President Donald Trump’s address to the nation on Wednesday had the effect of easing the tension between the United States and Iran, and that’s a good thing. Even so, the performance struck us as strange even by Trump standards.
After entering the room through an eerie blue backlight, Trump began by saying “As long as I am president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.” He then said, “Good morning.”
Iran launched 22 rockets at an American base in Iraq on Tuesday, a retaliation for a drone strike the killed the country’s highest ranking general, but no casualties resulted and Trump declined to retaliate in turn and said Iran is “standing down.” That was enough to send the stock markets back up and bring sighs of relief in capitals around the world, but the triumphal tone is probably premature.
Iran still has plenty of asymmetrical ways to strike at the United States, and has long proved willing to use them. Since Trump withdrew America from an imperfect deal to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions the Iran regime has announced it no longer feels obliged to uphold its end of the bargain and is once again spinning centrifuges, and Trump doesn’t seem close to striking the perfect deal he promised. The six European allies who helped America with that imperfect deal are openly displeased with Trump for pulling out, among other things, and Trump hasn’t shown a knack for forging international coalitions.
There’s still some confusion about America’s standing in Iraq, as the government there has asked us to leave, and Trump is refusing to do so unless they pay for a base America built there after what Trump has said was an unjustified invasion of their sovereign territory, even as he continues to promise a retreat from the Middle East while increasing our troop levels there. He’s backed off from his threat to bomb Iran’s most important cultural sites, a war crime that civilized countries simply don’t commit, but he’ll probably continue to say things like that.
We’re assured that Trump is a very stable genius who is playing out brilliant geopolitical strategy, but we didn’t find the speech reassuring. Despite reading from a teleprompter scrip that clearly had been written in part by more restrained foreign policy and better wordsmiths, Trump still digressed from the topic at hand to claim complete credit for America’s healthy economy and take a gratuitous and not entirely accurate swipe at President Barack Obama. He audibly sniffed 58 times according to one count, he stumbled over such hard-to-pronounce words as “tolerate,” and noticeably several others. At no point did he explain how he’ll back up his opening boast that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon.
Congress will vote today on a resolution to restrict Trump’s foreign policy powers, and it looks like it will get a few Republican votes, which will further complicate things.
He refrained from any provocative playground taunts, on the other hand, so for now we’ll give him credit for that and hope for the best.
— Bud Norman