BOSTON (CBS) – Were you confused by President Trump’s statement Wednesday on the situation with Iran?
Join the club.
Mr. Trump offered plenty of tough talk about how Iran’s “campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer. It will not be allowed to forward.” But in the next breath, he’s calling on NATO to “become much more involved in the Middle East process.”
NATO! The military alliance Trump has repeatedly belittled, composed of allies he has antagonized.
Then came a riff on how he’s destroyed “100 percent of ISIS,” noting: “The destruction of ISIS is good for Iran. We should work together on this.” From Qasem Soleimani’s Wikipedia entry: “Soleimani played a key role in Iran’s fight against ISIS in Iraq. He is described as the ‘linchpin’ bringing together Kurdish and Shia forces to fight ISIS, overseeing joint operations conducted by the two groups.”
And of course, his opening line: “As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.” Then why did he rush to scrap the deal curbing their nuclear program, whose terms international monitors said Iran was complying with, a decision that appeared to spark the recent escalation of Iranian attacks?
Here’s former US Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns on Twitter after the speech:
Trump standing down the right decision. But what is the plan? His speech confusing on whether U.S. should contain Iran or seek regime change. If we’re confused Iran is too. In such a crisis, best that the adversary be crystal clear about our intentions+red lines. https://t.co/QDwzbQKeLT
— Nicholas Burns (@RNicholasBurns) January 8, 2020
If Ambassador Burns is baffled, so am I. Unless there’s a simple explanation: this speech and our recent actions have nothing to do with policy and everything to do with politics.
Haven’t we lived through enough “Wag the Dog” moments in recent decades – from the 1998 bombing of an alleged terrorist target in Sudan by President Clinton at the height of the Lewinsky scandal, to President George W. Bush’s sabre-rattling in the runup to the 2004 election – to know that it’s a real phenomenon? And Trump has scored some of his highest approval ratings over the years on his handling of the war on terror.
But maybe it’s the Trump campaign brain-trust that’s also confused. The first major poll since the strike on Soleimani, by Reuters/Ipsos, shows 53-percent disapproving of the president’s handling of Iran, a jump of nine points since mid-December. The 39-percent who strongly disapprove represents a jump of ten points over December.
“We’re confused” isn’t much of a campaign slogan, especially where American lives and war are involved. If those numbers hold up or get worse in the coming days, look for the tough-guy rhetoric to be dialed back.