In the last week, President Donald Trump suddenly reversed two major decisions. He announced he would not begin mass deportations of those who are living in the country illegally, which he previously threatened to do; and he pulled the plug on a bombing attack on Iran, even as the military jets were on the runway.
The reversals stunned aides and allies alike. In both cases, Trump disappointed hawkish advisers and zealous supporters who had urged him to act.
In both cases, Trump did the right thing.
It’s easy to be skeptical or dismissive about Trump’s flip-flops. In both cases, he defused crises of his own making. In both, he avoided what would have been a humanitarian horror. In both, the impulsiveness of the threatened action was matched by the suddenness of the reversal. In both, the reversals may only be a temporary attack of sanity.
Critics argue that Trump’s reversals undermine his credibility and sap American authority. Cynics discount the decisions, saying even a broken clock gets the time right twice a day.
All that may be true, but it is worth thanking Trump when he makes the right choice.
On Iran, he is surrounded by advisers, like National Security Adviser John Bolton, who are eager to ratchet up the crisis. Even his former secretary of defense, James “Mad Dog” Mattis, was an advocate of taking on Iran.
The so-called “adults in the room”—the folks supposed to be reining in an impulsive and uninformed president—would have pushed us into another war.
Attacking Iran would have violated Trump’s campaign promise to get us out of “stupid wars.” As president, he repeatedly says that “great powers don’t fight wars without end,” and boasts that he’s getting the troops out.
In fact, however, the war in Afghanistan goes on, the troops are still in Syria and Iraq, Trump vetoed the congressional effort to end our role in the Saudi attack on Yemen, and he’s been ratcheting up pressure and sanctions on Iran from the beginning of his administration.
When the Iranians shot down a U.S. drone, the hawks had exactly the provocation they wanted to begin bombing. Trump initially agreed, but then reversed himself, allegedly because he thought a bombing strike that might kill hundreds of Iranians was “disproportionate.”
Hopefully, it was also because he remembered his campaign promise, and his sensible instinct that beginning another war in the Middle East would be catastrophic.
Trump’s policies are likely to make things worse rather than better. But at least, in these two instances, he chose not to follow the ruinous advice of his aides and supporters.
And that, at least, is encouraging.