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June 21, 2019

White House Pushes 'Trump Pulled Back' Story - He Likely Never Approved To Strike Iran

Last night U.S President Trump allegedly pulled back from a military strike against Iran after it had already been ordered.

That is the official story but there are doubts that it is true. The Iranian campaign of "maximum pressure" against Trump's sanctions is still on. But there are first signs that it is successful.

The New York Times headlines: Trump Approves Strikes on Iran, but Then Abruptly Pulls Back

WASHINGTON — President Trump approved military strikes against Iran in retaliation for downing an American surveillance drone, but pulled back from launching them on Thursday night after a day of escalating tensions.

As late as 7 p.m., 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.

The NYT story blames the hawks in the Trump administration, Bolton, Pompeo and CIA torture queen Gina Haspel, for arguing for a strike. The Pentagon and some congressional leaders are said to have been against it. The NYT report includes this curious paragraph:

Asked about the plans for a strike and the decision to hold back, the White House declined to comment, as did Pentagon officials. No government officials asked The New York Times to withhold the article.

The Associated Press has a similar story: US prepped for strikes on Iran before approval was withdrawn. The Washington Post and ABCNews also report along the same line. The White House is clearly pushing this version of the story.

But not everyone is buying the claim of a planned attack that was called back. Jeffrey Lewis, a scholar on international conflicts, remarks:

Jeffrey Lewis @ArmsControlWonk - 3:43 UTC - 21 Jun 2019

I don’t buy this. Trump’s team is trying to have it both ways — acting restrained but talking tough. This is pretty much what Nixon did in 1969, too. Why not just admit that sometimes restraint is smart?

The @nytimes ran the same story Nixon in 1969. 🤷‍♂️ Nixon was not going to retaliate but he wanted people to think he almost did — and the Gray Lady obliged. ---> Aides Say Nixon Weighed Swift Korea Reprisal

Elijah Magnier, a journalist with excellent sources in Tehran, also rejects the NYT claim. Pointing to the NYT story he remarks:

Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai - 4:02 UTC - 21 Jun 2019

This is highly inaccurate and Iran "knew" about it yesterday: the US administration whispered this info for Trump to save his face.

I hinted to this info yesterday before it was released this morning by the US media. Iran - sources - rejected the "war-theatre scenario". More details this evening.

Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai - 19:41 UTC - 20 Jun 2019

I have very valuable information on US intel sending a message to the Iranians to agree on a certain scenario to happen.
This and much more information will force me to write an article tomorrow (hopefully) on #Iran and #US crisis.

After the drone shoot down the price of oil jumped 10%. Trump will have noticed that. He was also already warned by Iran that there is no room for talks and that any strike against it would have deadly consequences:

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iranian officials told Reuters on Friday that Tehran had received a message from U.S. President Donald Trump through Oman overnight warning that a U.S. attack on Iran was imminent.
The second official said: “We made it clear that the leader is against any talks, but the message will be conveyed to him to make a decision ... However, we told the Omani official that any attack against Iran will have regional and international consequences.”

The whole storyline of "a strike was ordered but Trump held back and saved the day" might well be fake.

When Trump spoke to the press yesterday afternoon he was already playing down the Iranian downing of a U.S. Global Hawk drone. As we wrote in the update to yesterday's drone story:

Trump just held a press conference in the Oval Office. He seemed to play down (vid) the event. He empathized that the drone was unmanned. He said he had "a big, big feeling" that "someone made a mistake", that "some Iranian general probably made a mistake". That means that he does not accuse the government of Iran of the shoot down, but some lowly grunt who "might have made a mistake."

That statement gives him room to avoid a large retaliation.

A strike in retaliation for the downed drone may have never been on the table. An alternative interpretation is that the U.S. sought agreement for a symbolic 'strike' from Iran. It would hit some empty desert place to allow Trump to save face. Iran would have disagreed with that plan.

