Soleimani Was Trump’s ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ and Iran Blinked

January 9, 2020 9:00 AM UTC
The White House thinks Iran was pulling punches in its retaliatory strike, and markets couldn't be more pleased that both sides want peace.
  • President Trump confirmed in an address to the nation Wednesday there were no American or Iraqi casualties in Iran retaliation.
  • White House officials and CNN’s International Security Editor think Iran missed on purpose, to bluster without provoking war.
  • It’s like the Cuban Missile Crisis, when JFK’s Secretary of State said, “We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked!”

President Trump spoke Wednesday, following Iran’s retaliatory strike with “tens of missiles” on two joint US-Iraqi airbases. The attacks were revenge for Donald Trump’s targeted killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

In an address to the nation, the president confirmed that there were no US or Iraqi casualties. He assured the public that “all of our soldiers are safe.”

Mr. Trump announced new sanctions on Iran as well. He also called on other world powers to finally withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. But after that, he offered Iran an olive branch of peace and well wishes for a

great future, one that you deserve – one of prosperity at home and harmony with the nations of the world. The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.

Markets rallied on the news of no casualties in a measured Iranian response.

White House: Iran Was Pulling Punches

Here’s President Trump’s complete address on the Iran missile attack:

As he was speaking, CNN reported that some White House officials believe Iran missed on purpose. It seems to the administration that Iran could have done worse. Therefore they must have intentionally targeted areas unlikely to result in casualties.

A State Department official called it a “smart move” by Iran. The official noted Iran has “more to lose” in a military conflict with the United States. Their message seemed to be:

We could have done it and we didn’t do it.

CNN’s International Security Editor said Iran’s missile attacks “were clearly not an act designed to kill the most Americans possible.”

 

 

The timing and location of the strikes strongly suggest this:

Iran will have known that the troops are normally asleep in the early hours of the morning. Choosing to attack then likely minimized the number of personnel roaming around the base who could be killed or injured.

In other words:

The missile attacks don’t make sense if Tehran’s goal was to really hurt US troops in large numbers — as some had been pledging to do.

This is reminiscent of another tense moment in American history, the Cuban Missile Crisis. But the stakes were far higher in that face off with a nuclear Soviet Union. A nuclear exchange between the US and Russia could have wiped out a third of humanity.

Eyeball to Eyeball with Trump

In 2012, on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Council on Foreign Relations’ James M. Lindsay recounted the terrifying brinkmanship between the two Cold War superpowers:

The naval quarantine of Cuba had formally gone into effect early that morning. Now there was nothing to do but wait for the Soviets to respond. Kennedy didn’t know whether at the day’s end he would be breathing a sigh of relief or on the road to a nuclear war.

Rather than cross Kennedy’s literal line, a 500 mile perimeter around Cuba, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev ordered Russian ships outside the quarantine zone to stand down. Upon hearing the news, JFK’s Secretary of State Dean Rusk whispered:

We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked!

Now that was a standoff that could have literally resulted in World War 3. And John F. Kennedy stared down foreign aggression unflinchingly. He also showed a willingness to negotiate American missiles in Turkey for Russian missiles in Cuba afterward.

Iran doesn’t have a nuclear warhead today, but nuclear tensions underlie this entire crisis. Trump’s willingness to negotiate reasonably, or not, in the aftermath of the crisis will be a part of his legacy.

Disclaimer: This article expresses the opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of CCN.com.

Sam Bourgi edited this article for CCN.com. If you see a breach of our Code of Ethics or find a factual, spelling, or grammar error, please contact us.

Last modified: January 22, 2020 11:39 PM UTC