The news overnight was unsettling: Donald Trump reportedly approved military strikes on Iranian targets, but he backed off before the plan was executed. There was no shortage of unanswered questions surrounding the developments, not the least of which was whether the president changed his mind or whether the mission was derailed for logistical reasons.
Trump turned to Twitter this morning to share his perspective on what transpired. This was his message in its entirety:
"President Obama made a desperate and terrible deal with Iran - Gave them 150 Billion Dollars plus I.8 Billion Dollars in CASH! Iran was in big trouble and he bailed them out. Gave them a free path to Nuclear Weapons, and SOON. Instead of saying thank you, Iran yelled Death to America."I terminated deal, which was not even ratified by Congress, and imposed strong sanctions. They are a much weakened nation today than at the beginning of my Presidency, when they were causing major problems throughout the Middle East. Now they are Bust!"On Monday they shot down an unmanned drone flying in International Waters. We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights 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!"
Remember, this is Trump's version of events. The president has earned a reputation as one of the nation's least reliable sources, especially about matters pertaining to his own presidency, and accepting a flamboyantly dishonest man's claims about his actions is inherently unwise.
That said, what's striking about the president's story is that he seems to think it makes him look better. It does not.
Let's put aside Trump's ongoing confusion about the international nuclear agreement with Iran -- a policy he's never bothered to learn much about. We can also put aside the irony of the Republican boasting that Iranians "were causing major problems," but not anymore. (It necessarily raises questions as to why he's escalating tensions with a country that's no longer "causing major problems.")
Let's instead consider Trump's version of events about yesterday at face value. According to the president, U.S. officials presented him with a plan to target Iranian targets, and Trump gave his team a green light.
He then asked about the expected casualties and was told the mission would kill 150 people, causing him to abort the mission 10 minutes before the strike, deeming it disproportionate.
For those of us who consider the prospect of war in Iran to be madness, it's obviously good news that Trump changed his mind. There are still some questions, however, that could use some clarifications.
First, why would U.S. officials present the president with a mission that would kill 150 people in response to the destruction of a drone?
Second, why did Trump wait until 10 minutes before the strike to ask about the consequences of the mission he approved? Shouldn't that have happened far earlier in the process?
As NBC News' Benjy Sarlin added, the president effectively described a process that's "almost literally" a shoot-first, ask-questions-later posture.
Again, it's quite possible that last night's developments unfolded in an entirely different way, and Trump's tweets are largely fictional. But what's striking is the degree to which the president's own tale doesn't do him any favors.