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Trump Needs a Confrontation With Iran but Not Too Big

Trump Needs a Confrontation With Iran but Not Too Big

Wednesday, 15 January, 2020 - 15:15
Robert Ford
Robert Ford is a former US ambassador to Syria and Algeria and a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute for Near East Policy in Washington

As the world watches the Trump administration’s confrontation with the Iranian government, the American government and the American public are deeply divided. The president of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and the leader of the Democrats in the Senate Charles Schumer have both criticized Trump for risking a war with Iran. The Democratic Party candidates who hope to compete against Trump in the presidential election next November all criticized the lack of consultation with Congress before the airstrike that killed Qassem Soleimani. They accuse the President of a hasty decision without thinking about the future repercussions. The Democratic Party wants Congress to exert its authority over a president decision to start an any official war with Iran. The Democrats in the House of Representatives plan a vote on a resolution this week that would limit the President’s authority to conduct military operations against Iran. The Democratic Party has a big challenge. No American would defend Qassem Soleimani or the Iranian government; a large majority of Americans if they know anything about Iran know that it is an adversary of the United States. The Democrats aim to criticize the President without defending Iran. And the Democrats, like the big majority of Americans, want the safety of the American soldiers in the field of battle. Therefore, the Democratic Party must be careful in order not to give Trump the opportunity to blame them for tying his hands and saving the lives of soldiers.

The Republican Party until now doesn’t have this problem. According to an opinion poll published January 8 in the well-informed Politico news, 85 percent of Republican voters support the President’s decision to kill Qassem Soleimani. Republican Party leaders in Washington are defending Trump, and they emphasize that Iran killed six hundred soldiers during the Iraq war and that Soleimani would have killed more Americans sooner or later. Most of the Republican Party members in Congress reject any limit on Trump’s authorities in military affairs.

Through all of American history, there has been competition for power between the Presidency and Congress. But there are two issues which make the political debate now especially serious, and they will affect how the American government responds to challenges from Iran. First, most Americans do not want to enter another big war in the Middle East. After Mike Pompeo said killing Soleimani had made Americans safer, the Politico opinion poll showed only 32 percent of Americans agreed. About half of the Americans in the poll believed killing Soleimani had made Americans less safe. 69 percent worry that a war with Iran is more likely. The FOX network personality Tucker Carlson – who is a kind of television personality like Faisal al-Qassimi – usually supports President Trump on issues like immigration and the economy. However, he told his big television audience that he fears that America is slowly sliding into a new war in the Middle East. In addition, Republican Senator Rand Paul regretted that killing Soleimani was an act that ended the possibility of a diplomatic solution to the confrontation with Iran. Trump’s political base is a minority in the United States, and if he loses part of his base because of prolonged fighting in the Middle East, his chances in the November election diminish. Therefore, there will not be another big ground invasion like 2003. Trump on January 8 stressed he doesn’t want war with Iran.

Trump is thinking about another war – the war in Washington. The House of Representatives last month approved charges about the abuse of power against President Trump. The trial in the Senate will begin soon.

According to the American Constitution, in order to remove the president two-thirds of the 100 members of the Senate must vote in favor of the removal decision. The Democrats have only 48 members, and therefore they would need 19 Republican senators to reach the two-thirds required. This is almost impossible to imagine, and therefore Trump will survive. However, the television and social media will focus on the Senate trial and public attention cannot help Trump as the November election approaches. How will Trump respond? Opinion polls show the Democratic candidates have more support than he does until now. He thinks that his political interest is to appear tough against Iran and terrorism and to blame the Democratic Party as being weak. Will Trump take additional military steps to deter Iran to try to improve his political position before November? Trump did mention any concessions to Iran in his January 8 comments. We are in the same place with the Iran confrontation that we were in on December 26.

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