The New York Times is crowing that President Trump is apparently indecisive, if not downright schizophrenic, in deciding how to respond to Iran shooting down a U.S. Navy surveillance drone in the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz on Wednesday. We are to believe the commander in chief ordered an attack, then abruptly belayed that order – hopelessly torn, presumably, between pleasing MAGA Country and appeasing hawkish National Security Adviser John Bolton.
Thankfully, the executive branch of the federal government is still able to maintain secrecy in conducting defense policy, and the actual deliberations on which options the president is considering probably remain unknown to the nation’s self-styled newspaper of record. It is likely Trump will answer the Iranian attack “in a way and at an hour of our choosing,” to quote President George W. Bush shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Both Tehran’s attack and the coming American response are actually of greatest import to actors who are off this particular stage. The attack served as a message directed at the other signatories of the Obama nuclear deal with Iran, that they had better succeed in their feverish efforts to find a way around Trump’s intensified economic sanctions on Iran or there might be a war, the scale and upshot of which will be of unpredictable nature.
As retired four-star Army Gen. Jack Keane told Fox News, Iran’s aggressive activity is “escalating because they want our allies to put pressure on this administration to tone down the sanctions,” which are “having a devastating effect inside Iran, internally.”
On the other hand, Trump’s impending response – or non-response, as the case may be – will send a loud signal to North Korea and China about whether America retains the will to react decisively to aggression, especially after two Mideast wars that the U.S. seemed not to know how to win with any finality.
Much of the American public is, if not war-weary, war-wary. And North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and Chinese ruler Xi Jinping both appreciate the disturbing truth noted by Jean-François Revel in his 1983 book “How Democracies Perish”: “Democracy tends to ignore, even deny, threats to its existence because it loathes doing what is needed to counter them. It awakens only when the danger becomes deadly, imminent, evident. By then, either there is too little time left for it to save itself, or the price of survival has become crushingly high.”
An Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps surface-to-air missile taking out a U.S. drone might not be a threat to the free world’s existence. But the mullahs’ Islamist rule has been a deadly menace for four decades now, and the U.S. withdrawing from the Middle East would be a big step toward telling Beijing and Pyongyang that 21st century democracies, under the American leadership established with victory in World War II, are in long-term decay that expansionist tyrannies can exploit in the decades immediately ahead.
Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) spelled it out very plainly on Thursday, warning that if the Iranians “do anything else against an American asset” and Trump “doesn’t respond like Ronald Reagan, then that’s the signal to North Korea and the entire world that we’re all talk.”
The American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin argues “it is essential to maintain the pressure on Iran without playing into the hands of a regime that may want conflict. Let’s hope President Donald Trump is wise enough to allow his ‘maximum pressure campaign’ to work without giving authorities in Tehran either a diplomatic out or resorting to military force that will backfire in the long-term.”
Sometimes severe economic pressure, the equivalent of a blockade, can be as effective as bombs. But whatever Trump does, Kim and Xi are watching.
— Written by Thomas McArdle
Issues & Insights is a new site formed by the seasoned journalists behind the legendary IBD Editorials page. We’re just getting started, and we’ll be adding new features as time permits. We’re doing this on a voluntary basis because we believe the nation needs the kind of cogent, rational, data-driven, fact-based commentary that we can provide.
Be sure to tell all your friends! And if you’d like to make a contribution to support our effort, feel free to click the Tip Jar over on the right sidebar.