The partisan debate has returned: Democrats cry “wag the dog” and “Trump’s Benghazi” in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad that motivated the Soleimani strike; even Republicans who once talked about abandoning the neoconservatism that led to Iraq cheer Trump and downplay the possibility of an Iraq-like war with Iran.
Trump isn’t Dubya. He has so far confined even his activities in Iraq to fighting ISIS. He has been skeptical of regime change, nation-building, and democracy promotion. He could retaliate against the embassy attackers and leave well enough alone. But Trump also does not like to look weak and has unrealistic diplomatic expectations. If Iran escalates, will he once again increase the number of troops in Iraq?
After all, former National Security Adviser John Bolton is a hawk who says he doesn’t believe in the neoconservatives’ candy and unicorns about democracy promotion. Neither did George W. Bush himself, as he campaigned on exit strategies and a “humble foreign policy.” What is Trump’s exit strategy here? Even Bush rebuffed advisers who wanted a reprise of the Iraq war inside Iran.