Trump on Drone: 'I Find It Hard to Believe It Was Intentional'

President says a rogue commander is likely to blame, rather than top leaders
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 20, 2019 11:05 AM CDT
Updated Jun 20, 2019 1:57 PM CDT
Drone Shot Down by Iran Costs $100M
In this 2018 photo released by the Air Force, members of the 7th Reconnaissance Squadron prepare to launch an RQ-4 Global Hawk at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy.   (Staff Sgt. Ramon A. Adelan/US Air Force via AP)

Another day, another ratcheting up of the tension between the US and Iran. What's not in dispute is that Iran shot down an unmanned American drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Both sides disagree on a crucial point, however: Iran says the drone was over Iranian territory, while the US says it was over international waters. "This was an unprovoked attack on a US surveillance asset in international airspace," says US Central Command spokesman Capt. Bill Urban, per the Guardian. President Trump tweeted what sounded like an ominous message: "Iran made a very big mistake!" However, he later emphasized the "mistake" aspect of his comments. Details and developments:

  • Trump: "I find it hard to believe it was intentional," Trump told the media, per NBC News. "It could have been someone who was loose and stupid who did it," he added. The president characterized the incident as a "new fly in the ointment," and he said it would be a much different matter if the drone had been manned. “I think probably Iran made a mistake—I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down." He did not elaborate on a potential response: "You're going to find out."
  • The context: The incident comes after the US blamed Iran for attacks on tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, one of the most important shipping lanes for the world's oil, notes the New York Times. Iran denies it. Tehran also announced its intention to disregard limits on enriched uranium, part of the nuclear deal the US withdrew from. Meanwhile, the US is sending 1,000 new troops to the region.
  • Left and right: Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer said "the president needs to explain to the American people why he's driving us toward another endless conflict in the Middle East." But GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, who spoke to Trump by phone Thursday morning, blamed the "murderous regime" of Iran for the new tension, reports the AP.

  • The drone: It's an RQ-4A Global Hawk drone, which runs about $100 million, reports the Washington Post. It has no weapons, but the surveillance drone has high-tech sensors and can fly at 55,000 feet for more than a day.
  • Oil prices surge: Oil jumped 6% amid the new unrest amid worries about the world's supply, per CNBC.
  • More context: Another US drone was shot down June 6 over Yemen, also with an Iranian connection. Houthi rebels took down the MQ-9 Reaper, but those forces are allied with Iran. US Central Command also says that Iran fired a missile at another MQ-9 drone on June 13 over the Gulf of Oman, but it missed the drone.
  • Another front: The aforementioned Houthi rebels launched a rocket at a desalination plant in Saudi Arabia, which is allied with the US and an archenemy of Iran, reports the AP.
  • A criticism: At the Atlantic, Peter Beinart writes that US national security adviser John Bolton is trying to "goad" Iran into war, with help from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. "Now that they have succeeded in provoking Tehran into violating the nuclear deal and, perhaps, interfering with commercial shipping, they're pretending they had nothing to do with any of this. ... For more than a century, this false innocence has been a feature of every unprovoked American war. And it is this false innocence that Americans must relentlessly challenge if they wish to avoid war with Iran now."
  • Counter-view: At the conservative Power Line blog, Scott Johnson writes that Iran is "asking for it." The drone incident "presents President Trump with a variety of what he must view as unpalatable options," he writes. "Iran is, as they say, asking for it. Will the president give it to them?"
(More Iran stories.)

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