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The Washington Examiner Quotes JINSA President and CEO Mike Makovsky about Trump Canceling Iran Strike

Washington wonders how Iran will respond after Trump abruptly cancels strike

by Joel Gehrke, The Washington Examiner

President Trump’s decision to cancel a retaliatory strike against Iran might only be a pause in the crisis that culminated Thursday in the regime’s downing of an American military drone.

“Both sides have gone back to their corners, and, it’s unclear how long this moment will last,” Jonathan Schanzer, a senior vice president at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Washington Examiner.

Trump’s high-profile decision to scrap a plan to retaliate late Thursday avoided a confrontation that some U.S. and international observers had worried would escalate into a protracted military conflict. His last-minute forbearance might have postponed that development, but all the factors that have driven the escalating standoff (the renewal of U.S. sanctions after Trump’s exit from the 2015 nuclear deal and Iran’s frustration that European leaders have not defied those sanctions) remain in place.

“Our diplomacy does not give Iran the right to respond with military force, Iran needs to meet our diplomacy with diplomacy and not military force,” Brian Hook, the State Department’s top diplomat for Iran policy, told reporters in Saudi Arabia on Friday morning. “It’s important we do everything we can to de-escalate.”

The momentum towards conflict increased during a critical phase of the administration’s maximum pressure campaign. Trump tightened sanctions on Iran’s oil industry and nuclear program in early May, prompting Tehran to announce that the regime would stockpile key nuclear materials beyond the limits set by the 2015 nuclear deal, an apparent violation of the agreement that could take place as soon as next week.

“We have not been … absolutely definitive and specific about what happens if Iran does this, or does this in Iran,” a British official told reporters recently. “There’s limits on there for a reason, and if they get breached, then it is inevitable that consequences will follow.”

U.S. officials have been lobbying France, Germany, and the United Kingdom — the other Western signatories to the 2015 deal, who have tried to convince Iran to remain in the agreement despite Trump’s exit — to renew their own international sanctions if Iran follows through on that threat.

“They’re unhappy with the choices that are facing them,” the Atlantic Council’s Barbara Slavin, a staunch proponent of the nuclear deal, said of the European allies. “I think they would like to push off the decision as far as possible.”

In that context, Trump’s decision not to strike Iran, after a day of anticipation following the downing of a $130 million surveillance drone, came as a relief to some Republican allies. Rep. Ted Yoho, who sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee, argued that it might help the national security team make the case for a full snap-back of international sanctions.

“If we go in there and blow stuff up, the world goes, ‘there goes America again, bad foreign policy,” the Florida Republican told the Washington Examiner. “If we take the high road these other nations will say, you know it, I think the Americans responded appropriately.”

The president defended the decision not to authorize an attack that would have killed, by his estimation, roughly 150 Iranians.

“I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone,” Trump tweeted. “I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!”

That explanation means little to other friends of the administration, however. Michael Makovsky, who hosted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America Awards Dinner last fall, offered a withering review.

“Trump has given the impression he lost his nerve, when he should’ve responded swiftly but measuredly already a couple weeks ago,” Makovsky said Friday. “His tweet today 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.”

Trump reportedly invited Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to open negotiations, in a message sent through intermediaries in the small Arab country of Oman. But the attacks on the oil tankers last week took place while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe was traveling in Tehran on a similar mission.

“All of this now rests in the hands of the supreme leader,” Schanzer said. “It is ultimately going to be his decision as to whether he engages with the US and begins another round of diplomacy, or whether he decides to escalate.”

Read in The Washington Examiner