Trump’s Iran Response Underlines Republican Rift Over National Security

“I don’t think that people should be jumping down the president’s throat for wanting to think this through and make sure that neither side miscalculates and we don’t inadvertently end up in a war with Iran,” he said.

For Republicans, the reaction to Mr. Trump’s Iran indecision is a reprise of a familiar dispute between those who are battle-weary after decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and loath to enter into yet another conflict there, and those who believe that Iran is a grave enough threat that it must be confronted, said Richard Fontaine, the chief of the Center for a New American Security and a former Republican national security official. But it also underlines a divide over Mr. Trump himself.

“There are those who look at this and say, O.K., the president probably made the right decision, but this process is as messy as you can imagine,” Mr. Fontaine said. “Others say there is a method to this madness.”

Some of Mr. Trump’s staunchest Republican allies fall into the last category, with some suggesting that his public waffling was a master stroke of geopolitical strategy to keep Iran off balance.

Representative Daniel Crenshaw, Republican of Texas and a former Navy SEAL officer, described Mr. Trump’s actions as a power move.

“There’s a clear indication that we are willing to strike and retaliate when they hit us,” Mr. Crenshaw said. “And now there’s also an indication that the president is saying, ‘I control the narrative, I control the escalation, and I will give you a second chance.’”

Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters in his office on Friday that the Iranian government “should not take away that the president somehow was soft on this.”

“They should take away that the president had a very difficult decision to make on proportionality, and he decided, as opposed to taking 150 lives in return for an unmanned drone, that it was appropriate to step back again,” he said. “ I watched him really agonize over this.”

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