There he goes again
Well, there he goes again, as Ronald Reagan might say in regard to President Donald Trump’s decision not to bomb Iran. Apparently, it was a good one because it has united opposites such as Tucker Carlson and John Brennan, who both applauded his actions. Superficially, it appears that John Bolton and Mike Pompeo have taken it on the chin. Venezuela, North Korea and Iran have gained reprieves due to the generosity of the Donald.
Certainly the optics would suggest this was the case. Trump told Chuck Todd of NBC that he had both “hawks” and “doves” advising him, and he even singled out Bolton for having a penchant for was even if it was against the whole world. Then on a domestic matter suspended raids against undocumented refugees. As with everything with Trump, there is a great deal of surmising on where he is heading and what does it all mean.
Trump could be doing a reprise of Lyndon Johnson’s actions in the South China Sea in August 1964. Indeed, he uses the same language offering “unconditional” negotiations, but takes a hard line if Iran shoots down an American aircraft. He also uses the approach forward by Dwight Eisenhower Secretary of State John Foster Dulles use of “brinkmanship” taking the United States to the precipice of conflict. Or if you prefer, Richards Nixon’s dusting off of Dulles tactic known as the “mad man theory” in 1969.
But Johnson seems a better match to Trump than either Dulles or Nixon. When North Vietnamese speed boats attacked a U.S. destroyer which was supporting a South Vietnamese assault on Hon Me Island, Johnson ordered air strikes. Like Trump, Johnson justified his actions as proportional. Trump unlike LBJ, however preferred to use increased sanctions on Tehran seeing a drone shot down as not quite provocation enough. Where the comparison comes to life is that Trump is operating with options trying to place pressure as LBJ did on the North Vietnamese. In the end, Johnson opted for escalation, with his “hawks” beating out his “doves” in council.
It appears that Trump prefers consensus over George W. Bush like bellicosity. And, to his credit, he measures the proportionality of war. War with Iran could put in peril the economy, ongoing peace negotiations and the Atlantic Alliance. Both Johnson and Bush put a strain on all the aforementioned. But Trump’s practicality will come to nothing unless he rids himself of the neo-Conservative remnants in the White House.
And Trump should be warned of those advisors in the foreign policy establishment who for mostly tactical reasons applaud his restraint. The nuclear deal with Iran was a subtle way of boxing Tehran into a corner. The strange thing about the so-called humanitarians on the Atlantic Council is that underneath their stuffiness they seek Bolton’s outcome.
Neither option, be it Bolton nor the America exceptionalists, will do. Trump must abide by his instincts and launch a new foreign policy based on realism and not use the moral imperialism of the establishment nor the smash and grab unilateralist.
A comprehensive formulation needs to be placed on the table by the president.