White House

Trump admits he lacks exit strategy for an Iran war

Candidate Trump harshly criticized ‘stupid wars’ in Middle East that U.S. couldn’t untangle

Peshmerga fighters are seen driving along the frontline outside the town of Altun Kubri on October 23, 2017 in Altun Kubri, Iraq. President Donald Trump long criticized George W. Bush and Barack Obama for their lack of exit strategies in the Middle East. Now, he might need one for war with Iran. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump admitted Tuesday he has no plan for how to get out of war with Iran if one breaks out, even though he campaigned on ending protracted American wars in the Middle East that he long has called “stupid.”

Hours after he responded to insults by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani by warning him of “obliteration” if a shooting conflict starts, CQ Roll Call asked Trump this during an unrelated event in the Oval Office: “Do you have an exit strategy for Iran, if war does break out?”

Trump, who called off a retaliatory military strike Thursday following Iran’s shootdown of an American spy drone in disputed waters, had his third hawkish warning for Iran of the day.

[U.S.-Iran confrontation escalates as Trump threatens ‘obliteration’ after Rouhani’s insult]

“You’re not going to need an exit strategy. I don’t do exit strategies,” he replied.

His dismissal of a plan to avoid another long, costly Middle East conflict was curious. That’s because Candidate Trump railed against the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations for starting and continuing post-9/11 military operations from Afghanistan to Iraq to Syria to Yemen and other hotspots.

(U.S. military and independent strategists, echoed by lawmakers of each party, agreed a major lesson of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts was to have a clear exit plan in mind before firing the first missile or rifle.)

For instance, in September 2013, citizen Trump tweeted this: “Speaking of our very stupid war with Iraq, it is totally disintegrating and Iran (with Russia) will walk in and take it over (lots of oil)!”

As a presidential candidate and as commander in chief, Trump has said U.S. military operations in the region are too costly — in terms of federal monies and military personnels’ lost lives or life-altering injuries — and rarely achieve many of their intended policy objectives.

“It is now time to start coming home and, after many years, spending our money wisely,” he tweeted in February as he announced he was pulling most American forces out of Syria. At that time, he issued this criticism of some top GOP lawmakers, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who wanted to keep thousands of U.S. troops there: “Certain people must get smart!”

After patting himself on the back for several days for calling off the retaliatory strike about 10 minutes before the attack was supposed to start, Trump appeared perturbed by Rouhani’s description of his White House as “mentally retarded.”

[With Iran reversal, did Trump break pledge to never ‘telegraph’ military ops?]

Another reporter during the same event asked the president if he has a message for Iranian leaders.

“There is no message. You know what, I’ll tell you what the message is: When they’re ready ... let us know. When they’re ready, they’ll let us know.”

Asked if that meant “ready to negotiate,” the U.S. leader — who often uses tough rhetoric then backs off when it’s time to back up the words with actions — again went hawkish.

“Ready to do whatever. Doesn’t make a difference,” he said. “Whatever they want to do, I’m ready.”

Some of Trump’s critics on Capitol Hill have taken to open fretting about the status of Iran-U.S. relations. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., on Tuesday warned on the floor that “without a steady hand at the helm, without a coherent plan or strategy, [a] thing this president has lacked since the moment he took office, the danger of bumbling into war is acute.”

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