The world had a hair-raising night. A raid on Iran was ready to be launched, the weapons loaded, the objectives identified. It was all systems go, then Trump recalled his generals and asked about the likely death toll: 150. A disproportionate response to the shooting down of an unmanned drone, the president thought. And called the whole thing off.

Trump recounted the backstory, but the New York Times offered a more detailed account of how top US security officials were assembled by National Security Advisor John Bolton at 7 a.m. Thursday morning to decide how to respond to Iran’s shooting down of the drone.

The Bolton option

Present were Patrick Shanahan, outgoing Defence Secretary Mark Esper, his replacement Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

It was decided to give the president several military options. And, at the next meeting with Trump, described as “particularly tense”, one was chosen. Probably a compromise between Bolton’s sabre-rattling and Dunford’s scepticism, as he tried to warn of the dangers of this step.

Apparently Pompeo also attempted to back out. Usually under Bolton’s thumb,  he is however less belligerant than the Security Advisor. He therefore tried to magnify the effect sanctions are achieving, noting that intervention could nullify their success.

The obscure heroes

Despite the reluctance, Bolton had won. And yet when everything was ready, Trump recalled the generals and asked about the likely casualty count. In reality, according to the reconstruction by the NYT, the president turned not to his generals but to an obscure lawyer, one of the many he retains for private consultations.

The name of this obscure hero who saved the world is Pat Cipollone. He is worth mentioning, because it is heartening to imagine the most powerful circle in the world, maddened by the scent of blood, being stopped by this unknown attorney.

In reality, many of the president’s councillors were probably putting the brakes on. Mystery still shrouds the actual decision-making process. The president habitually draws on a varied circle of his own advisors. So the question addressed to Cipollone may well have been a simple tactic to “circumvent Bolton”, wrote the NYT.

In the decision, Tucker Carlson, host of Fox News –Trump’s most ardent sponsors – seems to have played a decisive part, as he described a raid against Iran as “crazy”.

The NYT reports that Trump called off the attack and then tuned in to Fox News to hear Carlson lavishing praise on his wise decision. This happened before the White House announced its decision and suggests that the two had somehow been in touch.

Iran, secret convergences

But Trump also seems to have been restrained by some confidential information, confirming his previous statement that the attack on the drone was not ordered by the Iranian authorities who were in actual fact “furious” with those responsible.

It seems that the most enraged was the head of the Revolutionary Guards, General Qassim Suleimani.

This detail, together with Trump’s reluctance to take Iranian lives, revealed a secret harmony in Tehran’s statement yesterday. It said that, along with the drone, it could also have shot down a military plane with 35 passengers accompanying it but stayed its hand.

Beyond the reconstruction of a difficult day, which will not be the last, there was interest in the Pentagon’s denial of a message sent to Tehran in which Iran was told to engage in dialogue to avoid an imminent attack. Already denied by the Iranians, the fake news was intended to rack up tension. This convergent denial indicates a further secret harmony.

USA: bipartisan relief

Of interest is an article in the Washington Post that reports the “relief” of Republicans and Democrats, “including some hard-right Trump allies and hard left Democrats,” at Trump’s second thoughts.

Of course, the warmongers are still strong, but opposition  is digging in. Statements by Ocasio Cortez, a Democrat activist, are also interesting. She urged the Democrats to “help Trump out of this crisis.

Given that, as the NYT warns, the struggle to influence Trump “is far from over”, the battle to limit the president’s war powers being waged in Congress is crucial.

  1. Today Jean Carroll, former journalist with Elle magazine, accused Trump of raping her in the mid-90s. The timing is suspect. The president issued a denial.

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