In the wake of the US military action that killed Iranian terrorist Qasem Soleimani, President Trump said he was preventing, not starting a war. This was roundly mocked by Democrats and the news media who saw Trump’s action as a provocation which would escalate at least into a strong Iranian response, and perhaps even an all out war. Last night these grave concerns were all but put to bed by an Iranian “air strike” that basically amounted to a toy pistol popping out a flag that says “bang.”
This morning, Ian Bremmer, head of the Eurasia Group and anything but a fan of Trump called the current situation “wildly de-escalatory” and added that Trump had shown Iran where the red line is. The bottom line here is that the Iranian response sends a clear signal that the brutal regime wants no part of a fight against the United States military. They also now know exactly what to expect if they kill Americans or storm embassies.
In 2012, Henry R. Nau wrote a smart column in Commentary in which he argued persuasively that George W. Bush’s foreign policy was a game of chess, whereas Barack Obama’s was a jigsaw puzzle. The basic thrust is that Bush saw it as a competition to control territory and Obama held that every country had a piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and we could solve it together if we agreed what the picture at the end should look like.
I have long held that Trump’s foreign policy is neither chess nor jigsaw, but rather a game of poker. Sometimes Trump will push all his chips into the pile and move the US embassy to Jerusalem, sometimes he is more cautious, biding his time for a better hand. What happened this week was Trump calling Iran’s bluff. Trump stared over his cards, looked the Ayatollah in the eyes and said, “I think you got nothing.” Then Trump took the pot.
One would think this should be an opportunity for a chastened news media to reflect on the errors of their ways in covering Trump. But no. In Annie Hall, Woody Allen reminiscing about his former school classmates says, “Alvin Ackerman, always the wrong answer.” I think Alvin must have wound up at CNN or MSNBC. Even in the face of what is a patent victory for America they will paint Trump’s foreign policy as incoherent, lacking strategy.
But there was nothing incoherent about the actions of the Trump administration in the past week. Decisive action sent a strong message to Iran that its escalation of military force had gone too far. Iran got the message. Trump’s critics bought into Iranian propaganda that claimed it was the United States that started this conflict by killing Soleimani. Nothing could have been further from the truth. For months Iran had been attacking America. Trump didn’t start the fight; he ended it, just as he said he would do.