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Trump Handled The Iran Crisis Poorly, but His Flexibility May Have Avoided a War

President Trump’s decision not to go ahead with a retaliatory strike on Iran may have prevented a war by avoiding one of the reasons for unnecessary conflict: Leaders trapped into rigid thinking and plans under which they believe their hand has been forced.

Let’s be clear. Trump’s response was bungled. He’s managed to do this in a way that makes him look weak and indecisive. But he appears to have made the correct choice and ultimately decided it was more important to get it right than to worry about how things looked.

Trump had planned to strike Iran, but says he decided not to — ten minutes before launch — when he asked his commanders how many people would be killed and was informed that about 150 would die.

This does not ring true at all. In all likelihood, military planners would have told him how many people would die well before the attack. And if they didn’t and he didn’t ask, he was negligent.

What appears more likely is that Trump was responding to two pieces of intelligence, both of which may have emerged after his initial decision to hit Iran.

First, it seems that the Iranian leadership did not order the strike and was unhappy with a lower-ranking military commander who did.

Second, it now appears that the drone may, in fact, have been in Iranian airspace. Therefore, while a bad idea, Iran would have had some justification, at least legally, for shooting down the drone, and the United States would have been committing an act of war by responding.

All of this is preliminary information. It could change. A full picture has not emerged.

But if true, Trump made the right call not to respond and to change his mind. That actually shows strength in a leader. But calling off an attack ten minutes before it is to launch also shows weakness and indecision, and saying that it was because you suddenly asked about casualties is either a lie or a sign of incompetence.

So while there are good reasons to question how Trump handled this, overall we can be thankful that he took action that avoided what could have been a brutal and unnecessary war resulting from things leaders felt they “had” to do.

You know, think World War I.

Trump should have simply said the Iranians screwed up by hitting the drone but can’t admit it and that the aircraft may have been in Iranian territory instead of going on about casualties. Simple enough, and he would look like a strong leader by not acting.

I think Iran and other enemies would be mistaken to interpret Trump’s errors here as a sign he won’t take action when necessary. He also tweeted that Iran will “NEVER” have a nuclear weapon. I believe he means it, and he will take the steps necessary to ensure it.

WSJ Editorial: Trump’s Iran Policy Can Succeed

So everyone, from Democrats, to journalists, to all of Europe, is pissing in their pants because Iran is threatening to increase its production of uranium in response to President Trump’s sanctions and supposed belligerance.

The United States has to make a decision about whether it can live with a brutal, terrorism-sponsoring Iranian theocracy with nuclear weapons. Barack Obama decided that this would be someone else’s problem, crafting a deal that would allow the Iranians to develop nuclear weapons a decade or so from now. Trump and his advisors have decided to take responsibility for solving the problem, and of course are getting lots of grief for it.

A new op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal by Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh counsels patience with Trump’s policy and not to overreact to Iranian actions meant to scare everyone. Trump’s policy is not designed to start a war — though that could happen, there are always risks — but to force Iran back to the negotiating table for a deal that will actually prevent them from have nukes. Or, potentially to cause the collapse of the Iranian regime, though I wouldn’t count on it.

The risk of war should not outweigh the certainty under the Obama deal that Iran will develop nuclear weapons, which would not only pose an existential threat to the United States but would prompt a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

From the WSJ piece:

Despite the criticisms from Democrats and Europeans, Mr. Trump’s Iran policy has had considerable success. He abrogated a deficient agreement that was smoothing Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon. He restored sanctions, which many Iran-deal partisans insisted couldn’t be done effectively. The economic pain Tehran feels today is as great as when the Europeans implemented their oil embargo in 2012. Iran’s oil exports have contracted rapidly, denying the regime billions of dollars in hard currency. The key challenge for the Trump administration now is to sustain its strategy as the Iranians start dangling the possibility of a diplomatic opening. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s most important contribution has been to dispense with the once-popular notion that the nuclear issue can be separated from the clerical regime’s regional ambitions. His May 2018 “12 points” speech sensibly posited that the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism shouldn’t possess a nuclear arsenal. The administration has developed a containment strategy that is unconventional and restrained—Iran’s expeditionary forces and allied militias in the northern Middle East haven’t been targeted—but still punishing. As long as Mr. Trump is willing to respond to a direct challenge, conventional or nuclear, and Tehran is convinced of the president’s mettle, time is on Washington’s side. 

America’s Iran problem will remain until the theocracy cracks. Given the regime’s inability to escape the contradictions of its own making, that day is drawing closer. The U.S. needs stamina—and a clear understanding of how the enemy sees itself.

The Trump Iran Policy is Working

I’m a little concerned that National Security Advisor John Bolton is looking for a war. But as it stands now, the Iran policy he and President Trump are pursuing is working.

In short, the idea is to try to do something about problems every other administration has kicked down the road: Iran’s nuclear program cannot be permitted to resume and get to a point where they can build ICBMs, all of which they can do under the deal Barack Obama negotiated with them, as long as they wait a few years. Iran’s influence around the Middle East must be rolled back. And Iran must stop killing Americans, something they have been doing for years and that has simply been tolerated.

