Trump addresses the nation on Iran, calls for new nuclear deal and reveals top-secret weapon system
Donald Trump stepped into the Grand Foyer of the White House on Wednesday morning to deliver a statement following a night in which Iran launched over a dozen missiles at a pair of Iraqi bases where U.S. troops are housed. Though there were some indications that Iran purposely limited the possibility of casualties, and post-attack statements from the Iranian foreign minister indicated that this represented the extent of the country’s official response to the U.S. assassination of an Iranian general, it was unclear whether Trump would take this moment to de-escalate the conflict, or would press for retaliation in response to Iran’s actions.
Before a packed room of reporters, Trump lined up both senior White House officials and a collection of Pentagon brass to give the moment a sense that—for once—everyone was on the same page. Trump opened by saying that the American people should be extremely grateful and happy that there were no casualties in the overnight attack. Trump described Iran as “standing down” and credited the relatively light damage to U.S. strategy in dispersing forces.
Trump described the assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani as “decisive action” to take out “the world’s worst terrorist” and spent a large section of his speech cataloging the actions of the Iranian general. Trump, echoing what has been the standard patter from Republicans over the last days, described President Barack Obama as having given Iran $180 billion, and repeated claims that Iran’s missiles were paid for by funds provided by the last administration.
In an apparent echo of the way in which Trump attacked NAFTA only to turn around and adopt the same outline of actions for his own version of the treaty, Trump called on signatories to the Iran nuclear deal to pull out of that deal and join the U.S. in creating another deal. Trump also indicated that he wanted NATO to be more involved in the negotiations … a complete flip of his previous positions. At the same time, Trump indicated that he would increase sanctions against Iran, though it was unclear how.
In the middle of the speech, Trump talked about how “big, powerful, lethal and fast” American missiles are, and indicated that there was a new generation of hypersonic missiles on the way—which is genuine news, and amounts to the unveiling of a top-secret weapons system. Russia has been publicly demonstrating hypersonic technology purposely designed to thwart missile defense systems. But until this speech, the United States had not made any announcement that it intended to deploy similar technology.
Trump also made statements about the size and effectiveness of the U.S. military, which he claimed had been “completely rebuilt” on his watch. Trump also said that he didn’t want to use those forces.
In an odd twist, Trump appeared to appeal to Iran to assist in fighting ISIS at the same time he repeated past claims that ISIS had been 100% destroyed. Trump spent some time talking about ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was recently killed in a military raid.
Trump did not threaten any immediate response to Iran’s missile launch. But neither did he extend an offer for negotiations to de-escalate the situation.
Early indications were that Trump had been advised to show restraint and not to conduct a U.S. strike in response to the Iranian missile launch. Several Republicans who spoke with Trump before the speech indicated that they believed he was in a good position to declare victory for the moment, warn Iran against further steps, and step back from any immediate action.
There remain longer-term concerns on both sides. Iran’s official response may have been limited to the missile launch, which appears to have resulted in no casualties. However, there could very well be additional actions taken by Iran’s extended network of militias and irregular forces. And, as was vividly demonstrated in the assassination of Soleimani, there is also the possibility that Trump may launch additional actions against Iran. Trump’s withdrawal from the multination nuclear deal also means that the limitations on Iran’s ability to pursue nuclear weapons have been largely removed.