The Trump administration has no coherent Iran policy. In May, U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the Iran nuclear deal—even though Iran was not in violation of it. Other than Trump’s uninformed and empty assertion that it was “the worst deal ever,” his pretext for the withdrawal was Iranian aggression in the region, which was not linked to the deal. In both his rhetoric and policy, Trump seems to be positioning the United States to enter into armed conflict with Iran, warning Iran in July that it could face “consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.”
Trump apparently wishes not merely to contain Iran’s power but to roll back its regional presence, confining its influence to its borders, disarming it, and, by implication, changing its regime, given that these are constraints that Iran’s government could not tolerate for profound strategic and ideological reasons. Doing so would take a massive effort and likely entail another American war in the Middle East—one that the president is not committed to fighting and would not have the popular support to pursue. Rather than a coherent strategy, Trump’s aggressive behavior reflects a strange and unhealthy obsession with Iran unwarranted by the actual threat it poses to the interests of the United States and its allies.
The risk now is that the United States could drift into a war with Iran in a fog of bombastic threats and jolting policy reversals even if there were no underlying interest in hostilities. But although Trump’s rhetoric is dangerous, his administration’s inordinate antagonism is rooted in a deeper inability, going all the way back to 1979, of the United States to find a way forward with Iran. It is time for Washington to do so before it is too late.
The United States’ treatment of Iran as a serious strategic competitor is deeply illogical. Iran imperils
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