- President Donald Trump bizarrely dismissed Iran shooting down a US drone as a “mistake” – after the country admitted to it and declared itself ready for war – in what looks like a bold but counterfactual move to avoid war.
- Iran said repeatedly that it shot down the drone to protect itself, but Trump called it a “mistake” that he didn’t think was intentional.
- The US military called it an “unprovoked attack,” and there’s no credible way to unintentionally shoot down a drone flying at 65,000 feet.
- Trump has campaigned against starting wars and reportedly tried to hold back his staff from stoking the flames of war.
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President Donald Trump bizarrely dismissed Iran shooting down a US drone as a “mistake” – after the country admitted to it and declared itself ready for war – in what looks like a counterfactual move to avoid war.
On Wednesday night, Iranian surface-to-air missiles shot down a $130 million US unmanned aircraft that the US military said was flying in international airspace.
Iran’s top diplomat and official media claimed responsibility for the attack but said the drone was over Iran. Efforts to find the downed drone, however, have been taking place in international waters, suggesting the drone was not actually over Iran.
Footage from Iran’s own state broadcaster showed the drone in international airspace, further undercutting Iran’s side of the story.
But Trump, who started his administration by putting Tehran, Iran’s capital, “on notice” and tweeted in May that if “Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” said the shoot down was a “mistake.”
Tehran had made a “very big mistake” by taking down the drone, Trump said to reporters after receiving Canadian President Justin Trudeau at the White House.
Trump said the person who shot down the drone was “loose and stupid,” adding: “I imagine it’s a general or somebody.”
But the president also said he found it “hard to believe” that the downing of the drone was “intentional.”
The Pentagon called the shoot down an “unprovoked attack.”
The surveillance drone was flying at about 65,000 feet above sea level when a long-range Iranian surface-to-air missile shot it down. The Iranians would have had to have spotted, tracked, locked on to, and fired a missile at the drone.
Even with a generous interpretation of Iran’s possible intentions, it’s hard to imagine that in millions of miles of empty airspace, Iran shot down a US drone on accident, just weeks after the US accused it of mining ships in the Strait of Hormuz.
Mark Dubowitz, the chief executive of the hawkish Foundation of Defense for Democracies, told The New York Times that Iran had likely mined the ships to “to demonstrate that Trump is a Twitter Tiger.”
While the US military and State Department released photos and videos of the ship mining to build an international consensus that Iran was a bad actor that needed a unified response, Trump downplayed the minings as “very minor.”
Trump, the keyboard warrior
Indeed, Trump has talked a big game on Iran, but according to multiple and persistent reports, he has pushed his officials to take a softer tone on Iran to avoid war.
Trump, if he is backing down from a direct challenge from Iran, would not be alone. During former President Barack Obama’s administration, Iran repeatedly harassed and humiliated the US Navy in the region.
At times, under Obama, Iran shined lasers at helicopters attempting aircraft carrier landings and flew drones near aircraft in ways that could have crashed them. Additionally, Iran took 10 US Navy sailors hostage when their boat broke down near Iran’s shores and broadcast a tearful forced confession from one of the sailors to humiliate the US.
The Obama administration essentially did nothing in response, instead touting the success of the nuclear pact that Trump later scuttled.
Trump, asked if the US would strike Iran in response to the drone downing, said the US will “soon find out” what he plans to do in response. But Trump used similar language when discussing North Korea in 2017, just a few short months before he had a friendly meeting with Kim Jong Un and lavished him with praise while whitewashing his human-rights record.
Trump, for his part, campaigned against starting wars overseas. Experts routinely assess that a war with Iran would be bloody, destructive, and nearly endless.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday morning that the US would endeavor to “restore deterrence” toward Iran, presumably by letting them know a harsh response awaited any further aggression.
But with Trump so plainly chickening out of a direct challenge and giving Iran an out, it’s unclear if Tehran can be deterred by the much more powerful US military.