Thursday, June 20, 2019

Trump’s Going to Need a Bigger Boat

President Trump and his Mideast team – Mike Pompeo, John Bolton and Jared Kushner – should be careful starting a war with Iran. Not only is the country’s forces formidable (they are not Iraq in 2003), but American allies in this cause will be thin. In fact, except for Israel, which isn’t near the battlefield, the help is mostly unimpressive American dependencies. Europe, the UN, China, Russia, India, Turkey and others are more likely to oppose than support any action. And, of course, impact on the world economy will be immediate and significant.

Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln | Eric Power/US Navy

The Iranian confrontation is especially dangerous due to a host of special conditions beyond our isolation on the issue:
  • The enmity is deep and long-term. The chant, “Death to America” (and the 1979 hostage crisis), are manifestations of deep hostility that is part of the core legitimacy of the regime. Opposing the U.S. throughout the Mideast is the top propaganda point for their external relations.
  • The Persian Gulf has massive armaments in very close proximity.
  • Iran has proxies and allies in the Middle East with agendas and resources that can cause incidents, like rockets in the Green Zone and commercial shipping attacks, that the two powers must then manage.
  • Regular communication helps avoid missteps and miscues, but we have none with their diplomats or military.
President Trump’s usual strategy of maximum pressure and over-the-top threats will have difficulty working with Iran. It does not constitute negotiation, and regime survival will require the U.S. to appear to back down and lower the demands and threats – actions not really available in the Trump playbook.

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