After directing his top Pentagon officials to prepare for U.S. military strikes against Iran in response to the downing of a U.S. drone in international airspace, President Trump abruptly called off the operation.
Iran reportedly shot down a U.S. drone near the Strait of Hormuz on June 20th; however, the location of the downing has been a point of contention. The Trump administration insists the drone was in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, while the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps contend they shot down an “intruding American spy drone” after it entered into Iranian territory.
According to The Washington Post, plans were drawn, and targets were in place as Trump convened with his top advisers in the Oval Office on Thursday evening and began asking “crucial questions” just minutes before the operation was set to commence. Trump had already been briefed on such matters earlier in the day, including a Pentagon estimate of up to 150 Iranian casualties, reports The Washington Post.
By the time the meeting was over, Trump had canceled the attack due to “disproportionate deaths.”
He tweeted, “We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights (sic) when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it.”
Public confusion and inconsistencies characterized the 24 hours after Trump’s decision as he faced “congressional bewilderment and palpable concern” among national security experts and lawmakers.
Amid rising U.S.-Iranian tensions, the Iranian armed forces spokesman, Brig. Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, reiterated that Tehran would never be the first side to start a war but warned of the consequences if provoked.
According to CNN, the President said he had imposed new sanctions against Iran, but it was unclear to which sanctions Trump was referring. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani then described the White House as “mentally crippled” and denounced these new sanctions against Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as “outrageous and idiotic.”
Trump repeatedly says he wants to talk. But he has indicated he is prepared to continue constraining the Iranian economy and leadership until Iran meets the “very simple demands” he has tweeted – “No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror!”
Iran’s nuclear program remains under international restrictions, but responds that it sees no reason to talk with an adversary that is “crushing the life out of it,” and the United States “must first show some respect” as the “useless sanctioning means the permanent closure of the doors of diplomacy.”
Trump has been inconsistent with his approach toward the issue. From first authorising a retaliatory strike, to calling it off because it might cause “disproportionate” Iranian deaths, he arrived at Tuesday’s threat that “any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force,” and in some cases “obliteration,” reports The Washington Post.
Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace maintains that “the danger of Trump’s approach is that he’s provoked an escalatory cycle while also signalling to Iran and the world that he has no interest in conflict. As a result, Tehran may miscalculate that it can continue to take free shots against US interests, allies, and assets.”
Amid the insults and taunts that fly between Trump and Khamenei, one can only wonder if this is one of the many episodes of Trump’s wrangles against U.S. adversaries, like last year’s with North Korea, or if these rising tensions are pushing the leaders into a corner where conflict is the only option.
Trump must avoid provoking confrontation as it will only escalate into a true security dilemma – one that he so vehemently campaigned against in 2016 and that characterised presidencies of the past.