Policy Experts Split in Analysis of Trump’s Iran Strike Stand-Down
Top policy experts debated on Friday US President Donald Trump’s decision the previous night to halt an attack against Iranian targets following the downing of an American drone in the Gulf region.
The New York Times reported that “the president had initially approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets, like radar and missile batteries,” but that before an attack took place “word came to stand down.”
Subsequently, in a Twitter thread published on Friday morning, Trump explained his decision, writing that when he was told that 150 people would die in the planned attacks, “I stopped it.”
A survey of reactions on Twitter showed that reactions to Trump’s decision were varied and did not divide neatly along partisan lines.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), a vocal critic of the president, offered his qualified support of Trump’s change of heart, tweeting, “I agree with your decision to not use military force against Iran.”
However, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) implicitly criticized Trump’s decision by comparing it to former President Barack Obama’s failure to strike Syria following a deadly chemical weapons attack. “We cannot let the provocations and attacks by Iran go unanswered,” he wrote.
Others also noted similarities between the two decisions.
For example, ex-State Department official Aaron David Miller wrote, “Trump’s decision not to strike carries very faint echoes of Obama’s 2011 redline on Syrian chemical weapons turning pink. Tough words, maximum pressure but a common risk-aversion when it comes to use of military force on a slippery slope toward open and uncertain confrontation.”
Miller, however, opined that the decision not to attack was correct in this instance, and the problem was that it only “deferred” a more serious military escalation into the future.
In contrast, Michael Doran, a former White House official in the George W. Bush administration, rejected the comparison between the two incidents.
“Trump is still imposing crippling sanctions on Iran,” he observed. “The big fight, the strategic fight, is about keeping those sanctions in place until we win on the nuclear question. Tit-for-tat over a drone is minor by comparison.”
Doran added that it made sense for Trump to wait for further provocations from the Tehran regime and use that to build political support for strikes against Iran.
In a similar vein, Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank, responded to the president, “You’re in no hurry. Intensify the maximum pressure campaign. Keep them off balance. They will miscalculate.”
Unsurprisingly, former members of the Obama administration were critical of Trump’s handling of the situation with Iran.
“OMG, this is such an embarrassment,” Dan Shapiro, who served as Obama’s ambassador to Israel from 2011-2017, wrote, “He’s tweeting out in real time how he is actually making use of force decisions, including his paper-thin understanding of what he is doing. Help us.”
Ben Rhodes, a key architect of the July 2015 Iran nuclear agreement along with President Obama, added, “We didn’t need to pull out of a deal that was working. And we don’t need to go to war over a drone.”