President Trump said he stopped a planned U.S. military strike against Iran 10 minutes before it was to be launched Thursday night because the likely Iranian casualties were “not proportionate” to Tehran’s shooting down of an unmanned Navy drone.
“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die,” Mr. Trump tweeted Friday, adding that a general told him 150 people would likely be killed.
“10 minutes before the strike I stopped it,” the president said. “I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world.”
In an interview with “Meet the Press” Friday, Mr. Trump said the U.S. “had something ready to go, subject to my approval,” although he asserted that warplanes were not yet in the air and he never gave the final order for an attack.
“Nothing is green-lighted until the very end,” the president told host Chuck Todd in an advance excerpt released by NBC News.
Mr. Trump recounted the moment of decision: “They came and they said, ‘Sir, we’re ready to go. We’d like a decision.’ I said, ‘I want to know something before you go. How many people will be killed, in this case Iranians?’ ‘Sir, I’d like to get back to you on that.’ Great people, these generals. They said, came back, they said, ‘Sir, approximately 150.’ And I thought about it for a second and I said, ‘You know what? They shot down an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it. And here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said ‘go ahead.’ And I didn’t like it. I didn’t think it was proportionate.”
Iranian forces shot down the unmanned U.S. Navy surveillance drone earlier this week in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil shipping channel bordering Iran. There were no U.S. casualties in the incident.
A top commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps said Friday that his forces could have shot down a U.S. Navy P8 plane with 35 people on board on the same day it downed the drone, but “refrained” from doing so to send a message to Washington.
The president said he added more sanctions against Iran Thursday night, without elaborating.
“Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!” he tweeted.
Mr. Trump spoke Friday with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The White House said they discussed Saudi Arabia’s “critical role in ensuring stability in the Middle East and in the global oil market.”
“They also discussed the threat posed by the Iranian regime’s escalatory behavior,” said deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley.
Michael Makovsky, a former Pentagon official and president of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, criticized the president’s actions toward Iran.
“President Trump’s handling of rising Iranian provocations in the Persian Gulf is undermining American global credibility — the currency for foreign policy and the bedrock of deterrence — and our vital interests, as established at least since President Jimmy Carter in 1980,” he said in a statement. “Trump has given the impression he lost his nerve, when he should’ve responded swiftly but measuredly already a couple weeks ago.”
He said the president’s tweet Friday “suggests, perhaps mistakenly, he’s most focused on nuclear weapons and will allow continued Iranian aggression on the ground and seas. The Middle East just became more dangerous in recent days.”
On Thursday, as he met with congressional leaders about a possible military response to Iran’s actions, Mr. Trump vowed, “This country will not stand for it. They made a very bad mistake.”But he also appeared to be leaning against a robust military response, saying the drone shoot-down might have been the action of a “loose and stupid” rogue Iranian military official. He said it was probably unintentional.
Iran has since said it warned the U.S. several times before shooting down the drone.
“President Obama made a desperate and terrible deal with Iran - Gave them 150 Billion Dollars plus I.8 Billion Dollars in CASH!” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Iran was in big trouble and he bailed them out. Gave them a free path to Nuclear Weapons, and SOON. Instead of saying thank you, Iran yelled Death to America.”
He added, “I terminated deal, which was not even ratified by Congress, and imposed strong sanctions. They are a much weakened nation today than at the beginning of my Presidency, when they were causing major problems throughout the Middle East. Now they are Bust!”
Mr. Trump’s former homeland security adviser, Thomas Bossert, called his cancellation of the attack a “good decision.”
“His office is oval and he is not letting anyone back him into a corner,” Mr. Bossert tweeted. “Sound judgement. We can always crush them later, if needed. Meantime, the people of Iran deserve smarter leaders.”
Democratic congressional leaders have been urging caution with Iran.
Rep. Max Rose, a former U.S. Army officer, praised Mr. Trump for calling off the attack, saying the U.S. doesn’t need another war started by National Security Adviser John R. Bolton. Mr. Bolton, a hawk and a former adviser to President George W. Bush, was an advocate of the war in Iraq.
“What we need right now is clearly a policy of courageous restraint, one that is layered with strategy and defined objectives. What we do not need right now, I cannot emphasize this enough, is yet another John Bolton war,” the New York Democrat said.
Some Republican leaders called for a “measured response” by the U.S. military.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and a key Trump ally, said Thursday that the president faced a “defining moment” with Iran. He said Tehran was testing Mr. Trump, and that a failure to respond would have far-reaching consequences for North Korea and other U.S. adversaries.
Last week, Iran allegedly struck two oil tankers with mines in the Gulf of Oman.
Days later, top Iranian officials said they would soon exceed the threshold for uranium stockpiles laid out in the multinational 2015 deal to limit their nuclear program. Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement last year.
• Bailey Vogt contributed to this story.
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