Washington is on edge this morning after congressional leaders were briefed on a strike on Iran and the military deployed assets for the pre-dawn attack only to have President Donald Trump rescind the order. Democrats briefed on the attack urged Trump to deescalate and he appears to have heeded such calls, not only from congressional leaders but some in his own Administration. Frankly, the decision to pull back is reassuring for many who felt like there was an orchestrated effort to push the U.S. into a war with Iran — a war reportedly encouraged by allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia.
I have never hid my disinclination for such attacks or my view that presidents (and Congress) routinely ignore the constitutional requirements for declared wars. I continue to view economics, not military force, as the primary driving force for change in the world. That may be a bias from my time at University of Chicago but I believe that our wars, particularly in the Middle East, have shown a poor record of success while costing us trillions as well as thousands of dead soldiers, sailors, and airmen. In this case, it would seem that the placement of the mines and the targeting of an unmanned aircraft were designed to control possible damage and loss of life. That does not mean that the United States should not respond. However, I am leery of using military force in the region with no long-term plan other than the desire of some for a long-awaited war with Iran.
One of my hopes was that, as a businessman, Trump would not be so keen as some like John Bolton to see war as a viable avenue for global political influence. There are reports that Trump gave Iran a prior warning of the attack and sought a dialogue as an alternative to war. Trump reportedly canceled the operation when the estimate of projected deaths rose to 150.
The attack was reportedly designed to minimize Iranian deaths by hitting installations in the early hours. Media is reporting that on Thursday night, the military was moving forward with the attack deployments of planes and ships in position when Trump rescinded the order.
The response to the shooting down of the unmanned, $130 million surveillance drone risked touching off a powder keg in the area and possible closing the key Strait of Hormuz to shipping.
The media has reported that National Security Adviser John Bolton (a long advocate of military force and proponent for confrontation with Iran) was supportive of the strike. CIA Director Gina Haspel also supported a strike according to these reports. However, Pentagon officials reportedly voiced their concerns that we could easily find ourselves in a full-fledged war that could escalate out of control.