But there are also signs that some strike was really in preparation:

𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝙄𝙣𝙩𝙚𝙡 𝘾𝙧𝙖𝙗 @IntelCrab - 3:26 UTC - 21 Jun 2019

Not sure I have an opinion yet on this NYT piece, but I will say one thing...the HF traffic we've seen today is consistent with the assertion that at least SOME sort of strike package was authorized.

Unusual High Frequency radio traffic pointed to strike preparation, says the open source analyst IntelCrab.

There is also a different plausible explanation why an imminent strike might have been called back. From the Wall Street Journal:

Saudi Plant Struck by Missile, Apparently From Yemen
Senior U.S. officials called back to White House after desalination facility in kingdom hit

Senior officials from a range of U.S. government agencies were called back to the White House to meet Wednesday evening, the official said.

“The President has been briefed on the reports of a missile strike in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday. “We are closely monitoring the situation and continuing to consult with our partners and allies.”

The Houthi, aka Ansar Allah, yesterday hit the Saudi desalination and electricity plant at Al-Shuqaiq near the southern Saudi city Jizan. The Saudis confirmed the strike:

Colonel Turki al-Maliki, the spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition fighting Ansar Allah, confirmed the attack, saying a hostile projectile that had yet to be identified landed near the Al-Shuqaiq water desalination plant, but caused no casualties or damage. He added that it was another example of the rebels deliberately attacking civilian targets.

This must have come as a shock for the Saudis. Some 75% of the water the Saudis use comes from desalination plants. Their people will die of thirst when those get destroyed. Did the Saudi King call the White House and urge it to call off the strike against Iran because he feared for his water resources? Was this the real reason why the White House called back its advisors and canceled the strike?

The Houthi also launched an large attack on Jizan airport:

Brasco_Aad @Brasco_Aad - 18:17 UTC - 20 Jun 2019

Mass Houthi drone attack on Jizan airport tonight.
Saudi witnesses are reporting significant damage in and around the airport.

Flights to Jizan were delayed after the reported strike.

The recent Houthi hits on Saudi Arabia are notable escalations in their quality and extent. The Houthi have obviously received new weapons. Their actions are part of the Iranian campaign to put "maximum pressure" on Trump. As Abdel Bari Atwan writes:

The US’ Israeli and Gulf allies have been exploiting Trump’s stupidity to try to drag him into a war against Iran on their behalf. The Iranians are trying to impress on him that any such war would incur an exorbitant cost on the US, and also on those allies – Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has warned that any war would not be confined to Iran but set the entire region ablaze.

Even if there is no direct US attack, the Iranians will not simply sit back and wait to be starved into submission by Trump’s embargo and halting of their oil exports. That is another thing the US president does not understand. And he may never understand it until he sees the extent of their retaliation against his country’s forces, warships and bases, and his allies’ cities, airports, and power and desalination plants.

Trump wages an economic war on Iran through sanctions on everything Iran exports or imports. Iran is doing its best to to push back against this by creating incidents that are plausibly deniable but put Trump under maximum pressure. But there are now signs that Trump is finally getting that.

Yesterday evening Tucker Carlson, a FOX News host with a direct line to the White House, had two strong anti-war segments on his show (vid). In the second segment Carlson talks with retired army Colonel Douglas McGregor. Both argue for pulling back on sanctions. This was likely a preplanned exchange (at 9:56 min) designed to give Trump cover for his decision:

Carlson: Is there some good reason to maintain this level of sanctions against Iran? Are we getting something out of that?

McGregor: Well, I think the idea was to destroy the Iranian economy to bring the nation to its knees. That is really not what we should be trying to do at this point. I think the president senses that there is now an opportunity for diplomacy, for a new approach to Iran that could deescalate this set of conditions and produce a positive outcome.

Look, this will ruin our economy if we engage Iran in a war. Iran will have instantly have support from around the world. They will be the victim of this "limited strike" that is being discussed. The limited strike idea is sheer insanity. It will provoke a war. Everyone, China, Russia, India, many European states will come to the aid of Iran. We will end up with a larger coalition of the willing against us, than we have seen in decades.

