For Trump, ‘Judgment Time Is Coming’ on How to Respond to Iran -


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Friday, 21 June 2019

For Trump, ‘Judgment Time Is Coming’ on How to Respond to Iran

President Trump said that Iran “made a big mistake” in shooting down an American drone.CreditErin Schaff/The New York Times
President Trump said that Iran “made a big mistake” in shooting down an American drone.CreditCreditErin Schaff/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s tenure as commander in chief came to a dramatic turning point on Thursday night as he found himself torn between his own competing advisers and his own competing instincts, teetering on the edge of the kind of military action he came to office vowing not to take.

In a volatile day of internal debates and an on-again, off-again strike against Iran, Mr. Trump confronted the essential conflict of his approach to national security. For two and a half years, he has veered between bellicose threats against America’s enemies and promises to get the United States out of the intractable wars of the Middle East. Now he had to choose.

Even as the military machinery cranked up to launch an attack on Iran on his orders in response to the shooting down of an unmanned American spy drone, Mr. Trump called it off, opting for restraint over retaliation, at least for now. The argument may not be over. Administration officials would not divulge many details of the discussion. But no one doubted this could be a defining juncture in Mr. Trump’s presidency.

[Mr. Trump approved strikes on Iran, but then abruptly pulled back.]

This moment of truth was probably inevitable since the day in 2018 that Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the international nuclear agreement with Iran negotiated by President Barack Obama and decided to unilaterally reimpose crippling sanctions. With its economy crumbling, Iran was always prone to lash out, forcing Mr. Trump to choose between war and peace.

“In some ways, President Trump is on a collision course with himself,” said Robert Malley, the president of the International Crisis Group and a former Iran adviser to Mr. Obama. “He says he’s in favor of maximum pressure and he’s against military confrontation when it comes to Iran but both of those things can’t be true because one of those things can lead to the other.”

Even if Mr. Trump ultimately does not resort to force in response to the drone attack, the decision on how far he is willing to go in terms of Iran may not be far-off. The episode was only the latest in a series of relatively modest provocations, but Tehran has said it is about to turn its nuclear program back on in a way that will go beyond the limits of the agreement Mr. Trump abandoned.
Members of the military last month waiting to meet Mr. Trump in Anchorage.CreditErin Schaff/The New York Times

“The Iranians are going to continue to test his mettle and we will soon be at the come-to-Mohammed moment,” said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former C.I.A. specialist on Iran at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who believes a military response at some point may be necessary.

“You’re going to learn more about Mr. Trump,” he added. “You’re also going to learn more about the American people. You’re going to see where everybody is at on this. Do we still want to play power politics in the Middle East? The answer may be no, we don’t. But I think judgment time is coming fairly quickly.”


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