Trump's record of falsehoods may undermine the US's case against Iran as the crisis escalates

FILE PHOTO - U.S. President Donald Trump looks on during a meeting with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin LamarqueFILE PHOTO - U.S. President Trump meets with Brazilian President Bolsonaro at the White House in WashingtonReuters

  • President Donald Trump's record of falsehoods are making it harder for the US to build support for its maximum pressure campaign against Iran, experts warn.
  • Iran shot down a US drone on Thursday, claiming it was in Iranian airspace. The US said the drone was in international airspace and characterized the incident as an "unprovoked attack."
  • This came as US allies and the wider international community have raised questions about the Trump administration's allegations against Iran regarding recent oil tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman.
  • The US needs the world to take its word if it hopes to build support, but experts warn that will be difficult with Trump at the helm.
  • David Rothkopf, a foreign policy expert and CEO of The Rothkopf Group, told INSIDER that "moments like these underscore the dangers of Trump's cavalier attitutude toward alliances" as well as the "dangers of his serial lying."
  • Visit Business Insider's home page for more stories.

President Donald Trump has a well-documented record of being at odds with the facts, and it's complicating his administration's ability to handle an escalating crisis with Iran, experts warn.

Iran on Tuesday shot down a US Navy drone it claimed enterted its airspace. The Trump administration has rejected this narrative and said the drone was flying in international airspace, characterizing the incident as an "unprovoked attack."

This came as the US struggles to convince allies and the international community of its case that Iran is responsible for oil tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman last week. Some major allies have cautiously accepted the Trump administration's claims on the tanker attacks, while others have called for more evidence as all parties urge both the US and Iran toward restraint.

It doesn't help matters that the US has a history of misrepresenting intelligence to justify conflict in the Middle East, among other regions, a factor that's been cited in discussions on the Trump administration's claims about the tanker attacks.

In this context, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called for an independent inquiry into the attacks, which has been echoed by European Union foreign ministers. The Trump administration has not said whether it would support such a probe.

'During international crises, leaders need credibility'

Complicating the situation is Trump's record of misleading and false statements. The president has made 10, 796 false or misleading claims in his first term as of June 7, according to The Washington Post.

Polling has also repeatedly shown that most Americans do not feel Trump has a strong relationship with the truth. A March 2019 Quinnipiac Poll, for example, found 65% of US voters say Trump is not honest.

As the crisis with Iran escalates and the US seeks to garner support for its maximum pressure campaign against Tehran, Trump's credibility could make this process difficult and the already chaotic situation even more convoluted.

"During international crises, leaders need credibility and they need allies. But for the last two and a half years, Donald Trump has run a masterclass on how to destroy the credibility of the White House with an endless stream of lies while simultaneously alienating allies by bashing them or slapping tariffs on them," Brian Klaas, a political scientist who teaches global politics at University College London, told INSIDER.

"For years, experts on international affairs have warned that the loss of allies and credibility will invite serious risk," Klaas added. "The Iran crisis is one illustration of those risks, but it will not be the last."

David Rothkopf, a foreign policy expert and CEO of The Rothkopf Group, told INSIDER that "moments like these underscore the dangers of Trump's cavalier attitude toward alliances" as well as the "dangers of his serial lying."

"Taken together, just when we need the world to back us up and to support us, they neither believe us nor feel terribly compelled to bend over backward and give us the benefit of the doubt," Rothkopf added. "This will make diplomatic success far less likely and it will make conflict in which the US is largely isolated increasingly possible."

Rotkopf went to to say that what we're witnessing is "bad foreign policy conducted badly," adding that "someday they will teach it in 'How Not to Conduct Foreign Policy' classes in universities."

Trump also faces pushback from lawmakers in both parties about Iran

Trump is also facing skepticism over both his claims about Iran and his approach to the crisis from congressional lawmakers in both parties.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, one of the top contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination, earlier this week said he does not believe the Trump administration's claims about the tanker attacks and called for an "objective investigation."

And amid concerns that the administration will attempt to bypass Congress to go to war with Iran, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky on Wednesday told reporters, "I will oppose any president, Republican or Democrat, who thinks they can go to war without congressional approval."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said it's important Trump work with allies moving forward, but added that the president had lost "credibility" by withdrawing the US from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. In terms of how Trump should respond to the drone attack, Pelosi warned that there is risk of "serious miscalculations on either side."

What happens next is unclear, but Trump did issue an ominous warning to Tehran after the drone incident in a six-word tweet on Thursday morning: "Iran made a very big mistake!"

Later, Trump told reporters "you'll soon find out" if the US will retaliate with a military strike.

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