In case you missed it, we almost went to war on Thursday night. That same day, Iran shot down an American surveillance drone, which was flying in or near the country. President Trump confirmed earlier media reports Friday morning that he authorized a limited strike on Iran, but called it off at the last minute. His action, and abrupt control-Z, raise more questions about the administration’s Iran policy than they do answers.
Taking to his favorite medium Friday morning, President Trump detailed just how close to conflict he took us. “We were cocked & loaded to retaliate,” Trump tweeted, regarding the loss of the drone. “I asked, how many people will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General.” Trump went on to tweet that it was “not proportionate” to kill 150 Iranians for shooting down one drone, costing somewhere between $130 million and $220 million. “Sanctions are biting,” he tweeted. “I am in no hurry.”
A senior Trump administration official told Reuters “there was complete unanimity amongst the president’s advisors and DOD leadership on an appropriate response to Iran’s activities.” That apparently includes National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, CIA Director Gina Haspel, and Vice President Mike Pence. However, “the president made the final decision.” President Trump appeared to be the only member of his administration willing to show restraint. Despite rising tensions between the United States and Iran, an escalation of this magnitude would have struck Americans as coming completely out of the blue.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Friday she was not notified of the president’s decision, only that “the president was going to consider some options.” She reiterated that any U.S. military action against Iran “must not be initiated” without congressional approval, and expressed relief that he appeared to show restraint. The administration has been hinting for some time that they might strike Iran without notifying— let alone consulting or asking— Congress.
The President appears to have good instincts. Just 12% of Americans are in favor of another pre-emptive war, compared with 60% opposed. The administration has given no indication of what our objectives would be in such a conflict or what our strategy might entail. They have made no argument for why another war of choice would be necessary, no attempt to sell the American people on why a loss of blood and treasure— for which they have given no estimate— would be worth it. Trump and others have only said that Iran must not have or be able to develop weapons of mass destruction. We’ve heard that one before.
So far, Trump’s base has been among the most loyal ever seen in contemporary American politics. Even they might have second thoughts, particularly come election season, if he doesn’t keep us out of war.