I think the president has figured this out. He's got good instincts. But he needs to get rid of the warmongers. He needs to throw these geniuses and their limited strikes out of the Oval Office. The last thing the America First agenda needs is a stupid pointless unnecessary war with Iran and he knows that and he needs to act.

[Tucker Carlson agrees]

Trump may well want some diplomatic exchange with Iran. But Iran will not talk to him as long as the sanctions against it are kept in place. It will continue its maximum pressure campaign by creating new incidents that will again increase the price of oil. The easiest way out for Trump is to abolish sanctions against Iran. He at least should issue waivers for China and others to allow them to again buy Iranian oil.

Unless he does so Iran will hit again and again against those who press for war against it. Yesterday it was a U.S. drone and a Saudi desalination plant that were the targets. The next incident could be in some oil facility in the United Arab Emirates or a symbolic strike against Israel.

The ball is still in Trump's court. He has to act further to avoid a larger war.

Posted by b on June 21, 2019 at 9:06 UTC | Permalink

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Relative to retaliation by Iran vis-a-vis a US air attack, gasoline prices will increase significantly, Republicans will lose the Presidency and the Senate.

Voters don't care about dead US military personnel because the MSM does not expose them to dead US Military personnel any more. This was the "lesson of Viet Nam".

That Trump "cares about killing Iranians" is laughable. Trump is a soulless criminal.

Posted by: fastfreddy | Jun 22 2019 18:28 utc | 301

Looks like a lot of readers want to add footnotes to this article. It is an excellent article, why not leave it at that?

Posted by: Tomonthebeach | Jun 22 2019 18:52 utc | 302

@Full Spectrum Domino #266
Agree with your general points, however, my view is that the circumstances in domestic US economy and politics is very different than other examples known. In particular: the lack of domestic national reindustrialization focus coupled with ongoing inequality growth (as a result of oligarchic favoritism and growth of monopolies/monopsonies) coupled with widespread discontent in the populace doesn't make for very good conditions to carry out US threats to its exporters.
In particular, the Faustian bargain was cheap consumer goods in return for ongoing shafting by health care, real estate, financial, legal, highr education and other sectors; what happens when even the cheap consumer goods go away?

Posted by: c1ue | Jun 22 2019 19:00 utc | 303

Finally the first article about that...

Since the story broke, I have been looking for someone to ask that question. Every media wrote that the attack was ordered, no one wrote by whom...
While the recall was always attributed to Trump-

I have been suspecting for a long time that, should Trump try to get rid off Pompeo and Bolton, he will have an accident... I am suer they gave him a Kennedy Biographie to read, so he won't forget what can happen in the great democracy of the US of A....

Posted by: Tyler Duren Volland | Jun 22 2019 22:59 utc | 304

@306 PavewayIV The words attributed to Trump in that quote is inaccurate.

Trump said that he asked if anyone would be killed in the retaliatory strikes, and was told that somewhere around 150 Iranians would be killed. His (claimed) response was that such a death toll would be a *disproportionate* response to the downing of an unmanned drone, so he canned the strikes.

That argument is, of course, absolutely correct: killing 150 Iranians because Iran broke your expensive toy definitely would violate the principle of proportionality.

Even if that wasn't the real "reason" that stayed Trump's hand, at least the "reasoning" Trump gave is sound.

So be thankful for small mercies: someone is giving Trump some sound advice, even if it just advice on how best to polish a turd.

Posted by: Yeah, Right | Jun 23 2019 0:32 utc | 305

@300 Schmoe Carlson seems to me to be a very smart guy. His monologues to the camera are exceptionally well-written, logically-sound, and impeccably delivered.

It isn't *just* that he is a contrarian, he is also a class above the bozos who toe the party line.

Posted by: Yeah, Right | Jun 23 2019 1:35 utc | 306

Nobody reads old threads, so I'm replying here.

@C1ue | Jun 21, 2019 2:43:17 PM | 129

Does Iran really believe that China would join it in outright warfare OT "stealth" warfare with the US, including the enormous economic hit from losing 40%-55% of its imported oil?

