President Donald Trump faces one of the greatest tests of his presidency after Iran launched ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops and plans to address the nation on Wednesday. Iran’s attack was its most brazen direct assault on America since the 1979 seizing of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
The strikes pushed Tehran and Washington perilously close to war and put the world’s attention on Trump as he weighs whether to respond with more military force. The president huddled with his national security advisers on Tuesday night but offered no immediate indication of whether he would retaliate. “All is well!” he said in a tweet.
The White House said Trump plans to address the nation at 11 a.m. EST Wednesday.
The Iranian strikes came days after Trump authorized the targeted killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. Iran had pledged to retaliate, though its actions did not appear to result in any American casualties, according to a U.S. official. The missiles targeted two bases — one in the northern Iraqi city in Irbil and the other at Ain al-Asad in western Iraq.
A lack of U.S. casualties could signal that Iran is not interested in escalating the tension with Washington — at least not now — and could give Trump an opening to calm relations with Iran and pull the nation back from the brink of war. Trump, who is seeking reelection at the end of the year, campaigned for president on a promise to keep the United States from engaging in “endless war.”
Still, Trump’s rhetoric in recent days has been menacing. Just hours before Tuesday’s missile strikes, the president told reporters in the Oval Office: “If Iran does anything that they shouldn’t be doing, they’re going to be suffering the consequences, and very strongly.”
The fallout for Trump’s order to kill Soleimani has been swift.
Iran announced that it would no longer be bound by the 2015 nuclear agreement and vowed to retaliate against the U.S., its allies and American interests. Iraq’s parliament also voted to expel U.S. troops from Iraq, which would undermine efforts to fight Islamic State militants in the region and strengthen Iran’s influence in the Mideast.
The counterattack by Iran came as Trump and his top advisers were under pressure to disclose more details about the intelligence that led to the American strike that killed Soleimani.
Trump stressed that the strike was in retaliation for Iranian attacks and that the U.S. is prepared to attack again — “very strongly.” He also said that while he eventually wants to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, now is not the time because it would allow Iran to gain a bigger foothold there.
Trump’s top national security officials made several public appearances on Tuesday to further defend the strike.
“We had deep intelligence indicating there was active plotting to put American lives at risk,” and Iraqi lives, too, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
Asked if the threat was imminent in days or weeks, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said: “I think it’s more fair to say days, for sure.”
Esper said the intelligence was precise — “razor thin.” He said top Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate plus the chairmen and vice chairmen of the intelligence committees in both chambers were getting a classified briefing Tuesday on what led to the decision to kill Soleimani. He said other lawmakers will be provided general details about the attack.