Tell the truth. Is there any action President Donald Trump can take in relation to Iran's recent provocations in the Middle East that won't heap criticism on him?
We think not.
Where political parties used to come together when it came to the security of the country, all that was thrown out with the left's bitterness over Trump's upset win in the 2016 election. And if there were any lingering questions about it, they were doused last year when he pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA) — the nuclear agreement — between Iran and the U.S., United Kingdom, Russian, France, China, Germany and the European Union.
Iran, the president pointed out, had violated both the substance and spirit of the agreement.
The JCPA, of course, had been signed under former President Barack Obama and since it wasn't a treaty — though unpopular with the American people — it wasn't subject to a two-thirds vote in the U.S. Senate.
For Democrats, anything that Iran does subsequent to the U.S. pullout is the responsibility of Trump. So, when Iran downed an unmanned U.S. drone earlier this week in what the White House said was international airspace, Democrats were quick to blame the president.
"None of this would be happening if Trump didn't back out of the Iran nuclear deal," tweeted U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, one of her party's leading radical faces. "America's response should be to return to the table and reinstate the Iran nuclear deal."
In response to the downing of the drone, the president reportedly initially approved a retaliatory strike against Iranian missile batteries and radars. But on late Thursday night, having learned of the possible death toll of 150 from a strike and reportedly against the advice of his more hawkish advisers, the president called it off.
Liberal MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman and persistent Trump critic, naturally was critical.
"I think a very definite trend is emerging," he said. " ... This is a president who loves to insult, loves to bully, he loves to threaten, but what happens when our adversaries understand that he's never going to follow through? By the way, I don't think we should actually bomb Iran unless Britain, France, Germany and all of our other allies are shoulder to shoulder."
Had Trump, on the other hand, have allowed the strike to go forward, the outcry would have been thunderous. The accusations would have centered on the likely loss of life, and the strike would have been called illegal, immoral, unprovoked and anti-Muslim.
As it stands now, the U.S. is continuing to use the leverage it has in sanctions to tighten the noose on Iran. The president, in a tweet Friday said "sanctions are biting & more added last night."
Details of any additional sanctions were not immediately revealed, but we believe this continues to be the correct way to proceed. Plus, earlier in the week, Trump had sent an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East on the heels of six tankers being attacked in the area in the last two months.
"The sanctions, especially the new economic sanctions, are really putting a stranglehold on Iran; the overall reduction in the price of oil, it's really hitting into their resources, which attacks not only Iran but the activities they conduct in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, it really binds their hands regionally," retired four-star Army Gen. David Perkins told "Fox and Friends" Friday.
However, if an increasingly desperate Iran is unwilling to stop provoking U.S. and allied interests in the area, especially to the extent of a lethal attack, a larger response may be necessary.
We hope it's not, and certainly Trump knows that a war or prolonged military expedition against Iran requiring a large deployment of troops will almost surely result in his loss in the 2020 presidential election.
Perkins said a strategy of working with other allies who count on unfettered access through the Straits of Hormuz is sound. That way, if any additional action must be taken, the U.S. is not acting unilaterally but with the help and/or blessing of its allies.
"I am in no hurry," Trump said in one of his Friday tweets, "our Military is rebuilt, new and ready to go, by far the best in the world."
Nevertheless, to his critics, the president can do no right.
"[W]e're worried that he and the administration may bumble into a war," U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
But if Trump can stay the course of the twin attributes of sanctions and time, and turn a deaf ear to critics, we believe he has a better shot of winding up on the right side of history on this issue.