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Why Trump’s choice to hold back on Iran was about instincts

According to President Trump, the U.S. military was ready to launch an airstrike against Iran as a response to their shooting down an unmanned U.S. drone when he called it off. He laid out differing timelines for his decision-making, but Trump was consistent in attributing the attack's cancellation to his worry over potential Iranian casualties. Judy Woodruff talks to Yamiche Alcindor for more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor, joins me now with details on what happened within the Trump administration.

    So, Yamiche, what do we know now about the president's decision to call a halt to this mission, this — what was going to be a strike on Iran?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, by the president's own account, this really comes down to him, at the last minute, changing his mind and thinking that killing 150 people wasn't going to be a — quote — "proportional response" to what Iran did to the U.S. military drone, which was, of course, was shoot it down.

    The president said that he was moved. Essentially, this was a moral decision by him to say, you know what? This isn't going to be fair if we do this.

    Now, it's really important to note that the president did lay out different timelines for how this happened. On Twitter, he was saying it was only 10 minutes before the mission was going to happen. And there was some reports that said that planes were even in the sky.

    But in the interview with NBC News, he put the estimate more at 30 minutes, and said that there was no actual plan approved yet, that this was all him still thinking about whether or not he wanted to approve that plan.

    The bottom line is that the president is really relying on his own instincts. And he's really saying, look, I know what's best for my foreign policy, I'm going to listen to all this advice. But when it comes down to it, I'm the one that's going to make the decision in this White House.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, we know you have been talking to a lot of people. What do you understand — is your understanding of the politics at work here for the president?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president is really stuck in a decision-making mode.

    On the one hand, he has this promise that he's made to really be strong on Iran, and really make sure that they are not going to have a nuclear weapon. But on the other end, he's also made this promise to his base that he's not going to get into endless wars in the Middle East.

    So on the Iran front of being strong, he pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. He's also been cleared that Iran is a bad actor, in his mind, and that they really are a corrupt nation.

    But the president also just in Florida on Tuesday said to a crowd of thousands of people: I'm not going to get your children into a war. I understand what it's like to send men and women off to war. And I don't want to do that.

    And I think it's also important to note that, on Capitol Hill, when we think about the politics of this, there's already an effort moving through the Hill that would ban the President Trump using funds to get into a war with Iran without congressional authorization.

    And that is an effort that's bipartisan. So we have people really looking at the politics of this and saying that the president needs to be wary.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Another part of this whole thing up, Yamiche, that has gotten a lot of attention is the fact that the president was sharing some details of decision-making about something that's normally kept under wraps, we should say.

    What are you understanding about that?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the most remarkable part of this whole story, or one of the most remarkable parts, is that the president was sharing all of this so openly on Twitter, and also in this interview with NBC News.

    So many reporters, including myself, were feverish in looking for details about what happened in the president's thinking. And then we looked at Twitter this morning, and he really did lay it all out there.

    So this — when I talked to White House aides and people close to the president today, they said, this is what the president does. He likes being able to be transparent in his mind. He likes not having a filter.

    And I should say I talked to a lot of supporters in Florida who say they love that the president tweets. They think that this is a good thing for him.

    So this is, of course, not — we have never seen anything like this before in a president. But this is the president's style, and he's sticking to it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yamiche Alcindor, reporting for us from the White House, thank you, Yamiche.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks so much.

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