The remarks that Donald Trump delivered about the Iran situation on Wednesday from the entrance hall to the White House did not answer or even address many of the issues that concerned United States citizens might be wondering about in the aftermath of the American attack that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad last Friday.
Trump didn’t discuss whether the U.S. is planning to withdraw forces from Iraq, as a letter that the Department of Defense issued but then disavowed Tuesday suggested. He said he is “going to ask NATO to become much more involved in the Middle East process,” but didn’t say anything about what that meant, or why any of the NATO countries would have an incentive to hear him out. He didn’t explain, more broadly, what his administration wants from Iran—what the country could do to relieve the economic and military pressure that Trump is apparently so keen to put on it.
Typically, these kinds of details might be filled in during background briefings by other high-ranking administration officials or by a White House press secretary. But there hasn’t been a White House press briefing since March 2019, and there do not appear to have been any “senior administration official” conference calls Wednesday about NATO. Given past incidents, as when Trump said at a rally in 2018 that a middle-class tax-cut bill was going to be passed within two weeks when in fact no such bill had been or ever would be written, or as with the announcements he has been making for years about the major infrastructure proposal that is purportedly on the verge of being released, it is possible that there is no plan related to NATO at all. The administration has also still not presented any description, even a one concocted dubiously from low-confidence intelligence reports, of the allegedly “imminent” operation that Soleimani was planning against U.S. personnel in Iraq. This is not a war effort that is getting a lot of legwork and shoe leather put into it.
Trump’s remarks did include the inaccurate claim that Iran had escalated proxy attacks against the U.S. after signing a nuclear agreement with the Obama administration, the non-topical assertion that “under my leadership, our economy is stronger than ever before,” and a description of the U.S. military’s missiles as “big” and “fast.”
Most upsettingly, all of this happened because Donald Trump is the president. Of America!
And yet, in the third paragraph of his speech, Trump said that “Iran appears to be standing down”—a conclusion drawn from the non-lethal outcome of its missile attacks on U.S. military facilities earlier Wednesday. Thus the modal reaction to seeing a famously spray-tanned, fake-haired brand-marketing CEO and tabloid personality in the White House, delivering a Fox News call-in segment disguised as an “address to the nation,” was one of relief. It meant that President Donald Trump is not, for now, following through on his sickening threats to escalate a quasi-war by bombing Iranian cultural sites, an act that could justify prosecution at the Hague , or by doing anything else that might bring about a devastating full-scale conflict involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers (or worse).
And indeed, by the standards of a few hours before—the only time horizon that exists within the president’s attention span, and therefore the only one that matters—this was a tremendous improvement! Why worry about the details if the person in charge doesn’t think about them either? He was mad enough to start a war but then maybe Tucker Carlson, on his TV, talked him out of it. Everything is fine for now.