Wall Street Journal

Pompeo Explains the Iran Policy

Ravenel B. Curry III Distinguished Fellow in Strategy and Statesmanship

Last year’s conventional wisdom was that when it came to Iran, President Trump was all bark and no bite. His aversion to war, especially in the Middle East, was so great that his bluster and threats could be disregarded. That impression solidified after he ordered Iran-bound American planes to turn back last June from their mission to retaliate for Iran’s destruction of a U.S. drone. It seemed incontrovertible when there was no military response to Iran’s attacks on Saudi oil refineries in September.

But last week’s U.S. drone strike destroyed the theory along with Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. As always, media “analysis” shifted immediately, from Mr. Trump as cowardly ditherer to Mr. Trump as implacable warmonger, and either way a clueless toddler acting at random.

Both takes on Mr. Trump’s Iran policy miss some critical factors. The first is that he never forgets his foreign policy must make sense to his Jacksonian base. These voters reject “endless wars” but also believe the U.S. should respond to attacks on Americans. From the standpoint of his base, Mr. Trump’s refusal to be drawn into premature responses to the drone and refinery attacks demonstrated patience and restraint. By responding with military force to planned attacks on American personnel and diplomats, he demonstrated courage and resolve. His base will brush off any accidents along the way—such as mistaken withdrawal announcements—as part of the Trump experience. As for whether the assassination of Soleimani was permissible under international law, Mr. Trump’s base doesn’t care.

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