I thought I had demonstrated that China risked losing only 21% of its oil needs if Iran closed the Strait of Hormuz. You could not refute that. Yet here you are again, still pushing the 55% figure.

@c1ue | Jun 21, 2019 4:54:59 PM | 165

China has been complying with US sanctions on Iran, for example this article notes that China stopped buying oil from Iran.

The article you link to cites the Washington Post, which as we all know fakes up whatever news that Jeff Bezos wants.

According to the article, China has not bought oil from Iran since the end of March.

That is obviously false, as this Reuters article reports that Iranian oil was unloaded at a port near the Chinese city of Zhoushan on May 12, 2019.

Therefore, the report that China has halted its buying of Iranian oil is almost certainly fake news.

Posted by: Cyril | Jun 23 2019 3:40 utc | 307

Yeah, Right@313 - dltravers@273 was paraphrasing - I wasn't responding to his words as much as the preposterous idea that the magnanimous Trump chose to spare 150 Iranian what? Anti-aircraft missile crew? IRCG 'terrorists' guarding their terrorist bases? Civilians eating breakfast? If you want to slice and dice his words, why would he say

“I thought about it for a second and I said, you know what, they shot down an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it, and here we are sitting with a 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said go ahead," Trump said. "And I didn’t like it…I didn’t think it was proportionate."

So the claimed most powerful military in the world with all our top-notch intel on Iran is somehow UNABLE to find a few unmanned, remote Iranian anti-aircraft radar to blow away? Maybe an unguarded SAM bunker or a few pieces of unmanned armor in the middle of nowhere? I'm suppose to believe U.S. generals are *completely* lost for ANY military or infrastructure target in ALL of Iran that wouldn't result in loss of life if we hit it? FFS... we can drop a Tomahawk in the cockpit of an empty aircraft sitting on a ramp anywhere in Iran (or at least try). Yet our generals can only cough up one hairball retalitory scheme that will probably result in 150 dead Iranians, so we better stand down? Sorry - that just beggers belief.

I feel like I'm on crazy pills, here. I am just blown away by everyone's ability to suspend every last shread of common sense. Read through Trump's walk-back: he either finally realized (or was told in no uncertain terms by Iran) that any kind of military strike on Iran will be considered an act of TOTAL and IMMEDIATE war by them, period. 150 dead 'Iranians' or zero - there is no art of the deal to be played here. They don't give a damn about our diplomats or back channels or 'show strikes' or limited engagements. They're not Syria or Russia or Palestine. There is no 'escalation/de-escalation' or proportionate response strategy on Iran's part. They're not suckers. The US wants to end them - it's their survival. Give Trump's crazies a show strike in Iran to save face? Why? So we have time to plan the next provocation? Taunt them again? Maybe we'll apologize to them and go home? FFS...

Of course I'm glad nothing happened. So what? Do you realize how horrible of a miscalculation it was to even CONSIDER a string of provocations and some kind of retalitory strike? Why do I understand Irans thinking better than Trump's people? Why did Trump and the tard herders figure 'the rules' are that Iran is only allowed to (or will only choose to) fight against US military actually attacking them? What do they have to lose by lighting up Ras Tanura or Abu Dhabi with their first strike and hunkering down against the assured US infrastructure attacks?

Iran doesn't think it will win militarily against the US (despite the colorful quotes of blowhard Iranian generals or 'officials'). It's North Vietnam all over agian - they just have to last longer than the US is willing to bleed out (or watch the GCC/Israel bleed out). They are trying to figure out why Trump Inc. can't understand their position. If they're going down, f*ck 'the rules'; so will Israel and Saudi Arabia. What does Iran have to lose? They're planning on digging in, defending themselves and surviving as long as possible from the U.S., not defeating us.

Posted by: PavewayIV | Jun 23 2019 6:01 utc | 308

If sanctions are having a serious effect, Tehran will not negotiate until they are removed or at least softened; otherwise they would suspect Washington is just playing-for-time. It would be in its interest to see energy prices rise. Waivers for China could ease tensions. Beijing has vital interests in maintaining peace, as does Moscow. President Trump ‘has to act further to avoid a larger war’, war against China and Russia – world war.

