Dear Commons Community,
President Donald Trump said he prevented the deaths of 150 Iranians Thursday night when he cancelled a missile strike on Iran. A good decision but details are emerging that raise questions about why he only learned how many people would die in his planned missile strike minutes before it was to happen. Even Trump friendly Fox News analysts Chris Wallace and Shep Smith questioned Trump’s explanation.
“Something’s wrong there,” Smith said of Trump’s version of events.
“I talked to a former top national security official in an earlier Republican administration who says this just doesn’t add up,” he noted.
“The president would have been fully briefed by the generals as to, if you hit target A, here are the dangers, or here is the possible collateral damage. So the idea that the president, ten minutes before the actual go, and again, The New York Times is reporting that the ships were in place, that the war planes were in the air, that ten minutes before you’re learning for the first time that there were going to be 150 casualties, seems pretty unlikely and certainly not the way it’s been done in the past.”
Smith said later in the segment that Trump’s explanation “just doesn’t make sense.”
“It doesn’t hold together,” said Wallace. “In a sense, maybe that’s the biggest problem. You can argue if you don’t want to strike, don’t strike. If you want to strike, do strike. But don’t send mixed messages that confuse not only your enemies but even your allies and people here in this country, as to what you’re going to do.”
Colin Kahl, who served as national security adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden, laid out the presentation a president would normally receive.
“Look Mr. President, these are the targets we plan to hit, this is how we plan to go after it, these are the forces we have in play, this is the time of day we’re going to do it, this is what we anticipate the damage to be, the number of casualties, we’re going to do it at night so that we kill fewer people, we’re going to make sure it’s military focused,” Kahl said. “That will all be there, right in the targeting package that they put right in front of the president.”
“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General,” Trump wrote. “10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”
In an interview with NBC News shortly afterward, Trump elaborated.
“I said, How many people are going to be killed?” Trump told NBC News, before speaking in the voice of a military officer. “‘Uh, sir, I’d like to get back to you on that.’ Great people, these generals. They said, uh, they came back and said, ‘Sir, approximately 150.’ And I thought about it for a second and I said, you know what? They shot down an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it, and here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said go ahead. And I didn’t like it. I didn’t think it was proportionate.”
Neither the tweets nor the television interview, however, offer any insight into why Trump claims he did not find out about the casualty estimate until just minutes before the strike was to commence.
One senior administration official, on condition of anonymity, instead answered: “There was complete unanimity amongst the president’s advisers and DoD leadership on an appropriate response to Iran’s activities. The president made the final decision.” The official did not respond to follow-ups on the original question.
However, Ned Price, a former CIA analyst and the NSC spokesman under former President Barack Obama, said Trump really might not have received such information if his briefings were conducted by his national security adviser, John Bolton, who has viewed Iran as an implacable enemy for decades.
“We’re seeing the danger of this dynamic potentially come to life,” Price said. “Trump is receiving filtered information from John Bolton, perhaps the most hawkish voice in the administration, who may well be omitting details that are entirely fundamental to the cost-benefit analysis.”
Kahl, though, said Trump’s version of the story is highly suspect to begin with, simply because of who Trump is.
“Can any of us take at face value Trump’s portrayal of events?” he asked. “We don’t even know what the real story is. We have a president who basically runs the same play over and over again, which is: He lights everything on fire and then he pretends to put the fire out and take credit for it.”
“But we have no idea whether he actually authorized the strike, or if he did, why he pulled it back,” Kahl added.