In the wake of Iran firing ballistic missiles in the direction of American troops this week, Donald Trump, thankfully, suggested yesterday he didn't want to escalate matters with a retaliatory strike of his own. That said, the Republican also seemed eager to respond to Iranian aggression with ... something.
And so, in a White House address yesterday, Trump said, "As we continue to evaluate options in response to Iranian aggression, the United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime. These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior."
I made the case yesterday that no one should necessarily assume that these "additional punishing" sanctions are real. As it turns out, as of this morning, their existence is very much in doubt.
Ordinarily, when an administration is poised to impose economic sanctions on a foreign country, there's some kind of briefing, usually involving the Treasury Department. There was no such briefing yesterday. CNN reported, "[I]t was not immediately clear what shape those sanctions would take. The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment."
The New York Times added this report overnight:
He said instead that he would ratchet up sanctions on Iran, although administration officials said later that they had no specific plan to do so. The administration has already imposed so much economic pressure on Tehran that it was unclear if additional measures would make a meaningful difference.
Oh. So when Trump told the world that the United States is "immediately" imposing "powerful" sanctions, he may have been referring to sanctions that are not, in reality, real.
Making matters slightly worse, there's a degree of familiarity to these circumstances.
In June, after Trump backed off military strikes against Iranian targets, he declared via Twitter that he'd just added "biting" new sanctions on Iran. While it's true that the administration eventually added sanctions, the president's specific claim in that tweet wasn't true, either.
Trump remains an unreliable narrator about his own presidency.