Posted by: peter mcloughlin | Jun 23 2019 13:43 utc | 309


Great comments @306 and @316.

IMO the shipping attacks were a ff prelude to provocations meant to draw Iran into mistakenly downing the P8 (instead of the drone). That's why the grainy 'gotcha!' video that was claimed to show Iranians nonsensically removing a limpet mine.

Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jun 23 2019 14:00 utc | 310

paveway - ditto jrs comment @318... thanks..

Posted by: james | Jun 23 2019 15:15 utc | 311

Jackrabbit@318 - the limpet mines were obviously placed by flying scuba divers from Iran. Poorly trained Iranian flying scuba divers because you don't put a limpet mine above the waterline - unless you're just taunting the U.S.! Those bastards!

Iranian terrorist scuba divers also take a lot of steroids. They must to be able to swim through an underway ship's wake or itercept it laterally while carrying a naval mine, and then manage to lift that 20 lb. or so hunk of mine five feet above the waterline. Ever try to lift any amount of weight just a few feet above the surface when swimming?

I'm purpously ignoring the evil Iranian invisible boats which could sneak up on a tanker unnoticed by the crew, do something on the hull, and then sneak away - once again unnoticed by the crew. Because why would a tanker in those waters be worried about a small, speedy boat full of terrorist-looking Iranian dudes dropping by to pat the hull or take a few Instagram snaps in the middle of the night? Happens all the time.

I'm not sure about the tanker ruse affecting Iran's decision at all, though. I'm guessing they would have shot any drone or aircraft down for violating its airspace regardless of the recent ham-fisted tanker scheme. There have been multiple Navy P-8A (or P-3) ASW and ISR flights over the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea every day for years. Iran issues the same warning whenever they get near their airspace. They never saw the need to shoot one down until now because everyone knows to keep their flying spook crap out of Iran's back yard.

Unmanned Patrol Squadron (VUP) 19 was created to operate MQ-4C/Ns paired with P-8s a couple of years ago, IIRC. That was the outfit going to Guam this fall, but they operate the Navy Tritons today. 4A/4C/4N? Who cares... Toss in all the other U.S. and allied aircraft and drones snooping in on the Iranian coast from a safe distance/altitude. There was nothing extraordinary about this particular flight except the claimed aircraft/drone type. No reason for Iran to pay any more attention to it than all the other surveilance flights which have continued, uninterrupted, to this day. Probably increased.

If the Navy P-8 crew or drone pilots were not specifically ordered by their commanders to provoke the Iranians with an incursion this specific time and video it, then they did it because someone else convinced the drone to think it was on the expected, middle-of-the-water course that the Navy always uses. The P-8 crew and drone pilot would have been surprised. Either one possible - who knows? I really don't think the Iranians have hacked or could spoof a Global Hawk command link yet. At least I hope not.

Posted by: PavewayIV | Jun 23 2019 16:03 utc | 312

PavewayIV @316--

You echoed what I wrote earlier but in a better, more outraged tone. Thanks! Some just don't understand this is mirroring October 1962 since they ignore what the other side says since they think it doesn't matter.

Posted by: karlof1 | Jun 23 2019 18:18 utc | 313

Russian Patrushev finally showed up in Jerusalem.
thanks to karlof1 & John Smith for helping locate him :) yesterday.
Now 'go figure' what was this exceptional meeting about??
IMO the format of the meeting gives many clues: First , engaging top national security people means the subbject is
top security.
Meeting in Jerusalem means it concerns Israel , with maximum avoidance of leaks/hacking of talks.
Patrushev briefing the press about Iran and defending it means Iran was the subject of the talks.
Conclusion: Israel intends to Nuke Iran installations scheduled for after
expected iran withdrawal from JCPOA,and was seeking US support & Russian neutrality.

Posted by: go figure | Jun 25 2019 17:14 utc | 314

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