Iran now presents Donald Trump with the first real-time crisis of his presidency, illustrated in stark terms Tuesday when Iran launched ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases hosting U.S. and Iraqi troops. And not surprisingly, he is handling it in a way that embodies all the worst elements of his management of national security issues. Unfortunately, Trump also seems to have abandoned one of the more positive aspects of his approach to foreign policy: a reluctance to get into new and unwinnable conflicts in the Middle East.
A major war with Iran is by no means inevitable. But the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani is a roll of the dice that just might take us there.
The external signs of crisis mismanagement are already apparent. The president’s threats against Iran have inflamed an Iranian public already at fever pitch against the United States. His promise — twice — to attack Iran’s cultural sites should it respond violently against the United States was not only a provocation, it was also a potential war crime. Trump belatedly recognized that, but no statement did as much to undermine the American narrative that it’s at war with the Iranian regime, not the Iranian people.