Do the events of the last week represent a new policy toward Iran, a “red line” that they cannot cross without expectation of a significant reaction by the U.S.? Is this policy simply an accident of decisions made “in the moment” by President Trump? Is it a policy at all?
The Iranians clearly think it’s real, and they were careful not to test it. It seems fairly conclusive by now that Iran, which possesses accurate cruise missile and ballistic missile targeting capability that they’ve demonstrated against other targets, along with nearly unimpeded human intelligence on the ground in Iraq, missed badly. To miss that badly, then claim “proportionate measures” and stand down sends a message–they wanted to miss.
Trump grew tired of Iran’s continual poking at America and our allies, and the attack on our embassy in Baghdad proved the straw that broke the camel’s back. He had the shot at Soleimani, and took it. I’m sure his intelligence briefers told him there would be consequences for this action.
Depending on your point of view regarding Trump and his abilities, this new delicate state of balance could be an opportunity, or it could be a mess.
Jonah Goldberg’s LA Times column took the “mess” scenario.
It’s the difference between long-term investing and day trading. Most presidents try to follow a consistent line of policy, philosophy or both. Trump is a man of dots — scattershot moments connected only by Trump’s authorship of them. He has a few core convictions (“tariffs are good,” “get the oil,” etc.), a love of praise and a desire to collect disparate “wins” he can use as talking points. Thus, you can be sure he will simultaneously campaign on pulling troops out of the Middle East and sending them in, in the same way he boasts about lowering trade barriers and raising them. Consistency is in the eye of the beholder, not the man.Column: Don’t try to make sense of Trump’s Iran policy. He doesn’t have one, LA Times, January 6, 2020
If nothing Trump does is consistent, then the next time the Iranians poke at America or our allies, he may do nothing at all, or he may escalate tremendously. He may call the Ayatollah personally, or he may issue “Order 52” against Iranian targets, like Emperor Palpatine seeking to test out the Death Star. In a world where the president is not only inconsistent, but incoherent, any reaction is possible.
It’s possible the Iranian symbolic response last night was simply playing the odds that Trump would do something foolish should they have done real damage. It’s possible that next time, the Iranians will play the odds more aggressively.
Then again, it could be a real policy, and therefore a significant red line for Iran. Michael Gerson called Trump “an impulsive, foolish president who may be incapable of implementing it.”
If Trump’s red line holds up, it could be a useful turning point in the containment of Iran. And this new strategic reality could form the basis for useful diplomatic talks involving Iran and the United States’ Arab friends and allies.One of the worst outcomes with Iran would be for Trump to fail, Washington Post, January 6, 2020
That presumes there is now a red line. The Iranians seem to think there is, at least right now. And that’s a good thing.
Whether this is a real policy or not, President Trump won a victory against Iran, and against terrorism, this week. Everyone in our government, including Democrats, should work hard to ensure this victory doesn’t turn into an own-goal. Nancy Pelosi, and the cadre of Democrats running for president would be better served by ensuring Trump does not fail than trying to minimize his victory, however it was gained.