I wonder what his good friend Bibi is telling Donald Trump about the need to show strength in the face of unprovoked attack, about the need to strike quickly to teach miscreants a lesson that Israel, er, the United States is not to be trifled with. Of course Bibi Netanyahu would like nothing more than the U.S. annihilating Iran’s power. Ditto the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Trump and some of his advisors, notably National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, want regime change in Iran. They hope to see an Iran not led by a religiously despotic ayatollah. Iran’s last regime change occurred in 1979. Since then the United States has had six regime changes led by half a dozen presidents with divergent world views. Given this historical perspective it is more likely there will be a new president of the U.S. before a new ayatollah with a fresh view that America is not satan.
Rather than react rashly to the downing by Iran of an unarmed intelligence gathering drone early Thursday morning, Trump trod cautiously, even providing Iran with a plausible explanation for the assault, that a stupid officer went rogue and fired the surface to air missile that shot the drone out of the sky above the Strait of Hormuz. It was an uncharacteristic response from Trump.
Or was it? A certified bully, Trump, it could be said, reacted just as any bully would when confronted. He cowered at the prospect of actual confrontation. Iran is not like Syria that was in no position to retaliate when Trump twice ordered cruise missiles to strike Syria after Bashir al Assad rained down chemicals on rebels.
Perhaps Trump’s wariness was the result of an underreported fact about the incident. The drone was capable of flying at 55,000 feet, a height believed to be above Iran’s defensive capabilities. Wrong. “That is a demonstration by the Iranians that they have that capability, something the United States will take note of in the future,” according to The New York Times.
Perhaps Trump’s pulpit has more than bluster. We learned Friday morning he authorized three strikes on three targets. But with 10 minutes to spare, he cancelled the counterpunch.
Politico reported he said he felt such a move was “not proportionate” to Iran’s attack on an unmanned drone. “We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights (sic) when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world,” Trump tweeted.
Besides Bolton and Pompeo, and perhaps Vice President Mike Pence, the only disappointed faces most probably are in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem. No one should embrace the idea of a war, but a proxy war by America against Iran would be welcome in those Middle Eastern capitals, even if Iran fulfilled a threat to retaliate by launching missiles into their countries. “Minor” damage and casualties would be a small price to pay for the elimination of an existential threat.
Iran has complicated the calculus, asserting it exhibited restraint by not shooting down a military transport carrying 35 servicemen that accompanied the drone (how they knew the number of passengers was not explained).
Trump is at a critical juncture. Yogi Berra allegedly said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Trump must now choose the path his administration will take and project during his presidency. He blasted Barack Obama for not following through on his threat to punish Assad for use of chemical weapons.
Few people especially politicians believe Trump is a man of his word. With scant credibility to marshal international or domestic allies Trump must engage a strategy few believe he has any idea how to originate, much less implement (https://nyti.ms/2L3jliS).