drew50_SAUL LOEBAFP via Getty Images_trump Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Trump’s Near Miss with Iran

The drone strike that killed Qassem Suleimani not only brought the US and Iran to the brink of war; it exposed for all to see the disarray of US foreign policymaking under President Donald Trump. A majority of Americans think the episode has left the US less safe, and the incompetence displayed by Trump's team suggests they may be right.

WASHINGTON, DC – The recent tense, dangerous exchanges between the United States and Iran have revealed a great deal about US President Donald Trump’s management of his foreign policy. The main conclusion is that he doesn’t have one. Weighty decisions are made on the basis of gut reactions and often-contradictory impulses – for example, simultaneously seeking agreement and threatening the use of force. If there is any overarching vision or philosophy, it is that he wants to avoid another long, costly war. And yet he almost blundered into one anyway.

When he campaigned for president, Trump promised to bring US troops home. He has sometimes declined to respond to provocations, particularly by Iran-backed groups around the Middle East. This lulled the Iranians – and almost everyone else – into thinking that he would continue to turn the other cheek. Eventually, some on the right wing of his Republican Party, and, most important, Fox News commentators, were calling him weak. This is a dangerous thing to say about Trump: his presidency shows why an insecure person should not be elected to that office.

Another characteristic of Trump’s conduct of foreign policy is that he is currently surrounded by a coterie of mediocrities. There is not a far-ranging mind, creative strategic thinker, or independent spirit among them. Trump is now on his fourth national security adviser in three years, his second secretary of defense, and second secretary of state; numerous other key foreign-policy jobs remain open. The lesson for others is clear: the only way to last with Trump is not to challenge him. This expectation of blind deference is all the more problematic when the president knows little and lacks curiosity.

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