As Iran Girds for possible war with the United States, President Trump may prove to be the best friend it has.
Despite the saber rattling of senior aides and Trump's own tweets when the push has come to push the last two years, the president has repeatedly relied on the threatened use of military force.
Whether the goal has been North Korea, with which warnings of "fire and rage" have become little more than an exchange of "beautiful" letters between Trump and Kim Jong Un or Venezuela, where the threat of "all possibilities" has not disturbed status quo, the president has flashed. With Iran, the shipment of a US airline and a bomber force and reported plans to deploy 120,000 troops quickly followed by Trump's insistence that he would only speak to Iranian leaders.
Trump has said there is no inconsistency in his administration's messaging, but the picture of incoherence may be useful. "Iran at least does not know what to think, which at this point can be a good thing!" he tweeted Friday .
But as he moves deeper into the second half of his Trump's credibility has been resolved and his options are narrowed.
"If you make threats and then people decide that you will not follow through if you are looking for the reaction and you stop getting the reaction, the possibilities are either to create greater threats or to stop going down that way at all, "said Jon B. Alterman, Middle East Program Director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"Credibility is a tough thing for a president to sustain," Alterman said.
Iran, which has said it does not want war but is ready for it, has reacted with its own taunts and bellicose rhetoric.
"With B Team doing a thing & @realDonaldTrump says another thing, it's appa Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif tweeted Friday in response to Trump. Zarif often refers to the White House, National Security Advisor John Bolton as the leader of the "B team" or simply "the mustache." "Zarif wrote. In 1953, the CIA orchestrated the reign of a elected leftist government in Tehran, which strengthens the US-backed monarchy, which itself was wiped out in 1979 by Iran's current presidential rulers.
The administration sees Iran as now in the wake of Destructive sanctions, its oil revenues are being reduced effectively and close to economic and political collapse, but Iran has been strengthened by the success of its recent efforts to expand its powers in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The Middle East, when Trump seeks to retreat and regional powers seek closer ties with other world powers, especially Russia and China. "" The Americans are unwilling and unable to do military action against us. . . and their unwillingness stems from their inability, "Brig. Hossein Dehghan, a military aid to chief executive Ali Khamenei, said last week, according to the Iranian Fars News Agency.
Trump has clearly benefited from his campaign law to cancel international agreements and destroy what he has called "unfair" trade deals and repair tattered US relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia, but his desire to retreat from expensive wars and avoid new ones has often occurred contrary to the bombastic rhetoric coming from him and his supporters – mainly Bolton and State Secretary Mike Pompeo – and have forced both Allies and opponents to divine which of Trump's instincts will prevail.
It has been particularly problematic for Iran. Last week's administration sent an airline and bomber to it Persian Gulf in response to what it has said that intelligence shows that Iran and its proxies in the region are preparing there were attacks on US forces and their allies.
Few in the region doubt that Iran was behind the sabotage, blowing holes in the hull of two Saudi tankers and a Norwegian ship in the Persian Gulf on Sunday. But "it was very well designed not to justify a violent reaction," said Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs in Beirut. "The goal was to test US decision to use power."
"They're calculating [Trump] won't risk a prolonged or full-scale war," Nader said. "We'll see more events and they can go out of control."
The European Allies, who agree with the administration's assessment of Iran's expansionist goals, but still are coping with Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear circle last year, have been skeptical of the intelligence and worry about the possibility of miscalculation. "I personally believe that the US President will not go to war. But that is not the problem," said a senior European diplomat whose government was briefed by Pompeo this week. "The problem is that at some point the situation may become so volatile and so unstable that it's inevitable."
Republican lawmakers have complained that the administration has not informed them of the reasons for the deployment while the Democrats have suggested the intelligence has been exaggerated to justify an attack on Iran demanded by Bolton.
"When we try to sense the tensions in Persian Gulf, we must not forget that 16 years ago, the United States went to war in Iraq on the basis of distorted and wildly represented intelligence, said Rep. Eliot L. Engel (DN. Y.) in a statement Wednesday. "It must never be allowed to happen again."
In a briefing Thursday for a small group of journalists, the senior administration offered a marvelous explanation and said their goal was not to start a war. but to prevent Iran from acting in response to the intensifying pressure of US sanctions.
Trump has expressed frustration with Bolton and fun for him and other assistants that "we would be at war everywhere if it were up to this guy ", according to a senior official who has heard the comments Trump has often told advisers that he does not want to send a single extra squad anywhere.
He has allowed Bolton, who issued the original White House statement that announced a t warships were on their way to take the lead in threatening Tehran. Just days later, Trump told reporters that Iran had "great potential." As North Korea, he said, Iranian leaders should "call me up and put me" so "we can make an appointment."
Asked Thursday If the two countries were heading for war, Trump said, "I hope not."
When concerns about rising tensions with Iran have risen this month, the president has strongly denied any daylight between him and Bolton. Media accounts on "action in relation to my strong Middle East policy" are "False News," he tweeted this week. "Different opinions are expressed and I make a decisive and final decision – it's a very simple process."
Trump rejects privacy concerns in the Middle East, White House officials and informal advisors say that nothing good comes from being involved.
As he has repeatedly described it, his goal is to have a "hard" and "strong" military that doesn't have to do anything – and to use rhetoric that scares people. At a 70-minute meeting Wednesday with surrogates often appearing on television to get him back, Trump concentrated on China and immigration. He never mentioned Iran.
Rep. Peter T. King, a New York Republican and Trump ally, said there was a plan behind the apparent confusion. "His strategy is to shake things up with Iran and also say he won't go to war," King said. Trump, King said Friday, is "a good policeman and a bad policeman. We'll see if it works. I don't think we'll end up in war."
The president added, "is verbally aggressive and loves sanctions. "It may make them more conciliatory. It may not work, but I think people shouldn't anticipate it. We'll see in a year."
Sly reported from Beirut.