Trump’s Gandalf Foreign Policy and Iran

By: - July 30, 2019

After Trump cancelled a scheduled airstrike that would lead America to the brink of war with Iran it quickly faded from the news. The Democratic presidential debate happened, somebody said something that made someone mad and everybody seemed to forget about Iran. But the conditions that led to war remained even if it wasn’t the bright and shiny new thing to argue about.

Iran has made headlines again by announcing their plan to start enriching uranium beyond amounts allowed by the treaty. This is a good example of what was wrong with the treaty in the first place, as Iran always held the capability to quickly resume its program and the treaty was only temporary. What it did was make the problem tough for another president to solve.

That is because Iran will continue to do things like import Russian-made S-300 missiles. These are sophisticated missiles that make it much tougher (but not impossible) for air craft like the F-35 to penetrate Iranian airspace to knock out key installations. It gives Iran time to harden its facilities which increases the difficulty. It gives them more time to stockpile money, including the pallets of cash former President Obama sent them. All of this makes it very tough for any president to confront Iran and makes it despicable when they punt the problem to other presidents.

The presidents in particular have a heavy responsibility as leaders of the free world whose decisions affect the lives and possible deaths of millions. Throughout history presidents have noticed threats (and have access to classified material that the public doesn’t have) which convinced the presidents that they must take action. The trouble comes from the public who would rather continue to live their normal lives and avoid the sacrifice and stress and hardship of war. This produces a phenomenon where the presidents prepare or even move towards war and the people resist it.

To use a pop culture example, presidents end up being like Gandalf or the Red Women that see the threat coming and warn the people that fighting now is better than fighting later when the armies are at their door step, or to go back to the real world, when the planes are flying into towers or ships are sinking at Pearl Harbor. But isolationists would rather argue that the threat from Mordor is far away, the White Walkers are a myth, and the leader who believes in those threats is foolish, warlike and needlessly subjecting the people to suffering and hardship.

I support President Trump’s decision to cancel the airstrikes, though I would have understood the other decision as well. Thousands and potentially millions of lives are at stake in foreign policy decisions like this, and it’s incredibly simplistic to spout isolationist arguments about presidents wanting war and lying to get the nation into it. A credible case could be made to meet threats while they are still distant and small before they become big and explode on America’s doorstep. And those that choose preemption like President Bush and (almost) President Trump are actually taking the hard path that makes them seem like Gandalf —and invites criticisms from arm-chair quarterbacks like Tucker Carlson— though confronting the threat now before it grows even more dangerous is the correct thing to do.