The Presidency of Donald J. Trump has afforded the world many astonishing press conferences, but none more revealing as his talk to the world this week in the aftermath of Iran’s missile strike on America’s Al Assad military base in Iraq.
For decades, the world has seen American and other national leaders walk up to a podium or sit sternly behind a desk to lay out their justifications for a war they are launching. These speeches are always carefully worded and make an iron-clad case that, while war is terrible and not desired by the leader, but based on the facts, it is unavoidable.
In the lengthy annals of pretexts for America to start a war, the pretext provided by Iran this week was just as strong or perhaps stronger than most. It was definitely stronger than the cases made for the invasion of Iraq, or Panama, or Grenada, to name a few.
What is so revealing about Trump’s press conference announcing a non-war and “standing down” of his enemy is how easily the same the same set of facts could have been used to present the exact opposite case. It was like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” chapter where all the narrative up to that point are pressing to something inevitable, and then Trump gets to choose the chapter on “War” or “Stand Down”.
Why Trump made this choice, after choosing the “most extreme option” of assassinating an Iranian general a few days earlier, is one for the historians. For now, good people across the world are breathing again, and war mongers are plotting their next window of opportunity.
But next time an American president stands up to a podium to tell us how unavoidable war is, the world should remember this week and understand that the only thing that’s certain is that the same facts can be spun into a different story and that there is almost always an alternative to war.
Youseph Yazdi is an Iranian-American pro-democracy activist living in the US, and has recently written on the tensions with Iran. He has done interviews on NPR, the Daily Show, and BBC on Iran and other subjects.