WASHINGTON — President Trump’s tenure as commander in chief came to a dramatic turning point on Thursday night as he found himself torn between his own competing advisers and his own competing instincts, teetering on the edge of military action that could lead to the kind of war he came to office vowing not to wage.
In a volatile day of internal debates and an on-again, off-again strike against Iran, Mr. Trump confronted the essential conflict of his approach to national security. For two and a half years, he has veered between bellicose threats against America’s enemies and promises to get the United States out of the intractable wars of the Middle East. Now he had to choose.
Even as the military machinery cranked up to launch an attack on Iran on his orders in response to the shooting down of an unmanned American spy drone, Mr. Trump called it off, opting for restraint over retaliation, at least for now. The argument may not be over. Administration officials would not divulge many details of the discussion. But no one doubted this could be a defining juncture in Mr. Trump’s presidency.