Trump Will Likely Regret His Red Line on Iran
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore
After less than two weeks in office, President Donald Trump’s team has set its own red line. This Trump may soon regret.
Watching National Security Advisor Michael Flynn take the podium in the White House briefing room and declare that the U.S. is putting Iran “on notice” for its nefarious behavior, one could not help but think of a similar moment more than four years ago, when President Barack Obama stood in that very same spot and said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a “red line,” warranting some kind of American response.
As a Pentagon official in Aug. 2012 whose responsibilities included Syria, I remember hearing Obama’s words and thinking, “So, what does that mean?” While we all knew that any use of Syria’s of chemical weapons would be a game-changer, we had not made any decisions about what to do. Obama’s statement had not been the result of an exhaustive interagency policy process (which was rare for him, since he normally demanded that every decision be considered from every angle), but instead was an off-the-cuff answer to a hypothetical question posed by a reporter. While Flynn’s statement on Wednesday was not improvised, there is no evidence that it was backed by a policy process. In fact, Defense Secretary James Mattis was apparently out of the loop, and in a background call yesterday, National Security Council officials made clear that they had not yet started exploring possible options (military and otherwise) and U.S. Central Command sources said that nothing had changed in terms of their military posture. So just as we scrambled for months to figure out what it meant to enforce Obama’s “red line,” I am sure Pentagon planners are now trying to piece together the meaning of Trump’s “on notice.”