After the United States killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and Iran responded by launching missiles at U.S. military bases in Iraq, what would President Donald Trump do? We were as unsettled as anyone at the prospect of Trump exacerbating dangers by letting his ego and emotions rule.
That didn’t happen — at least not immediately. In a televised address Wednesday the president sensibly signaled that the current military confrontation could be over.
Trump sounded tough on Iran over its nuclear ambitions, but he replaced, or at least supplemented, threats of further U.S. military action with something we rarely hear from him: the steadying language of diplomacy. Trump said Iran appeared to be standing down, that he didn’t want to order the U.S. back into battle and that he wanted Europe’s help, and NATO’s participation, in an effort to draw Iran back into negotiations over its nuke and ballistic missile programs. Trump said he wants a deal “that allows Iran to thrive and prosper and take advantage of its enormous untapped potential.”
Those would be prudent moves by any U.S. president who has the world’s most powerful armed forces at his disposal but is focused on giving an adversary the opportunity to de-escalate. “We do not want to use it,” Trump said of America’s military might. “American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent.”
This provides Trump with a window of opportunity to rally U.S. allies to his side in order to restart the difficult process of negotiating a broader international nuclear deal with Iran. That deal also should address Iran’s support for terrorist groups and its ballistic missile program.
Trump would put himself in a much stronger position if he could coax the United Kingdom, Germany and France to join him. Maybe European leaders heard enough from Trump on Wednesday to further engage. In his speech, the president made a pitch for international cooperation, including seeking NATO involvement. That could help lower tensions in Iraq, where Shiite politicians want to evict America’s military.
The long-running standoff with Iran is by no means over. Trump kicked up some new dirt by declaring Iran would never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon on his watch; he doesn’t want to tolerate yet another North Korea. Trump also promised to impose additional economic sanctions on Iran. If the mullahs in Tehran feel backed into a corner, they could lash out. If Trump feels emboldened, or sees a potential political advantage at home, he could ratchet up tensions again.
This president is not temperamentally suited for the delicate art of diplomacy. On Wednesday, though, he delivered.
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