The traditional strategy of triangulating between options in an era of Trump is dangerous
If the art of negotiation, to borrow the phrase, is about starting at an extreme position with the goal of ending up with a reasonable compromise, then it is too dangerous a strategy in the era of Trump.
Especially when presenting options to the President, putting everything on the table is a recipe for disaster. According to the New York Times:
In the chaotic days leading to the death of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s most powerful commander, top American military officials put the option of killing him — which they viewed as the most extreme response to recent Iranian-led violence in Iraq — on the menu they presented to President Trump.
They didn’t think he would take it. In the wars waged since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Pentagon officials have often offered improbable options to presidents to make other possibilities appear more palatable.
Trump is not a normal President, and he’s shown himself to be a terrible negotiator. For Trump and his followers, the extreme quickly becomes the truth. Conspiracy theory becomes gospel. Nothing is too outlandish for a President who carried the torch on the birther movement, and whose followers believe a pedophile ring is operating in the basement of a DC pizza joint (that does not, it should be noted, even have a basement).
Which is why it is striking that Pentagon officials thought they could present extreme options (like assassinating Iranian General Soleimani) to make the reasonable options more palatable, and then seemed truly surprised by his decision. One explanation may be that Trump officials and not more seasoned defense or national security experts presented the options. Alternatively, someone with an interest in pushing the Soleimani option could have been the one to insist on its inclusion. Regardless, the result is a mess, and it’s now beyond obvious that anyone in a position to present the President with options should take nothing for granted.