Mainstream media outlets were of a lot of different minds on the Iran question earlier this week, counseling different approaches for US-Iran tensions. Friday, those outlets were broadly united, upset by the lack of a new war they thought sure was coming.
To be sure, Thursday was meant to be the start of the US-Iran War which hawks have been trying to piece together for generations. Trump ordered the attack, but ultimately, called it off a mere 10 minutes from a strike.
What had been a subject of debate was now USA Today accusing Trump of “not following through.” As concerning as blundering into a huge war in the Middle East had been, the new talking point was Trump showing weakness, and per Kori Schake of the Atlantic, damaging “America’s credibility.”
America can, after all, usually be counted on to react hastily, and stumble into what are in retrospect unfortunate wars. That Trump managed to just barely avoid the siren’s song of war was outside the expectation of American allies, and now they don’t know what to think. NBC News was quick to accuse Trump of “indecision” and declared it would “embolden Iran.”
CNN’s Samantha Vinograd accused Trump of not being able to “make up his mind,” and suggested that he’s “blown America’s credibility” by not attacking Iran.
Allies are nervous, lawmakers are on edge. The situation is “more perilous,” to hear some NBC reporters tell it, showing a lack of thoughtfulness of the issue. Surely, the most perilous state of affairs for Friday would be the first full day of a US-Iran War.
NBC News is rarely friendly to Trump, but in this case they are echoing the Wall Street Journal’s own editorial, which accused him of not being able to follow through on his “maximum pressure” campaign when that pressure was going to involve starting a war. They warned Trump’s lack of war looked “misguided and weak.”
Trump was not following the consistent calls for war from John Bolton, noted Australia’s ABC News, who noted instead that he was “siding with his electioneers,” and even suggested the talk of an earlier order to strike may have been made up.
Trump talked of proportionality, and his reluctance to kill 150 Iranians, now even Fox and Friends are crying weakness. It’s not surprising the media wasn’t thinking of killing 150 people as a problem. After all, historically death tolls in US attacks are grossly underreported, and they were on board not just for the deaths here, but those in the years of war to come.
Starting the war, after all, was supposed to be the easy part, particularly with Trump often given to bellicosity in statements. Now reporters are questioning if he has the stomach to be the sort of thoughtless war-monger everyone assumed he was going to be.