Before a formal impeachment inquiry began, Donald Trump’s bullying persona was struggling with his inner peacenik, or at least the non-interventionist who lives within his substantial frame.
After unilaterally withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, and imposing as many sanctions as possible on Iran, Donald Trump was trying to play the statesman.
That’s a controversial statement.
Mr Trump may be president of the United States but he’s not a statesman. He may pretend, but we can see what he’s doing.
He has routinely threatened Iran with war – or the nearest economic equivalent, “maximum pressure” sanctions that are beggaring the country and provoking it to ever more desperate measures. And yet, he doesn’t really want to take the US into yet another protracted conflict.
This, despite blaming Iran for the mid-September strike on a major Saudi oil facility, which briefly dealt a crippling blow to Riyadh’s exports, and shook global markets. Mr Trump’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo called the drone strikes an “act of war on Iran.” But Mr Pompeo’s boss did not say the same. And did not offer a strong response.
As the Washington Post’s Anne Gearan wrote at the time: “Trump is caught between a political imperative to confront Iran — pleasing hawkish Republican supporters and allies Israel and Saudi Arabia — and his own political instincts against foreign intervention and toward cutting a deal.” In fact, Iran’s regional adversaries don’t want a conflict and they’ve been slow on the incendiary rhetoric.
So, what happens next? We should give thanks that Mr Trump felt the pain of teetering on the horns of a dilemma. War is not a solution. Equally, there doesn’t appear to be a solution for Mr Trump to seize. He has left himself no particular path for diplomacy right now. Mr Trump’s personality and predilections have made the situation with Iran more dangerous.
And then there is the impeachment inquiry. Washington will be consumed with that, not with Iran, for the foreseeable future.