This was originally published in the January 9 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Sign up here to receive it every weekday morning.
(CNN)Forget World War III Harry and Meghan are on the loose.
It’s actually a good sign that a future plot for “The Crown” is eclipsing the back-from-the-brink pause in the US showdown with Iran. It means the missiles and drones are earthbound — at least for now.
With a barrage of ballistic missiles, Iran has salvaged its honor after the US killing of its top military commander Qasem Soleimani. It calibrated the strike so as not to put President Donald Trump back on the warpath. Before the dust had settled, Tehran was already sending back-channel messages to Washington that the attacks were over. All is well, you might say.
Only in this volatile modern era, when everything seems speeded up, could panic about a looming national emergency seem like yesterday’s news so fast. That doesn’t mean the threat is gone: The impulsive Trump hasn’t had a personality transplant and Iran isn’t feeling warmer toward the Great Satan. But the President’s speech and ensuing quiet suggest that neither side wants to slug out their differences in a costly conventional conflict right now.
Any number of factors could ignite the situation again. So enjoy these few minutes of regularly scheduled celebrity programming while you can. The world needs to know: What the heck is going on at Buckingham Palace?
“We must all work together toward making a deal”
After hours of uncharacteristic circumspection in the wake of Iran’s attacks on bases housing US troops in Iraq, Trump finally addressed the nation on Wednesday morning. He vowed Iran would never have a nuclear weapon and that it was time for a “new deal” with the country. Read the whole speech here.
Moments before Trump appeared between the marble columns of the Grand Foyer of the White House, TV viewers were treated to a bizarre spectacle — a parade by his top political and military aides, who formed up as a ramrod-straight honor guard around his podium.
Vice President Mike Pence, the secretaries of state and defense, and military brass with jacket fronts straining under racks of battle ribbons waited for wooden doors to swing open. When the President emerged, he was framed by a backdrop of white light, with a Pattonesque swagger.
Trump loves the theater of the presidency and probably watched the tableau back on Tivo. It wasn’t quite George W. Bush jetting onto an aircraft carrier to declare Mission Accomplished, but Trump’s White House advance team did him proud. When it comes to presidential pomp, his tastes definitely trend toward dictator kitsch.
In fact, his appearance with his politburo recalls that of his estranged pen pal Kim Jong Un.
Now that the US and Iran have got that off their chests, is a diplomatic window opening to cool their feud once and for all — and to neutralize Tehran’s nuclear program? Probably not.
Here’s what we’re thinking:
- Trump hasn’t ditched his hardline policy; he just promised to pile new sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Ordinary Iranians were already in pain from the US “maximum pressure” campaign, which Tehran sees as economic warfare. It may see its only option to respond in renewed proxy attacks the very activity that led to Soleimani’s death.
- Trump claims to want a new deal, but Iran is unlikely to trust him or the US again. By trashing the nuclear deal crafted by his predecessor, Barack Obama, Trump might have torched hopes for diplomacy for a generation.
- The original Iranian nuclear deal worked because it was global, involving Russia and China as well as Washington’s trans-Atlantic allies. The President on Wednesday took another shot at America’s erstwhile European friends who still back the nuclear deal. Trump has fractured the international consensus needed for serious diplomacy.
- US conditions for talks are too punitive — Iran would have to completely capitulate before even sitting down at the table. That is not going to happen.
- Despite everything, Trump would probably love a big photo-op summit with a top Iranian leader in an election year. But there’s no reason for Tehran to offer that big political bonus. Plus no Iranian leader wants to be seen standing beside the smiling American who killed Soleimani.
Below: Satellite images from Planet Labs, Inc. appear to show damage from Iranian missile strikes at al Asad Air Base in Iraq.