Samantha Vinograd on Iran: Trump Showed He "Wasn't Willing To Follow Through," Gross Disorganization


Former Obama national security aide and now CNN analyst Samantha Vinograd said President Trump showed "gross disorganization" by not making up his mind to order the military to strike Iran. From her appearance on CNN Thursday night:

VAUSE: Samantha Vinograd is a CNN National Security Analyst and former adviser to the U.S. National Security Council. She is with us this hour from Los Angeles. Sam, good to see you.


VAUSE: Hey, we don't know for certain but you know, it seems possible that the U.S. President blinked bigly. Here's part of that report from the York Times. The operation was underway in its early stages when it was caught off. A senior administration official said the planes were in the air, the ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down.

So from what we know about this, how will this be seen not just by you know, the leaders in Tehran, but the leaders in North Korea, the leaders in Russia, the readers in Venezuela, you know, the list goes on.

VINOGRAD: Well, to the extend, this will be seen as all bark and no bite. President Trump has escalated tensions to this point in response to myriad Iranian misbehaviors. But at this point, John, this is kind of a worst-case scenario. The President is showing that he's since we made a decision, had a National Security Council meeting, and wasn't willing to follow through which is really par for the course when we look at his posture on North Korea for example, we were fire and fury until we weren't.

And at this juncture, this is all already going to play right into the Iranian regime's hand. They will now be able to say that the United States is planning to attack them and that any further actions that they take are purely defensive in nature. They've been playing the victim part for several months, now several years even, and they now have even more fuel to say that the United States is coming after them and they have to respond.

Having been part of these kinds of conversations in the Situation Room before, I also really wonder what kind of message this is sending to our closest allies. Ostensibly, the U.S. military would have briefed some of its counterparts if not all before the planes took off and the ship were put into position only to then have to call them back and say the President changed his mind, he flip-flops.

So all in all, this shows gross disorganization and a president who can't seem to make up his mind even on something as important as a military strike on Iran.

VAUSE: Here's a little more from the New York Times. The report -- it was not clear whether Mr. Trump simply changed his mind on the strikes or whether the administration altered course because of logistics or strategy. It was also not clear whether the attacks might still go forward.

In your experience having -- you know, being in the National Security Council and just from what you know about past U.S. military strikes, has anything like this happened before that you know, like minutes away from you know, firing the missiles you know, and the president says no.

VINOGRAD: This sounds like a really bad action thriller, John. And in my experience, when the military develops ConOps or the plans for a strike like this, they are finely tuned, they're fully ready to go, and if the planes really had taken off, if we were really 90 minutes away from a strike, I don't see how logistics would have been really messed this up.

The military pre-positioned assets. It is unlikely to me that a logistical failure would have been what pulled this operation back. It sounds more likely that the President changed his mind or somebody convinced him that this was not the right strategy. And I don't disagree on that.

Launching military strikes against Iran would have been met at a minimum with a strong counter-response from Iranian proxies and potentially Iranian forces from within the country itself. Let's not forget, the Houthis in Yemen, Iranian proxy's all throughout the region and really Americans that are in the region as well that could have been vulnerable to counter-attack in places like Iraq and elsewhere.

And so it would have been a misguided strategy to proceed with the strike. Not to mention John I'm very unclear on what the legal bases for these strikes were. There would have been -- there's no congressional authorization to launch a military strike in Iran. And so for all those reasons, if the reporting is accurate, I'm very glad that the president changed his mind to pulled this back for whatever reason.

VAUSE: You know, from my understanding, Pompey went to Congress and basically said they want to use the you know, Authorization of Military Force in the days after 9/11 which is questionable from a legal --

VINOGRAD: Which would be a very tenuous -- a very tenuous argument at best. I mean, the AUMF, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force has really been grossly expanded to fit a range of military operations.

Using the existing AUMF, launched military strikes against targets in Iran would have been a very difficult argument to make.

VAUSE: Very. You know, to the point that maybe the president changing his mind or having a change of heart, whatever, you know, on Thursday there was a very different tone coming from the president when he was talking about the you know, the drone being shot down. It was less bellicose, it was more conciliatory.

And CNN also reporting that the President has been at odds with his advisor especially the very hawkish John Bolton. He was asked about that on Thursday. Here it is.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you feel like there are members of your administration whoa re trying to push you into conflict with Iran?

TRUMP: No, not at all. In fact, in many cases, it's the opposite. But I will say, look, I said, I want to get out of these endless wars. I campaigned on that.


VAUSE: You know, is it possible that Trump has worked out it's one thing to talk tough to send out mean tweets but making good on those hyperbolic warnings and all these threats, it's really hard.

VINOGRAD: It is hard. And I'm going to come back to the point that President Trump is thank goodness in this case more bark than bite. I mean I was part of a series of conversations under President Obama about going to war in Syria and putting more troops in harm's way. It's a difficult decision for any commander-in-chief and it's typical that various members of the cabinet have different views.

The military, the State Department, the National Security Adviser, the Intelligence Community informs those decisions and very often members of the cabinet with different equities have different recommendations for the President. So it's not unusual for there to be a difference of opinions.

The issue here is what and whom is coordinating the fulsome strategy on Iran, not just deterring them from further strikes on American assets, but looking at the whole scope of things that Iran is doing and figuring out what tools are going to be most impactful.

For whatever reason, if there was a focus on a military strike hours after President Trump said that this -- that this drone had been shot down by my mistake, how did that fit into the larger strategy. And it really appears that nobody is steering this ship.

It appears that the administration is shooting from the hip and playing a game of whack-a-mole when it comes to Iranian threats rather than again looking at this macro picture and figuring out what to do.

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