President Trump is in a precarious position. A war with Iran would alienate the many people who voted for him because they like his rhetoric on getting out of the Middle East. Not going to war will alienate many of his evangelical Christian following, who see war with Iran as moving the world closer to Biblical prophesies, and Trump’s good buddies Benjamin Netanyahu and Mohammad bin Salman. From Moon of Alabama at moonofalabama.com:
Last night U.S President Trump allegedly pulled back from a military strike against Iran after it had already been ordered.
That is the official story but there are doubts that it is true. The Iranian campaign of “maximum pressure” against Trump’s sanctions is still on. But there are first signs that it is successful.
The New York Times headlines: Trump Approves Strikes on Iran, but Then Abruptly Pulls Back
WASHINGTON — President Trump approved military strikes against Iran in retaliation for downing an American surveillance drone, but pulled back from launching them on Thursday night after a day of escalating tensions.As late as 7 p.m., military and diplomatic officials were expecting a strike, after intense discussions and debate at the White House among the president’s top national security officials and congressional leaders, according to multiple senior administration officials involved in or briefed on the deliberations.
Officials said the president had initially approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets, like radar and missile batteries.
The operation was underway in its early stages when it was called off, a senior administration official said. Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down, the official said.
The NYT story blames the hawks in the Trump administration, Bolton, Pompeo and CIA torture queen Gina Haspel, for arguing for a strike. The Pentagon and some congressional leaders are said to have been against it. The NYT report includes this curious paragraph:
Asked about the plans for a strike and the decision to hold back, the White House declined to comment, as did Pentagon officials. No government officials asked The New York Times to withhold the article.
The Associated Press has a similar story: US prepped for strikes on Iran before approval was withdrawn. The Washington Post and ABCNews also report along the same line. The White House is clearly pushing this version of the story.
But not everyone is buying the claim of a planned attack that was called back. Jeffrey Lewis, a scholar on international conflicts, remarks:
Jeffrey Lewis @ArmsControlWonk – 3:43 UTC – 21 Jun 2019I don’t buy this. Trump’s team is trying to have it both ways — acting restrained but talking tough. This is pretty much what Nixon did in 1969, too. Why not just admit that sometimes restraint is smart?
The @nytimes ran the same story Nixon in 1969. 🤷♂️ Nixon was not going to retaliate but he wanted people to think he almost did — and the Gray Lady obliged. —> Aides Say Nixon Weighed Swift Korea Reprisal
Elijah Magnier, a journalist with excellent sources in Tehran, also rejects the NYT claim. Pointing to the NYT story he remarks:
Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai – 4:02 UTC – 21 Jun 2019This is highly inaccurate and Iran “knew” about it yesterday: the US administration whispered this info for Trump to save his face.
I hinted to this info yesterday before it was released this morning by the US media. Iran – sources – rejected the “war-theatre scenario”. More details this evening.
Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai – 19:41 UTC – 20 Jun 2019I have very valuable information on US intel sending a message to the Iranians to agree on a certain scenario to happen.
This and much more information will force me to write an article tomorrow (hopefully) on #Iran and #US crisis.
After the drone shoot down the price of oil jumped 10%. Trump will have noticed that. He was also already warned by Iran that there is no room for talks and that any strike against it would have deadly consequences:
DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian officials told Reuters on Friday that Tehran had received a message from U.S. President Donald Trump through Oman overnight warning that a U.S. attack on Iran was imminent.
The second official said: “We made it clear that the leader is against any talks, but the message will be conveyed to him to make a decision … However, we told the Omani official that any attack against Iran will have regional and international consequences.”
The whole storyline of “a strike was ordered but Trump held back and saved the day” might well be fake.
When Trump spoke to the press yesterday afternoon he was already playing down the Iranian downing of a U.S. Global Hawk drone. As we wrote in the update to yesterday’s drone story:
Trump just held a press conference in the Oval Office. He seemed to play down (vid) the event. He empathized that the drone was unmanned. He said he had “a big, big feeling” that “someone made a mistake”, that “some Iranian general probably made a mistake”. That means that he does not accuse the government of Iran of the shoot down, but some lowly grunt who “might have made a mistake.”
That statement gives him room to avoid a large retaliation.
A strike in retaliation for the downed drone may have never been on the table. An alternative interpretation is that the U.S. sought agreement for a symbolic ‘strike’ from Iran. It would hit some empty desert place to allow Trump to save face. Iran would have disagreed with that plan.
But there are also signs that some strike was really in preparation:
𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝙄𝙣𝙩𝙚𝙡 𝘾𝙧𝙖𝙗 @IntelCrab – 3:26 UTC – 21 Jun 2019Not sure I have an opinion yet on this NYT piece, but I will say one thing…the HF traffic we’ve seen today is consistent with the assertion that at least SOME sort of strike package was authorized.
