Peace or a pause
Donald Trump saw an off-ramp on the road to war, and he took it. After U.S. forces in Iraq emerged casualty-free from an Iranian missile attack, the president spoke to the nation and said, "Iran appears to be standing down." Meaning he didn't have to shoot back after adjusting his red line against any Iranian strike.
But along with relief, there was realization that long-term tensions aren't going away. Solutions that would satisfy Trump — whose abandonment of a nuclear deal with Tehran has been followed by steadily worsening relations — appear to be as elusive as ever.
Trump on Wednesday promised even tighter economic sanctions against Tehran, continuing a "maximum pressure" campaign, “until Iran changes its behavior.” In the years since that effort began, Iran's behavior in the region has grown only more aggressive.
In his speech from the White House, Trump began with the vow: "As long as I am President of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon." But Iran in recent days announced it would be throwing off more constraints from the accord.
Calling that nuclear deal a "foolish" legacy of Barack Obama's administration, Trump said other countries who remain in the agreement — the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China — should see things his way. But his friend Boris Johnson said in London that the 2015 pact remains "the best way of preventing nuclear proliferation in Iran, the best way of encouraging the Iranians not to develop a nuclear weapon.”
Trump said NATO should get more involved in the Middle East, though he didn't explain how. It could be a tough ask, given that Trump didn't consult with allies before ordering the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, blindsided them by suddenly withdrawing U.S. forces from northeastern Syria in October and has voiced more criticism than support for the alliance.
Don't ask, won't tell
Trump had a solid line of GOP support behind him on his Iran decisions Wednesday morning after both countries pulled back from the brink. Cracks formed after members of Congress attended classified briefings in the afternoon.
Sen. Mike Lee, a conservative Utah Republican hoping to hear "the legal, factual and moral justification for the attack" that killed an Iranian general, was so mad that he said he'll join Democrats supporting a war powers resolution.
"It was probably the worst briefing I've seen at least on a military issue in the nine years I've served in the United States Senate," Lee said. He called it "insulting" to senators and the Constitution to be scolded by administration officials not to debate the merits of taking military action. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also recoiled, vowing, "We are not abdicating our duty."
Most Republicans who spoke after the briefings said they were satisfied. Democrats were not. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said he was "utterly unpersuaded about any evidence about the imminence of a threat that was new or compelling." Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he didn't hear "a plan, a satisfying plan, for the future."
Janison: Will all's well end well?
The best news the morning after Trump's "all is well" tweet was that we're not headed into a full-scale war with Iran, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. This may yet be Trump's best pitch for reelection, alongside the economy.
The two terminations of terror masterminds — the first one was ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — could well get the president by on the tough-creds front while he talks about peace through might.
Still, the road ahead with Iran is foggy. Clearer is that Trump used his stage for exaggerated partisan attacks and self-puffery. There's one win he's always going after: the 24-hour news cycle.
Did Iran really miss on purpose?
While some Trump administration officials believed Iran deliberately aimed their missiles in a way to spare U.S. forces from casualties while sending a loud message, the nation's top uniformed military officer said he isn't buying it.
"I believe based on what I saw and what I know that they were intended to cause structural damage, destroy vehicles and equipment and aircraft — and to kill personnel. That's my own personal assessment," Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Wednesday.
Milley argued that the reason no one got hurt had "more to do with the defensive techniques that our forces used, as opposed to intent."
Senate Dems impatient with Pelosi
With Mitch McConnell refusing to make concessions, more Senate Democrats are urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to send over the impeachment articles so a trial can get going.
“I respect the fact that she is concerned about the fact about whether or not there will be a fair trial. But I do think it is time to get on with it,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). House Democrats remain behind Pelosi's holdout, Politico reported.
McConnell, the Senate majority leader, rebuffed Pelosi's demands for him to spell out trial procedures. “The Senate will address all these questions at the appropriate time. And that is for the Senate, and the Senate only, to decide. Period,” McConnell said.
Who was Nawres Hamid?
The latest cycle of attacks and reprisals in Iraq began on Dec. 27 when an Iranian-backed militia fired rockets at a U.S. military base in northern Iraq, killing an American contractor. Even as Trump moved to avenge him, he didn't name him.
The victim was Nawres Hamid, 33, a native of Iraq who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2017, according to his widow. He was back in Iraq as an Arabic interpreter for U.S. forces. Hamid was buried Saturday at a Muslim cemetery in Sacramento, California.
What else is happening:
- A Reuters Ipsos poll taken Monday and Tuesday — before the bloodless Iranian attack on U.S. bases in Iraq and the subsequent stand-down — found Americans disapproved of Trump's handling of Iran by 53% to 39%. The negative response was up 9 points from December.
- A 32-nation survey by the Pew Research Center found 64% of respondents lacked confidence in Trump to do the right thing in foreign affairs, compared with 29% who were more trusting. Trump's highest approval came from Israel, Ukraine, Poland, Nigeria, Kenya, the Philippines and India. His worst results were from Mexico and Western European countries.
- What's the take of Long Island's congressional delegation on Trump's Iran moves? See Scott Eidler's summary for Newsday.
- Joe Biden is pushing his record favoring gun control in new digital ads in Iowa, BuzzFeed reports.
- Elizabeth Warren's efforts to appeal to both the left and the center of the Democratic Party is generating backlash from both factions, The New York Times reports. She's also facing doubts about her ability to beat Trump.
- The Trump administration is seeking to delay a Democratic effort to get at how much the Secret Service spends protecting the president and his family when they travel, The Washington Post reported. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wants to wait until after the 2020 election. During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised to “rarely leave the White House” and cut back on travel.