sanctions on what it called a network of front companies and agents involved in helping Iran buy sensitive materials for its nuclear program. It said the targeted individuals and entities are based in Iran, China and Belgium.
Maybe Iranian leaders heard about the new sanctions and ordered a minor military incident to show Trump that this ends only one way if he doesn’t start cranking the sanctions ratchet in the opposite direction pronto.
Time for some outreach, Rand Paul style! Hawks are unenthused and pessimistic, as you might imagine:
Before Paul gets carried away with optimism, he would do well to study a former colleague’s experience with the Iranian foreign minister. In 2015, former Senator and then-Secretary of State John Kerry said that [Iranian foreign minister Javad] Zarif had assured him that he was empowered to negotiate with the U.S. on regional issues like Syria following the nuclear deal. But that promise was empty. Iran ended up working out an arrangement with Russia to escalate the war on behalf of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
More recently, Zarif has suggested that Iran would be open to negotiations over its missile program. The 2015 nuclear deal loosened UN Security Council restrictions on Iran’s missile testing. This week, Zarif backtracked from those comments.
For a real stemwinder about Paul’s role in negotiating with Iran, enjoy the snippet below via the Free Beacon of Mark Levin wondering, among other things, “Will Rand Paul be representing us or the Iranian regime?” Hoo boy. An irony about Trump’s rant at last night’s rally about Ilhan Omar that was overlooked in the hubbub over the “send her back” chanting is that he led off his criticism by saying, “Representative Omar blamed the United States for the terrorist attacks on our country, saying that terrorism is a reaction to our involvement in our people’s affairs.” Er, yeah — that’s the “blowback theory” of jihadism, well known to right-wingers thanks to Rand’s dad, Ron Paul. They’re over here knocking down our skyscrapers, said Ron, because we’re over there sporadically bombing people. We were asking for it. Rand himself was (is?) a proponent of “blowback,” at least until he became a senator with national ambitions. BuzzFeed traced his evolution in a story a few years ago: “Is it possible that decades of arguably far more intrusive behavior by the United States in Islamic nations has also had an effect on those populations, encouraging and increasing the threat of Islamic terrorism?” he once wrote. Trump is knocking Omar for pushing that idea on the one hand — and deputizing Rand Paul as his envoy to the mullahs on the other. “Rand Paul pretty much shares their foreign policy,” said Levin today of Omar and Bernie Sanders, not altogether unfairly. Does POTUS object to the “blowback” theory or isn’t he?