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Opinion Trump’s war-mongering with Iran won’t be a political winner

Mandatory Credit: Photo by MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE/REX (10520848k) US President Donald J. Trump (C) walks out to deliver a statement on the US response to Iranian missile strikes, beside US Vice President Mike Pence (Front R) US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (Front L) in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington, DC, 08 January 2020. Iran has launched missile strikes against two military bases in Iraq that house US forces, in retaliation to the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Lieutenant general and commander of the Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, by a US drone strike in Baghdad. US President Donald J. Trump delivers a statement on Iran, Washington, USA - 08 Jan 2020 (Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
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President Trump delivered his first remarks Wednesday morning following Iran’s retaliatory missile strike against bases in Iraq that are hosting U.S. troops. “No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties,” he said. “Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.”

From there it was an incoherent rambling and at times silly harangue blaming the Obama administration for the strike on U.S. forces, calling for other countries to abandon what is left of the Iran deal and vowing that Iran would not get nuclear weapons. Of course, Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal and embark on a policy of “maximum pressure” instigated the current cycle of violence and prompted Iran to break through restraints on its nuclear program. (After Trump spurned our allies, the chances they will respond to Trump’s plea to become more engaged in the Middle East is approximately zero.)

With even Republican senators calling for deescalation, Trump’s willingness now to take an off-ramp on the road to war is not surprising. Moreover, the notion that it would be good politics to continue ratcheting up tensions does not take into account Trump’s low credibility.

The boost that presidents usually get in times of international crisis likely will not happen for Trump. Fear of all-out war and the public’s low regard for Trump’s honesty and steadiness suggest that war-mongering is no way for Trump to break free of his polling doldrums. (He has yet to reach 50 percent approval.)

Trump has entered a new era of warfare by openly authorizing the assassination of another nation's military leader, using an armed drone, says David Ignatius. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Abedin Taherkenareh/The Washington Post)

The latest Reuters-Ipsos poll shows that 54 percent of adults disapprove of Trump’s handling of Iran, up 9 points from a poll in mid-December. The intensity of opposition has also increased in the last month. (“The number of adults who ‘strongly disapprove’ of Trump’s actions in Iran — 39% — is up 10 points from the December poll.”) It is not only Democrats who strongly oppose his Iran actions; independents disapprove by a 48-to-36 percent margin.

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So far, the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani has not helped Trump’s standing overall. His approval/disapproval remains steady at 41 percent approval/54 percent disapproval. A remarkable 42 percent strongly disapprove, including 38 percent of independents.

His impeachment numbers do not look any better. By a 54-to-38-percent margin, Americans say he abused his office. By an almost identical margin, they think he has obstructed Congress. That does not necessarily mean 54 percent want him removed. Only 43 percent want him removed while 13 percent want another sanction, such as censure; 32 percent want him acquitted. In other words, there is a hardcore base of 32 percent who think Trump did nothing wrong.

House and Senate Republicans have decided to cling to Trump no matter what the issue or facts. On impeachment, that might be a strategic error, considering Trump’s unpopularity. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) huffs that Democrats are making her refusal to insist upon witnesses and documents a campaign issue. (“I don’t think [Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is] really very interested in doing anything but trying to defeat me by telling lies to the people of Maine,” she told Politico. "And you can quote me on that.”) She apparently thinks her actions should have no political consequences. Unfortunately for her, elections in November are precisely the place for voters to register their disapproval of her and her migration from independent moderate to party loyalist.

Likewise, cheering for more military strikes against Iran or, worse, ridiculing anyone who questions the wisdom of Trump’s unilateral actions without congressional authorization, might not sit well with voters. As a result of Trump’s bellicose and incoherent foreign policy, a president promising to end “forever wars” soon will have deployed 18,000 more troops since his “maximum pressure” campaign began in 2019. (As Time magazine reported: “The Pentagon announced the deployment of about 3,000 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division to Kuwait, an ‘Immediate Response Force’ that joins the 15,000 American troops sent to the Middle East since the situation with Iran began to deteriorate last spring.”) How does Trump’s base feel about that?

President Trump gave a short speech Jan. 8 addressing the Iran missile attacks and the U.S. response. Here are his full remarks. (Video: The Washington Post)

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Not all Democrats can explain how to clean up Trump’s foreign policy mess

Jennifer Rubin: Mike Pompeo is now lying about his lies

James M. Inhofe: Iran cannot afford an all-out war

Max Boot: Trump is sucking us into another war with lots of arrogance and little strategy

Leon Panetta: Trump is facing the greatest test of his presidency

Joe Scarborough: Trump’s ignorance has created an international crisis

Andy Kim: Brinkmanship is not a strategy