Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday June 25, 2019
Will Iran get the North Korean treatment from Trump?
The Trump administration ratcheted up tensions with Iran last week, blaming the Islamic Republic for attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and for shooting down an unmanned American drone in what America claims were international waters. (Iran denied responsibility for the tanker attacks and claimed the drone overflew its territorial waters.) The administration was prepared to launch a series of strikes on Thursday, before the president called them off at the last minute.
Why the sudden reversal? Trump claims that he found out on the brink of giving the go-ahead that the casualty estimate for the strikes was as high as 150 people, which he — rightly — considered disproportionate to the Iranian offense (which caused no casualties). Others have noted that Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, one of Trump’s favorite talking heads, has been whispering in the president’s ear, warning him away from his hawkish advisors and from starting a shooting war with Iran. Perhaps he deserves the credit for moderating the president’s stance?
Either or both explanation may be correct. But I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve seen this movie before.
In his first year in office, Trump promised “fire and fury” against North Korea, a rhetorical escalation that was met by similar threats from Pyongyang against American territory in Asia. Numerous observers were worried that America was on a path to a war. But after raising tensions, Trump dramatically dispelled them by agreeing to face-to-face talks with Kim Jong Un. Since their first summit, Trump has consistently touted his excellent personal relationship with the North Korean dictator and has responded insouciantly to both the failure of their talks to produce much of substance and to North Korea’s subsequent provocations.
Are we about to see a repeat performance, this time with Iran center stage?
It’s not impossible. During his presidential campaign, Trump expressed limited concern about Iran as a threat, arguing against his predecessor’s nuclear deal primarily on the grounds that it was too favorable to Iranian interests. (He later withdrew the U.S. from the agreement in his first year in office.) Now, in the wake of calling off the strike, Trump has repeatedly called for patience in dealing with Iran and expressed a willingness to enter into direct, face-to-face talks with the Iranian president without preconditions, something he has expressed an openness to in the past. He has also reiterated that his concern is about Iran’s nuclear capability, implicitly sidelining concerns about human rights that have rarely exercised this presidency but also Iran’s regional ambitions and support for terrorism. (The Week)