Analysts are reluctantly concluding that Iran’s retaliation Tuesday night for the strike on General Qasem Soleimani, in which there were no U.S. casualties from over a dozen missiles, is a policy “win” for President Donald Trump.
Early reports of the missile strikes on bases in Iraq hosting U.S. troops — some repeating what was apparently Iranian propaganda about American casualties — suggested an imminent escalation. But as the hours passed, it appeared Iran was either too incompetent to score — four of the 15 missiles reportedly failed in flight — or that Iran missed on purpose. (The reasons for a civilian air crash near Tehran, possibly hit by Iranian fire, remained unclear.)
In the hours after the Iranian response, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, tweeted that the regime had “concluded” its “proportionate” response to the Soleimani attack, and that it did “not seek escalation or war” going forward.
The conclusion seemed unavoidable: Trump had removed Soleimani — a major terrorist and the architect of Iranian regional military dominance — at no cost. Iran saved face but possibly without triggering a massive U.S. response.
Foreign policy analyst Ian Bremmer tweeted that it was “impossible” not to call the outcome a “win” for Trump:
I’m far from a Trump supporter.
But impossible not to call Iran outcome a win for US president and a big opportunity going forward.
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) January 8, 2020
Raf Sanchez, the Middle East correspondent for the UK Telegraph, arrived at a similar conclusion:
For Trump, it will be a bit humbling to let Iran fire missiles at US bases without responding, especially given his rhetoric.
But there’s a political win if he wants to take it: he can say he took out a bad guy, taught Iran a lesson, and Dems were hysterical about a war.
— Raf Sanchez (@rafsanchez) January 8, 2020
Journalist David Shuster reported that White House officials were telling the media that they saw a win, too:
Given no apparent casualties, several WH/DOD officials are urging @realDonaldTrump not to retaliate. Iran got US soldiers to hunker down for a few hours. Trump got Suleimani. Trump staff say the trade-off is a win. Though one hopes they/he don’t gloat. #IranAttacks https://t.co/bZneSShotv
— David Shuster (@DavidShuster) January 8, 2020
Others were likewise “cautiously optimistic” that the retaliation had, in fact, created a diplomatic opening:
I am cautiously optimistic Trump can restrain himself enough tomorrow to be OK with not having the final word, to take the win in taking out Soleimani without Iran overreacting in its response, and depart the field with no casualties.
— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) January 8, 2020
Deescalation process talking points for Win Win:
Trump: Iran fired 50 missiles could not hit a single US soldiers
Iran: We hit US bases, Trump could not even send a single tweet…
— Emre Uslu (@EmreUslu) January 8, 2020
Ben Rhodes, a former national security aide to President Barack Obama, was frustrated with the emerging consensus:
Iran abandoned nuclear deal limits. Iraq wants us out. Counter ISIS mission is suspended. We don’t know what asymmetric attacks could come from Iran. Yet I see Trump supporters celebrating a “win”. What are we winning?
— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) January 8, 2020
CNN decided the credit belonged to Iran, though, calling the missile strikes a “smart diplomatic move.”
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.