WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) — Speaking to the press on Thursday afternoon, following Iran’s downing of a US drone on Wednesday night, US President Donald Trump apparently sought to deescalate any conflict. A day of somewhat contradictory signals then seemed to end with Republican congressmen who met with Trump and his national security team suggesting there would be a “measured response.” However, late on Thursday, The New York Times reported that Trump had approved a limited strike on Iranian military targets, only to call it off at the last minute.
On Thursday morning, Trump sent out a brief, ominous-sounding tweet: “Iran made a very big mistake.”
Iran made a very big mistake!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 20, 2019
But when speaking to reporters at noon, just before meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump clarified his tweet in a way that seemed to diminish Iran’s responsibility, suggesting a military officer may have acted outside the chain of command.
“Probably, Iran made a mistake,” Trump said. “I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down.”
Trump continued, noting that the drone was unmanned and no American lives were lost. “We had nobody in the drone,” he said. “It would have made a big, big difference,” if we had.
Asked how he intended to respond, Trump replied, “You’ll find out.”
Trudeau, for his part, explained that Canada is “very concerned about the escalation by Iran,” adding, “We have significant presence in the area,” as Canada leads the NATO mission in Iraq.
Following the meeting between Trump and Trudeau, congressional leaders arrived at the White House at 3:00 pm for an hour-long classified briefing on Iran, which was also attended by senior national security figures, including the CIA Director, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is the top US military officer, the acting Defense Secretary, and the Secretary of State.
Afterwards, Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R, Kentucky) said that they had “a good briefing” and “the administration is engaged in what I would call measured responses.”
House Republican Leader, Kevin McCarthy (California), along with the top Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Armed Services committees, released a statement following the White House meeting that denounced Iran’s “provocation” and called for a “measured response” to the recent Iranian attacks.
The congressional reaction, however, split along party lines, with Democrats warning against unintended escalation. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, for example, warned against “bumbling into war,” as he called for a “robust open debate,” citing the run-up to the 2003 war in Iraq as an example to be avoided.
There was, however, a robust congressional debate then. Indeed, Sen. Barack Obama was one of a relatively small number of Congressmen to oppose that war, a decision that then featured prominently in his 2008 presidential campaign.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps used a surface to air missile to bring down the Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk drone. The drone carries a hefty price tag—over $100 million—and is a large aircraft, with a 130-foot wingspan, roughly the same as a Boeing 737. It is unarmed; moves slowly; and flies at very high altitudes—which is its basic protection.
“The fact that the Iranians were able to shoot [the drone] down shows that they have some pretty significant capabilities,” one expert told Time magazine, suggesting that US officials may have been taken unaware.
Although Tehran claimed it had downed the drone over its own territory, US officials were adamant that it had been brought down over international waters. The Pentagon even released a map of the drone’s flight path.
After speaking with Trump in the morning, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R, South Carolina) held an impromptu briefing with reporters and explained that the drone was, indeed, in international waters.
“We’ve been flying patterns like this for months,” he said. “We’re trying to collect intelligence to make informed decisions.”
Graham also revealed that when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Tehran last week, he brought a letter from Trump proposing negotiations. Iran not only rejected the letter, Graham said, but attacked a Japanese tanker while Abe was delivering that message.
Graham stressed the need to respond vigorously to Iran’s aggression. “If [the Iranians] do anything else against an American asset,” he said, “and this President doesn’t respond like Ronald Reagan, then that’s the signal to North Korea and the entire world that we’re all talk.”
I realize and appreciate the difficult decisions President @realDonaldTrump has to face regarding Iran’s multiple provocations.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) June 20, 2019
However, when it comes to the Middle East, people rightly talk about the “Cost of Action” but they seldom mention the “Cost of Inaction.”
Tweeting later that day, Graham warned, “When it comes to the Middle East, people rightly talk about the ‘Cost of Action’ but they seldom mention the ‘Cost of Inaction.’”
Speaking to Kurdistan 24, Col. Norvell DeAtkine, retired from the US Army, where he long taught the Middle East to Special Forces at Ft. Bragg, cautioned against too measured a US response.
“Of course, it should be measured to some extent,” DeAtkine said. But “we have to avoid getting into a tit-for-tat situation with Iran.” There should be an “immediate escalation,” he advised, and our response should be “something that really hurts.”
That, however, is not, apparently, what the administration had in mind. Trump “had initially approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets, like radar and missile batteries, The New York Times reported.
It seems that the congressional leadership was briefed on that plan, prompting their remarks about a “measured response.”
Yet Trump called it off in the following hours. “As late as 7 pm, military and diplomatic officials were expecting a strike,” the Times said. “The operation was underway in its early stages,” when Trump gave the word to stand down. “Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired.”
Of course, Trump retains the option to carry out the strike in coming days or to conduct some other retaliatory action. It is unclear what he will decide to do.
Editing by Nadia Riva