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We Narrowly Dodged the Bullet of War with Iran

We very narrowly dodged the bullet of starting a war with Iran tonight, and it would have been a war started for the stupidest of reasons.

The New York Times reports that the Trump administration very nearly launched an attack on Iran tonight before the president changed his mind:

As late as 7 p.m. Thursday, military and diplomatic officials were expecting a strike, after intense discussions and debate at the White House among the president’s top national security officials and congressional leaders, according to multiple senior administration officials involved in or briefed on the deliberations.

Officials said the president had initially approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets, like radar and missile batteries.

The operation was underway in its early stages when it was called off, a senior administration official said. Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down, the official said.

It is good that the president called off the insane plan to attack Iran, but there should never have been anything to call off. It is better that the president reversed himself at the last minute, but why was the reversal necessary? I said earlier that we would remain on the knife’s edge as long as Trump was committed to his bankrupt Iran policy, and tonight we can see just how thin the blade of that knife is. We very narrowly dodged the bullet of starting a war with Iran tonight, and it would have been a war started for the stupidest of reasons.

We happened to get lucky that Trump’s changeable nature worked in favor of stopping an illegal attack on Iran for the moment, but there is no telling if that will hold for more than a few days. The fact that Trump had previously signed off on an unauthorized and unnecessary military operation is a damning indictment of his judgment and proof of his contempt for the Constitution and Congress. For all of his claims that he didn’t want war with Iran, he was initially willing to endorse unjustified military action against Iran without Congressional authorization and without any other legal justification.

It is not up to the president to launch an attack against another state. Trump had no authority to order an attack. This episode is a good example of why the decision on when and where the U.S. goes to war is not entrusted to the arbitrary whims of a single man. The Constitution gives Congress the authority to decide such things, and only they can make that decision. This near-miss gives new urgency to the effort in Congress to repeal the 2001 AUMF and to block any funds for U.S. military action against Iran. The president’s advisers evidently prevailed on him to order an attack, and if they can do it once they can presumably do it again. The reversal tonight is at best temporary, and we would be extremely foolish to think that Trump has the fortitude or desire to withstand the pressure to escalate that the rest of his administration is putting on him.