War with Iran has felt inevitable for weeks. Now it seems like it could begin any day.
The New York Times reported late Thursday night that President Trump ordered a military attack against the Middle Eastern nation, only to call it off. The order came in response to the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone by an Iranian missile. According to the Times, officials expected the counterstrike to take place as late as 7 p.m., and ships and planes had already been positioned to execute it. It’s unknown whether the attack was called off simply because the president changed his mind, or because of other strategic reasons.
On Thursday morning, Trump addressed the downing of the drone on Twitter. “Iran made a very big mistake!” he wrote.
Iran made a very big mistake!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 20, 2019
He expounded through a string of tweets on Friday morning, claiming that he stopped the strike 10 minutes before it would have taken place:
“President Obama made a desperate and terrible deal with Iran – Gave them 150 Billion Dollars plus I.8 Billion Dollars in CASH! Iran was in big trouble and he bailed them out. Gave them a free path to Nuclear Weapons, and SOON. Instead of saying thank you, Iran yelled Death to America. I terminated deal, which was not even ratified by Congress, and imposed strong sanctions. They are a much weakened nation today than at the beginning of my Presidency, when they were causing major problems throughout the Middle East. Now they are Bust! 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 proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!”
Tension between Iran and the United States has been escalating since Trump’s decision last May to pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal and subsequently heighten economic sanctions on the nation. Trump had been warned by advisers, experts, and the international community to remain in the pact, which President Obama signed in 2015 in an effort to prevent Iran from developing nuclear material. Iran had been complying with the terms of the agreement.
Early last month, it was reported that U.S. military officials had drawn up a plan that involved sending 120,000 troops overseas anticipation of a potential conflict with Iran. A few weeks later, Trump ordered 1,500 troops to the Middle East after the Pentagon announced that recent attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf had been carried out by the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Last week, two more oil tankers — one from Japan and one from Norway — were attacked in Gulf of Oman, off the southern coast of Iran. The administration blamed Iran, which on Monday revealed that it is on the verge of stockpiling more low-enriched uranium than the 2015 nuclear deal allowed. Trump responded by tweeting a Fox News chyron announcing the news. The military responded by sending 1,000 additional troops to the region. National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has long pushed for military action against the nation, described the move as a way to send a “clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”
The Times reported on Thursday that Bolton, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and CIA Director Gina Haspel, pushed for a military response to the downing of the drone. Pentagon officials and congressional leaders, meanwhile, argued against it, warning that an attack would put American forces at risk. The debate over how to respond to various shows of aggression from Iran is reaching a boiling point. Trump personally seems to want to avoid conflict; he said on Thursday that the downing of the drone couldn’t have been “intentional” despite Iran already having taken credit for it. But the voices of the war hawks in his administration and in Congress are growing louder by the day, and it seems like it may only be a matter of time before they’re able to sway the president’s thinking to a consequential, and catastrophic, degree.
For now, Trump seems like he’s using the specter of war to keep viewers tuned in through the next commercial break. When asked on Thursday afternoon what he planned to do in response to the downing of the drone over the Strait of Hormuz, the president gave his usual response when he has no idea what he’s doing. “Let’s see what happens,” he said.