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Trump halted attack on Iran saying it was ‘not proportionate’

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump revealed on Twitter on Friday the reason he decided to halt an imminent retaliatory strike against Iran after warning that the country had made a “big mistake.”

“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights (sic) when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!” Trump explained.

Later he told NBC’s Chuck Todd that he did not give final approval and no planes were in the air — which appeared to contradict his own tweet.

“The storyline in how they described last night doesn’t add up,” said Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress. Trump’s suggestion that he learned an attack could result in 150 casualties, if true, he added, suggests “very bad staff work.”

There were more questions than answers surrounding Trump’s decision to choose restraint and diplomacy over an impressive use of U.S. military might. And there was little praise from Democrats who cited Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the international 2015 pact to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons capability.

The White House did not conduct a background briefing Friday to provide details behind the decision. It has been 100 days since outgoing press secretary Sarah Sanders conducted a televised briefing.

Friday evening, Trump addressed a picnic for 200 members of Congress on the South Lawn without mentioning his administration’s close brush with a possible new war in the Middle East.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to reporters about the newly released International Religious Freedom Report for 2018, but he did not respond to press questions. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan departed the Pentagon Friday afternoon, and the the man Trump named to replace Shanahan, Army Secretary Mark Esper, does not take the helm until Sunday at midnight.

On Monday, Reuters reported, U.S. officials will brief the United Nations Security Council behind closed doors on escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran.

“We’re going to have an opportunity to speak to the Russians, to speak to the U.N., all to reinforce that Iran is the aggressor. The president’s decision to stand down, to my view, is going to bolster Washington’s ability to galvanize support for its current policy,” Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“It’s completely unclear to me if this was the original strategic intention,” he said of Trump’s decision to halt an imminent strike, but members of the international community “are going to find it harder to rebuff the president after last night.”

“Planned or not, there is real upside to Trump’s decision,” said Schanzer.

But Katulis sees long-term allies observing “this sort of disarray inside the administration” and wonders if they will continue to hold back as they wait for Trump to sort out his views. He calls Trump “a man without a plan on Iran.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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