No more. As this great piece by Marc Thiessen makes clear, the increase in U.S. forces in the Gulf was ordered because while Trump tightens the screws with sanctions – hoping to force Iran back to the negotiating table – the country is about to start attacking Americans, maybe in a big way, as they have in the past.

The message is: We are the superior power, and we will not be threatened by you.

From the Thiessen piece:

When Trump came into office, Iran was on the march across the Middle East — in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen — thanks to the Obama administration’s failure to confront Iranian aggression and the massive infusions of cash it received from sanctions relief under President Barack Obama’s Iran deal. Trump withdrew from the deal, but he did not simply restore sanctions imposed before it; he ramped them up to unprecedented levels. The sanctions have already “wiped $10 billion from Iranian revenue since November,” The Post reported, citing administration officials.

This month, the administration tightened the screws even further, eliminating waivers for eight countries that had previously been allowed to continue importing Iranian oil. The goal, according to American officials, is to reduce Iranian oil exports to “zero.” It’s working. Bloomberg News reports that “Iran’s oil shipments tumbled this month after the U.S. ended sanctions waivers. . . . So far, not a single ship has been seen leaving Iran’s oil terminals for foreign ports.”

The new sanctions are forcing Tehran to cut funds to its terrorist proxies. According to The Post, “Iran’s ability to finance allies such as Hezbollah has been curtailed,” while in Lebanon, the New York Times reports, “Syrian militiamen paid by Iran have seen their salaries slashed” because, to quote one fighter, “Iran doesn’t have enough money to give us.” On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress that “Iran’s proposed defense budget has been reduced by 25 percent and the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’] proposed budget by about 10 percent.”

Iran is obviously unhappy with this, and U.S. intelligence saw signs that Iran was preparing to respond with attacks on Americans using terrorist proxies — just as they did in the 1983 Beirut Marine barracks bombingand the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, and by supplying Shiite militias in Iraq with armor-penetrating roadside bombs that killed hundreds of American soldiers.

Trump Wary of Being Dragged Into a War

President Trump has some aides, led by National Security Advisor John Bolton, who are hawkish. He has others, including many in the Pentagon, who favor diplomacy.

This gets described negatively in the press as a “divide within the administration.” What it actually amounts to is having a range of opinions in your administration and then making a decision.

If this were Obama, the press would be appreciatively calling it, “Team of Rivals.”

Anyway, Trump is wary of the hawks. Which is a good idea. The policy of putting the economic screws on Iran but trying to avoid war is a good one, because we have to find a way to get rid of their nuclear program. It may take war, eventually. But we should not overreact when they, naturally, respond to the economic pain and the threat to their regime.

According to the Washington Post:

The Trump administration has been on high alert in response to what military and intelligence officials have deemed specific and credible threats from Iran against U.S. personnel in the Middle East.

But President Trump is frustrated with some of his top advisers, who he thinks could rush the United States into a military confrontation with Iran and shatter his long-standing pledge to withdraw from costly foreign wars, according to several U.S. officials. Trump prefers a diplomatic approach to resolving tensions and wants to speak directly with Iran’s leaders.

Disagreements over assessing and responding to the recent intelligence — which includes a directive from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that some American officials interpret as a threat to U.S. personnel in the Middle East — are also fraying alliances with foreign allies, according to multiple officials in the United States and Europe.

Trump grew angry last week and over the weekend about what he sees as warlike planning that is getting ahead of his own thinking, said a senior administration official with knowledge of conversations Trump had regarding national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“They are getting way out ahead of themselves, and Trump is annoyed,” the official said. “There was a scramble for Bolton and Pompeo and others to get on the same page.”

Bolton, who advocated regime change in Iran before joining the White House last year, is “just in a different place” from Trump, although the president has been a fierce critic of Iran since long before he hired Bolton. Trump “wants to talk to the Iranians; he wants a deal” and is open to negotiation with the Iranian government, the official said.

Trump Says He Would Send Many More Than 200K Troops to Confront Iran

I’m pretty sure National Security Advisor John Bolton wants to have a war with someone. I’m just not sure yet if it’s with Iran, North Korea, or Venezuela. Or a country to be names later.

According to the Washington Examiner:

President Trump acknowledged on Tuesday that he would consider sending 120,000 troops, or more, to the Middle East to deal with Iran, even as he called the report “fake news.”

“Would I do that? Absolutely,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House. “But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we’re not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we would send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”

The president also blasted the New York Times, which revealed that the White House was considering such a move and that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan unveiled a plan last week which would send the 120,000 troops to the Middle East.

“I think it’s just – where was that story, in the New York Times? Well the New York Times is fake news,” Trump said. The move would come as a response to a possible attack by Iran on U.S. forces, or an acceleration of Iran’s nuclear weapons development.

