Great leaders see things as they are, not as they wish them to be. This is a defining characteristic for those given to rational decision-making. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower all possessed this strength and respectively applied it in winning the Revolution, the Civil War and World War II in Europe. Since his election, President Donald J. Trump has confounded — and in some cases enraged — the staid foreign policy and national security luminaries who think it best for the United States to cajole, mollycoddle and placate the enemies of world peace.
It’s a play they have used for decades that has resulted in more, not less, brutality, proliferation and terror on the part of countries like Syria, North Korea and Iran. Yet those who ridicule the president are quick to point out that he is “soft” on dictators when he compliments the likes of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, declaring they have a “great” relationship.
When it comes to softness, however, they accuse themselves with their own mouths. What they do not regard or are seemingly incapable of understanding is that Mr. Trump actually sees things as they are; things in much need of resolution, not perpetual management where bad behavior is rewarded by ill resolve. His focus is on the actual actions of a nation and he is quite willing to do whatever is necessary to resolve the danger that pariah nations pose to world peace, even if that means using unctuous rhetoric to advance things toward a solution.
What’s markedly different about President Trump and the previous administration of Barack Obama is that he understands the elements of national power — diplomacy, information, military and economic — and their judicious application in attaining efficacious results. This is particularly true with Iran that is ruled by terror mullahs and propped up by militant revolutionary guards who — to this day — think the United States is a paper tiger, as feckless now as it was when Iranian student rebels occupied the U.S. Embassy in 1979. They would be sorely wrong to think that is the case today. Donald Trump will not suffer their foolishness lightly, and has not since the first days of his presidency.
Diplomatically, the president moved quickly to abrogate the vacuous Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear agreement, which was more a path to proliferation than a certain roadblock. Economically, he then set about building international support for punitive sanctions in response to Iran’s persistent proliferation of missile and nuclear technology as well as the pestilential terror schemes of their Quds Force throughout the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Lebanon. He applied those crippling sanctions — even as our European allies were reluctant to do so — mindful that Iranian revenue from oil production would collapse, further pressuring the mullahs in Tehran.
Informationally, he has steadily built a case on the world stage for dealing with Iran while deftly engaging their citizenry with the core message that the U.S. conflict is not with them, but with the mullahs and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) who are complicit in the people’s oppression. Serving as a backdrop to all of this is American military power projection, an element Mr. Trump is willing to use synergistically with diplomatic, informational and economic measures.
Witness his recent deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Gulf region amid “clear indications” that Iran and its proxies may be planning an attack on U.S. forces in the region. Just this week, the president dispatched an additional 1,000 troops to the Gulf region in response to Iran’s role in attacking two oil tankers transiting the Strait of Hormuz, a vital choke point for the flow of oil to the world. These attacks were the latest sign that the sanctions are working and putting much pressure on Iran’s repressive terror regime.
While Mr. Trump came to power wanting to withdraw from foreign entanglements and conflict, he now appreciates that doing so while pursuing peace is complicated. It requires the application of all elements of national power and that includes military force when necessary. That he is willing to do so speaks to his ability to see things as they are and not as he wishes they were.
Iran, however, is convinced it can brush up against armed conflict and cause a president weighed down by domestic concerns to waver and back away. That would be a gargantuan misinterpretation of President Trump’s resolve. He is galvanized to halting Iran’s nuclear and missile proliferation as well as its terror projection in the region. If Tehran decides to escalate its military adventurism further, it will learn quickly that it is unwise to taunt a tiger, particularly one with a keen eye and a willingness to pounce, if necessary, on certain, not imagined prey.
• L. Scott Lingamfelter, a retired U.S. Army colonel, combat veteran and Middle East Foreign Area officer, served in the Virginia General Assembly.
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