When Donald Trump’s now-or-never moment came, the US President talked tough but essentially opted for the latter. The world can breathe a sigh of relief that it wasn’t the former but this game of chicken is far from over.
His highly anticipated address following Iran’s ballistic missile strike on Iraqi military bases housing US troops – its most serious act of aggression in this recent chapter of conflict – contained crucial messages for audiences at home, in Iran itself and to America’s foreign allies.
The biggest and clearest was that the United States has no interest in fighting another full-blown war in the Middle East. On this, he has good company. Ill-equipped, crippled by economic sanctions and reeling from the loss of General Qassem Soleimani in last week’s drone strike, Tehran also has little appetite for a battle.
The regime was so keen to avoid one that it went out of its way to make sure the missiles it launched on Wednesday didn’t hit anything of significance, let alone actual US troops. Large parts of the Iranian military are a shambles but Iran does possess the capability to hit a target it if really wanted to. Tehran was so keen to make sure US lives weren’t lost that it even took the courtesy of an advance telephone call to Baghdad to let them – and presumably the Americans – know the missiles were incoming.