Trump Moves to Isolate Iran’s Terrorist Regime

This is why Republican voters selected Donald Trump instead of Marco Rubio, Jeb, and the rest of them. Voters understood that there was a toughness and a commitment to the man that none of the others had.

Such strengths were desperately needed in a nation drifting from its traditional moorings and facing an increasingly dangerous world that Barack Obama had sought to accommodate.

According to Josh Rogin, writing in the Washington Post:

About one year after the United States decided to leave the Iran nuclear deal, the State Department is set to announce that all countries will have to completely end their imports of Iranian oil or be subject to U.S. sanctions. This is an escalation of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign, which seeks to force Tehran to end its illicit behavior around the world.

Iran has been treated like a “rogue” nation where “moderate” elements in the regime need to be “encouraged.”

What it is, is a nation of good people governed by a group of well-armed, well-financed fanatics who have killed many American troops through their proxies and are spreading terror and their malign influence throughout the region.

Trump is at least determined to cut off the financing and end the charade that Iran has agreed to give up its nuclear weapons. According to Rogin, the president is having an effect:

There are some signs the pressure is having an effect. Iran has been unable to deliver oil to Syria since January due to international enforcement of the sanctions, the Wall Street Journal reported last month, which has increased pressure on the regime of Bashar al-Assad. In March, Pompeo pointed to Hezbollah’s reported cash shortages as additional evidence that Iran’s coffers were being squeezed, with positive results for regional security.

It’s unlikely the Iranian regime will ever sit down with the Trump administration to negotiate a better deal or fundamentally change its behavior. Starting next month, though, it will at least have less oil money to spread terrorism and mischief around the Middle East and the world.

Everyone knows that Jeb and Marco would be negotiating with these people and refusing to “risk” angering our allies, who think only of cheap Iranian oil and not the larger, long-term, strategic perspective.

Trump, schooled in the rough and tumble, Darwinian world of New York business, understands people and motivations much better than he is given credit for. I’m sure he gets the mullahs better than many in academia and the bureaucracy who have spent a lifetime studying them.

They are a threat that must be defeated. Maybe Trump can do it.

Pompeo Blasts Kerry’s “Unseemly” Undermining of Trump’s Foreign Policy

What happened to all the talk about the Logan Act, now that Democrats are conducting foreign policy as private citizens?

From the Logan Act:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

Trump officials were threatened with the act, which is never enforced, for actions taken after the election but before the inauguration. But they were the incoming administration. It would be foolish of them not to have some contact with foreign leaders. Kerry is the administration that just left power. There’s a big difference. Evidently, he thinks he is still secretary of state.

Kerry admits he’s been engaging in chats with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in which Kerry appears to be trying to extract good behavior from the Iranians in order to mitigate the case for President Trump’s moves to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal. Other countries that are party to the deal so far have not gone along with Trump.

Kerry admitted in an interview this week that he is conducting foreign policy:

What I have done is tried to elicit from him what Iran might be willing to do in order to change the dynamic in the Middle East for the better. You know, how does one resolve Yemen? What do you do to try to get peace in Syria? I mean, those are the things that really are preoccupying, because those are the impediments to people, to Iran’s ability to convince people that it’s ready to embrace something different. I mean, and I’ve been very blunt to Foreign Minister Zarif, and told him look, you guys need to recognize that the world does not appreciate what’s happening with missiles, what’s happening with Hezbollah, what’s happening with Yemen. You’re supporting you know, an ongoing struggle there They say they’re prepared to negotiate and to resolve these issues.

The actual secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, Friday blasted Kerry for playing dress up:

“It’s inconsistent with what the foreign policy of the United States is, as directed by this president, and it’s beyond inappropriate,” Pompeo said during an appearance at the State Department. “I’ll leave the legal determinations to others, but what Secretary Kerry has done is unseemly and unprecedented.”

Trump Formally Reimposes Certain Sanctions on Iran

From a statement by the president issued by the White House: Today, the United States is taking action to reimpose nuclear-related sanctions with respect to Iran that were lifted in connection with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action of July 14, 2015 (the “JCPOA”). These actions include reimposing sanctions on Iran’s automotive sector and on… Continue Reading

Trump to Iran: Never, Ever Threaten the United States Again

Iran threatened the United States. President Trump told them not to do that. To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE… Continue Reading

Senate Report: Obama Officials Repeatedly Lied to Congress About Iran Finances

The Obama administration repeatedly lied to Congress about whether Iran would be able to access the U.S. financial system as Obama officials completed, and the Senate vote on, a nuclear with the rogue nation. According to the report, released Wednesday by Republicans on the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Iran was desperate… Continue Reading

Hillary Clinton on Iran Deal Withdrawal: “Our Credibility is Shot”

Actually, no. Hillary Clinton complained Wednesday that nobody’s going to trust the United States anymore now that President Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. As Secretary of State, I helped negotiate the crippling international sanctions that brought Iran to the table. It would be much harder a second time, now that our credibility… Continue Reading