I’m starting to wonder if war with Iran was a foregone conclusion the minute President Trump dropped out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the Iran Nuclear Deal—in May 2018. A piece today in the NYTimes nicely describes the conundrum Iran faced starting at that moment:
Mr. Trump pulled out of the 2015 pact last year, saying that it was not tough enough on Iran. In doing so, he put intense strain on the international coalition that had backed the agreement and wanted to keep it alive. And he left Iran trapped between continuing to abide by the deal’s provisions without getting any of its benefits or abandoning it and provoking a more intense conflict with the United States.
In a strange way, it’s almost worse that Obama and U.S. allies forged the deal in the first place, because it gave Trump something to undo, and a cudgel with which to hit Iran—an action that would ultimately demand a reaction. Of course, maybe he didn’t need it at all—the economic sanctions he’s levied on our soon-to-be enemies pushed everything closer to war—but it was certainly a convenient place to begin.
And now, finally, we’re seeing the reaction. Iran possibly struck Japanese oil tankers with explosives in the Gulf of Oman (they deny it, and accuse the U.S. of a false flag action), and they’ve announced that they’ll be in violation the terms of the JCPOA by producing more low-enriched uranium than the deal allows in a matter of days. That gave Trump, and his chief war hawks John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, all the permission they needed for their next reaction. Per the Times:
Tensions between the United States and Iran flared on Monday as Tehran said it would soon breach a key element of the 2015 international pact limiting its nuclear program, while President Trump ordered another 1,000 troops to the Middle East and vowed again that Iran would not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon.
So there you have it—escalation upon escalation, and it all started with Trump pulling out of the deal for no reason aside from the fact that it wasn’t “tough enough” on Iran. Media outlets, especially mainstream American ones, have been very good over the past 48 hours of noting that Iran will “violate” the deal imminently with its uranium production, but very bad at noting the U.S. withdrawal and subsequent sanctions, which make a mockery of the deal and, indeed, a mockery of the idea that the deal could be “violated” in any way.
Here’s the truth: By the mere act of withdrawing in May 2018, Trump set all these events in motion, and even if he didn’t know exactly what he was doing, the people around him did—it’s no coincidence that the announcement came about a month after John Bolton, who was wanted war with Iran for his entire professional life, joined the White House team. The withdrawal, it’s become clear, was an overt statement from the U.S.: Nothing short of outright regime change will satisfy us.
Subsequent actions, from the sanctions to the bellicose rhetoric to the imminent troop deployment, back this up. In the face of this aggression, Iran was left with two choices: Tuck its tail between its legs, in which case there was every evidence that the U.S. would continue to pursue regime change, or fight back with increasing hostility, which plays into Trump’s hands and leads down the path of war. It’s a bullying form of diplomacy from the White House, with only one possible outcome, and while nobody in their right minds would try to frame Iran as the “good guy” in any geopolitical situation, it’s clear that if war comes, there will be only one party to blame. Elizabeth Warren put it succinctly Tuesday morning:
Or take it from Ali Vaez, speaking to the Times:
“This was an entirely predictable consequence of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and maximum pressure strategy,” said Ali Vaez, the director of the Iran project at the International Crisis Group, a conflict-resolution organization. “In practice, maximum pressure has produced maximum peril and minimum strategic results.”
Here’s what we know: Despite our mutual historic antipathy, Iran was abiding by the terms of the nuclear deal when Trump took office. Somewhat amazingly, they have continued to abide by the terms more than a year after the U.S. dropped and imposed harsh sanctions that have hit the Iranian economy hard and led to medicine shortages. But you can only push a country so far when it’s clear that there’s no room for compromise, and that your unshakeable intent is to remove the ruling party from power. America has too much clout—the Chinese continue to buy oil from Iran, and our European allies are doing everything they can to mitigate the damage of the U.S. withdrawal, but there’s no sidestepping the American juggernaut.
And so things proceed as they’re meant to proceed—toward conflict, toward aggression, toward war. It will be a disastrous affair for all parties, “win” or lose, and when a nation’s leaders race headlong into that kind of conflict—a conflict that wasn’t necessary in the first place—what can you call those leaders but bloodthirsty?