As tensions escalate in the Middle East, a resolved yet measured President Donald Trump took his case directly to the American people on Wednesday, explaining his decision to take out a notorious Iranian terrorist and sending a clear message to Tehran.
Two days after Mr. Trump ordered an airstrike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran retaliated by launching ballistic missiles Tuesday night at U.S. air bases in Iraq. If the intent was to avenge Soleimani’s death by taking American lives, it failed miserably. No U.S. soldiers or Iraqis were killed thanks largely to early warning systems.
Tellingly, Mr. Trump offered no indication he was willing to escalate the military conflict in the aftermath of the Iranian attacks. But he firmly articulated for the country the many reasons for targeting Soleimani, while also warning Iran about its continued misadventures and simultaneously offering an olive branch to the rogue regime.
“Iran can be a great country,” the president said, but “peace and stability cannot prevail in the Middle East as long as Iran continues to foment violence, unrest, hatred and war. The civilized world must send a clear and unified message to the Iranian regime: Your campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer. It will not be allowed to go forward.”
As for Soleimani, his “hands were drenched in both American and Iranian blood,” Mr. Trump said. “He should have been terminated long ago. By removing Soleimani, we have sent a powerful message to terrorists: If you value your life, you will not threaten the lives of our people.”
The mercurial Mr. Trump is often accused of sending mixed signals, but there is no room for mistaken interpretation here. Critics have argued that the president’s previous inaction in the face of Iranian aggression and his stated intention to get out of the Middle East may have emboldened both Soleimani and the Iranian mullahs. If so, no one can today accuse Mr. Trump of muddling his meaning.
The president’s restraint was admirable, his discomfort with yet another Middle East quagmire obvious. “The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it,” he said. “We do not want to use it. American strength — both military and economic — is the best deterrent.”
He went on: “Finally, to the people and leaders of Iran: We want you to have a future and a great future, one that you deserve, one of prosperity at home in harmony. With the nations of the world, the United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.”
Mr. Trump’s remarks were both reasonable and convincing — and precisely what Americans needed to hear.