Well, here’s something new — President Trump, in reversing his own decision to attack multiple targets in Iran in retaliation for the downing of a U.S. drone, exhibited a surprising level of restraint late Thursday, and for the right reasons.
That is, of course, if his tweets can be believed. That’s not a given, but Trump’s comments confirmed earlier news reports out of Washington surrounding the decision to scrap the attack.
Most significantly, Trump tweeted Friday morning that he had approved the attacks but then reversed himself after being told they likely would likely kill about 150 people.
....On Monday they shot down an unmanned drone flying in International Waters. We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights 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....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 21, 2019
That’s the exactly correct reason not to attack. Killing people in retaliation for the downing of an unmanned drone would have been obscenely disproportionate.
Especially because it remains unclear who was at fault. Did the U.S. fly a drone into Iranian air space, or did Iran shoot down another nation’s asset in international air space?
The sad part here is neither government has earned the benefit of the doubt for its version of events.
It’s also worth noting that, at least according to the New York Times, planes were already in the air and the mission was underway when Trump asked about the death toll. So Trump didn’t think to ask that question before he approved the attacks? And that detail wasn’t included in recommendations from his military advisors (or maybe Trump didn’t bother to read the details)?
Regardless, it’s commendable that once Trump did ask the question and received the answer, he decided the retaliation would have been out of proportion to the downing of the drone, and called it off.
Of course, this isn’t over. It wouldn’t be surprising to see some sort of lesser attack in the coming hours or days, perhaps an advance warning sent through a third country — Russia? — that U.S. missiles would strike specific antiaircraft and radar installations, giving Iran time to evacuate.
A better course here would be to find a way for both sides to back off, perhaps with an international show of force in the Straits of Hormuz to signal global condemnation of an increasingly aggressive Iran.
But that would require some international leadership. And we have the wrong president for that.