Unusual High Frequency radio traffic pointed to strike preparation, says the open source analyst IntelCrab.
There is also a different plausible explanation why an imminent strike might have been called back. From the Wall Street Journal:
Saudi Plant Struck by Missile, Apparently From Yemen
Senior U.S. officials called back to White House after desalination facility in kingdom hit
Senior officials from a range of U.S. government agencies were called back to the White House to meet Wednesday evening, the official said.“The President has been briefed on the reports of a missile strike in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday. “We are closely monitoring the situation and continuing to consult with our partners and allies.”
Colonel Turki al-Maliki, the spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition fighting Ansar Allah, confirmed the attack, saying a hostile projectile that had yet to be identified landed near the Al-Shuqaiq water desalination plant, but caused no casualties or damage. He added that it was another example of the rebels deliberately attacking civilian targets.
This must have come as a shock for the Saudis. Some 75% of the water the Saudis use comes from desalination plants. Their people will die of thirst when those get destroyed. Did the Saudi King call the White House and urge it to call off the strike against Iran because he feared for his water resources? Was this the real reason why the White House called back its advisors and canceled the strike?
The Houthi also launched an large attack on Jizan airport:
Brasco_Aad @Brasco_Aad – 18:17 UTC – 20 Jun 2019Mass Houthi drone attack on Jizan airport tonight.
Saudi witnesses are reporting significant damage in and around the airport.
Flights to Jizan were delayed after the reported strike.
The recent Houthi hits on Saudi Arabia are notable escalations in their quality and extent. The Houthi have obviously received new weapons. Their actions are part of the Iranian campaign to put “maximum pressure” on Trump. As Abdel Bari Atwan writes:
The US’ Israeli and Gulf allies have been exploiting Trump’s stupidity to try to drag him into a war against Iran on their behalf. The Iranians are trying to impress on him that any such war would incur an exorbitant cost on the US, and also on those allies – Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has warned that any war would not be confined to Iran but set the entire region ablaze.Even if there is no direct US attack, the Iranians will not simply sit back and wait to be starved into submission by Trump’s embargo and halting of their oil exports. That is another thing the US president does not understand. And he may never understand it until he sees the extent of their retaliation against his country’s forces, warships and bases, and his allies’ cities, airports, and power and desalination plants.
Trump wages an economic war on Iran through sanctions on everything Iran exports or imports. Iran is doing its best to to push back against this by creating incidents that are plausibly deniable but put Trump under maximum pressure. But there are now signs that Trump is finally getting that.
Yesterday evening Tucker Carlson, a FOX News host with a direct line to the White House, had two strong anti-war segments on his show (vid). In the second segment Carlson talks with retired army Colonel Douglas McGregor. Both argue for pulling back on sanctions. This was likely a preplanned exchange (at 9:56 min) designed to give Trump cover for his decision:
Carlson: Is there some good reason to maintain this level of sanctions against Iran? Are we getting something out of that?McGregor: Well, I think the idea was to destroy the Iranian economy to bring the nation to its knees. That is really not what we should be trying to do at this point. I think the president senses that there is now an opportunity for diplomacy, for a new approach to Iran that could deescalate this set of conditions and produce a positive outcome.
Look, this will ruin our economy if we engage Iran in a war. Iran will have instantly have support from around the world. They will be the victim of this “limited strike” that is being discussed. The limited strike idea is sheer insanity. It will provoke a war. Everyone, China, Russia, India, many European states will come to the aid of Iran. We will end up with a larger coalition of the willing against us, than we have seen in decades.
I think the president has figured this out. He’s got good instincts. But he needs to get rid of the warmongers. He needs to throw these geniuses and their limited strikes out of the Oval Office. The last thing the America First agenda needs is a stupid pointless unnecessary war with Iran and he knows that and he needs to act.
[Tucker Carlson agrees]
Trump may well want some diplomatic exchange with Iran. But Iran will not talk to him as long as the sanctions against it are kept in place. It will continue its maximum pressure campaign by creating new incidents that will again increase the price of oil. The easiest way out for Trump is to abolish sanctions against Iran. He at least should issue waivers for China and others to allow them to again buy Iranian oil.
Unless he does so Iran will hit again and again against those who press for war against it. Yesterday it was a U.S. drone and a Saudi desalination plant that were the targets. The next incident could be in some oil facility in the United Arab Emirates or a symbolic strike against Israel.
The ball is still in Trump’s court. He has to act further to avoid a larger war.