President Trump's declaration about directing the Navy to "shoot down and destroy" Iranian gunboats brings to a head his years of urging military leaders to get tougher on Iranian harassment at sea, Axios' Jonathan Swan reports.
- Why it matters: Unlike in the days when James Mattis ran the Defense Department and often ignored what he viewed as intemperate orders from Trump, the president now faces no meaningful resistance from his national security team.
Between the lines: The risks of another confrontation with Iran have escalated as coronavirus overwhelms the world.
- Trump often looks for shiny distractions during crises and has done so repeatedly in this case.
- But regardless of his motivations for returning to this threat now, his desire to target Iranian gunboats is almost as familiar to aides as his enthusiasm for building the wall.
Behind the scenes: Trump lives in fear of Iran taking U.S. military personnel hostage. He wants, at all costs, to avoid scenes of American weakness and humiliation playing across the world's screens, current and former advisers say.
- He connects Iran — and its actions at sea in particular — to this image.
- Another factor: Trump views the subject of Iranian gunboats — as he does so many other things — through the prism of Barack Obama. He's told aides he'll never let U.S. sailors be filmed captured by Iran, on their knees.
Four sources who've been in private conversation with Trump when he's discussed blowing up Iranian gunboats say that when he returns to a subject this often and passionately, there comes a time when even the most skeptical aides lose power to deter him.
Don't forget: On several important occasions, Trump backed off from retaliating more aggressively against Tehran despite urgings by advisers.
The bottom line: Naval commanders have maximum flexibility with Trump as commander in chief. Trump has now made clear they won't be reprimanded if they decide to take him at his tweet.