Analysis: Trump left a little room for some negotiations, but this was not the off-ramp that people might have expected. The imposition of new sanctions will provoke Iran into at least a refusal to discuss any options moving forward, even if the Soleimani strike has them second-guessing any further action. The request for NATO intervention should raise some eyebrows in Tehran, too.
However, all of this could still be Trump trying to increase pressure to get Iran to the table. Even the NATO request could be an opening; most of our NATO members have friendlier relations with Iran than we do, and some trade with Iran to the extent that sanctions allow. The Iranians might feel better with NATO leadership than with the US driving these issues directly. Trump still wants out of these military entanglements in the long run; it’s up to Iran to use that knowledge to see what kind of deal Trump’s willing to cut.
Update: Replaced the live video stream with a VOA cut of the speech. If it doesn’t start at 22:12, just skip forward to that part.
Update: An interesting reference to US development of “hypersonic missiles.” Iran doesn’t have sufficient defenses against our extant missile systems, which is why they were very careful not to provoke a response last night. That was intended for another audience. Vladimir Putin? Kim Jong-un? Both?
Update: “The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.” A conciliatory note at the end of an emphatically not conciliatory speech. Trump did discuss negotiations with Iran, but very much on US terms and very much on a comprehensive basis. The JCPOA model is dead. If Iran wants to talk, it had better pull in its tentacles, in other words.
Update: Trump gets around to negotiations with Iran, saying that the world needs to make clear that any such deal has to include prohibitions on terrorism and malign influence in the region. Trump says he will call on NATO to engage much more directly in the Middle East to ensure that Iran’s support for terror comes to an end.
Update: At least thus far, Trump doesn’t seem terribly interested in “off-ramps.” He called Qassem Soleimani the worst terrorist in the world, and that he should have been take out “long ago.” He also announced new “powerful economic sanctions” on the regime and recounted its earlier attacks in the region, including the attack on an American drone in international air space.
Update: No American or Iraqi casualties, Trump says, and also says that Iran appears to be “standing down.” That’s “good news” for the world, Trump says.
Update, 11:27: They’re lining up now behind the podium, so here we go. Mark Esper and Mike Pence are flanking the podium.
Update, 11:24: NBC has Lester Holt introducing the speech now, so perhaps they’re about ready to send Trump to the podium.
Update, 11:19: Sorta-but-not-really off topic, has anyone heard from Little Rocket Man lately? Hmmm:
This week in 2016 — Kim Jong Un’s birthday week — the North Korean leader tested a nuclear weapon. This year, Chairman Kim hinted a “new strategic weapon” is coming soon. It’s been a quiet birthday week so far for Kim — no reported signs of a looming test, but the week isn’t over
— Will Ripley (@willripleyCNN) January 8, 2020
Update, 11:14: Still no Trump, and the White House’s YouTube channel hasn’t even started with the stream yet. I’m monitoring NBC’s feed at the same time.
Original post follows …
Did getting rid of Qassem Soleimani count as an opening bid for a settlement with Iran? Donald Trump scheduled an 11 am ET speech this morning to respond after Tehran shot a handful of missiles in the general vicinity of US troops in Iraq. It took a few minutes to get started, but it’s just about to get underway:
Prior to the speech, Republicans sent out a few signals that Trump had de-escalation in mind all along. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) told CBS reporter Alan He that Trump was in high spirits after the missile attack. “This is going to open the door for negotiations,” Trump told Inhofe, at least as he related it to He. Mitch McConnell also took a moment out on the Senate floor prior to Trump’s speech to praise his “patience and prudence”:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he spoke with President Trump last night: "I'm grateful for his patience and prudence as he and his Cabinet deliberate how to respond appropriately to the latest Iranian provocation." https://t.co/G9UFwBg2Yy pic.twitter.com/C7TWk9ZayV
— ABC News (@ABC) January 8, 2020
The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wondered if Trump would take the “off ramp” offered by the weak Iranian response:
Iran responded Tuesday night to the U.S. government’s killing of one of its top military figures with missile attacks on two Iraqi military bases that house U.S. troops. And while some are labeling that an escalation — and much could still change — it appears Iran may be giving Trump a politically palatable off-ramp from further clashes.
And it’s an off-ramp that Trump, according to his initial comments, appears inclined to take. We could get a better sense of that Wednesday morning, when Trump is slated to address the nation about Iran at 11 a.m. Eastern. …
If this is the end of the retaliation — and that’s very much an open question, given Iran’s history of provocations and Khamenei’s comments — it would mean Iran’s response to the killing of its most important military figure will have been to inflict some damage on Iraqi military bases. If you were given that trade at the start of the week, before Trump made the questionable decision to take Soleimani out, it’s very difficult to say you wouldn’t take it in a heartbeat.
And Trump sounds as though he sees it accordingly. In a tweet Tuesday night, Trump began with “All is well!,” perhaps revealing his satisfaction with the lack of a more serious Iranian response.
This would certainly fit with Trump’s overarching desire to disentangle the US from its lower-scale wars in the region. He’s been itching to get out of the Syria/Iraq theater for more than a year, and he’s close to pulling out of Afghanistan too. That would end a quasi-encirclement of Iran, so they certainly have some motivation to help Trump move in that direction.
We’ll update as the speech progresses. You may want to open a second tab to catch the commentary without interrupting the video. Updates will come in reverse chronological order at the top.