January 9, 2020

Iran De-escalation

Editor's note: We couldn’t be more proud of one of our teammates, Isaac Rose-Berman, who penned his first op-ed this week in USA Today: “How college students can bridge American divides: 'Study abroad' in Alabama or New York.” Please give it a read, and share far and wide!

“The U.S. and Iran stepped back from the brink of possible war on Wednesday as President Donald Trump signaled he would not retaliate militarily for Iran’s missile strikes on Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops. No one was harmed in the strikes, but U.S. forces in the region remained on high alert.” AP News

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From the Left

The left is relieved by Trump’s speech but skeptical of his overall Iran strategy.

“President Donald Trump’s speech on Iran will not go down in memory as eloquent or inspiring — but it gave the world what it needed most today: an opportunity for de-escalation… For Iranians, although Trump hardly offered an olive branch, the absence of threats of military force should be the key takeaway; it may be the first time the announcement of more sanctions would be welcome in Tehran. Moreover, in several parts of the speech, Trump referenced a desire to see a peaceful and prosperous Iran — without any obvious suggestion of regime change being the prerequisite.”
Meghan L. O’Sullivan, Bloomberg

“Trump does have grounds for satisfaction. The conflict has not spiraled out of control, as some had feared. Iran has lost its most famous and powerful general, as well as the commander of an important Shiite militia in Iraq and two dozen other militia fighters. After failing to retaliate for a long series of Iranian attacks in 2019, Trump has established a degree of deterrence with Iran… [But] Contrary to Trump’s Tuesday night tweet, all is far from well…

“Trump constantly reiterates that he will never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, but it’s closer to that goal now than it was when Trump took office… To reach a [nuclear] deal, Trump will need to moderate his demands… The best Trump can realistically hope for is a strengthened nuclear deal with a longer time line, greater inspection requirements and some limits on long-range missiles. And even achieving that modest outcome would probably require a suspension of some economic sanctions to lure the Iranians back to the negotiating table.”
Max Boot, Washington Post

“Having scrapped the deal that curtailed Iran’s program and plunged into confrontation with the regime, [Trump] has articulated no coherent strategy for stopping additional Iranian enrichment of uranium — other than calling on European allies and Russia to give up their attempts to save the pact. Mr. Trump ought to embrace the pause in hostilities as an opportunity to begin serious negotiations with the Islamic republic… [The] campaign of ‘maximum pressure’ has failed to bring about the new nuclear negotiations Mr. Trump says he wants, much less the regime collapse or capitulation his more hawkish advisers hope for. But it virtually ensures that Iranian responses like last year’s attacks on Persian Gulf shipping and Saudi oil fields will continue.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“Iran’s $400 billion energy deal with China in 2019 permits Beijing to station up to 5,000 security personnel in Iran to protect its investments, with more to guard supply lines, including in the Gulf. In December China, Russia and Iran conducted joint naval drills in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman in an effort to deepen their naval cooperation… [In his speech yesterday] Trump appeared to call on Russia and China and the Europeans to join with the U.S. in the effort to stop Iran from supporting ‘terrorism’ and to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons. But to bring China, Russia and the Europeans on board, Trump will need to abandon his unilateral and militarist ‘America First’ and ‘Peace through Strength’ doctrines. In short, Trump will need to reverse course and seek peace through diplomatic compromise.
Hall Gardner, The Hill

Critics argue that “The Islamic revolutionaries were flailing domestically, increasingly reliant on ruthless methods to quell disaffection, before Trump rescued them by killing Soleimani, Iran’s national hero. The U.S has not only managed to unite Iranians behind their present leaders, while effectively delegitimizing and disempowering what had been a growing opposition. Creating the greatest Iranian martyr since Khomeini, it has also refurbished the faded mythology of the Iranian Revolution. Iran is returning to its nuclear program; its friends in Iraq are more determined to expel American troops from their country. Other fiascos for the United States in a region it once dominated will no doubt follow.”
Pankaj Mishra, Bloomberg

Trump’s aggressive tone toward Iran during the speech — his repeated insistence that neither Iran’s regional adventurism nor its nuclear ambitions will be tolerated — seems to commit him to more aggressive action in the future… Iran has shown a significant willingness to suffer casualties in pursuit of its objectives before, losing 2,300 soldiers in Syria by its own (potentially low-balled) figures. Why would a limited demonstration of American force cause it to back off a 40-year policy of throwing around its military weight by using proxy forces?… It would be truly shocking if Iran doesn’t do anything provocative for the remainder of the Trump presidency. How will he handle this the next time around?”
Zack Beauchamp, Vox

Others argue that “Biden was almost the only one on the stage who talked like a normal person. There was a point near the end of the debate when he was talking about getting men involved in stopping domestic violence and he said that we need to keep ‘punching’ at it… I knew that the twitterati and the analysts would tut tut. Ol’ Joe is just out of touch! He doesn’t know you can’t use words like that. Meanwhile, every non-political junkie watching the debate thought there was nothing wrong with this. Biden was just using ordinary language, not worrying too much if it was fully approved by the woke brigade.”
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

From the Right

The right applauds Trump’s speech and argues that his Iran strategy has been successful.

From the Right

The right applauds Trump’s speech and argues that his Iran strategy has been successful.

“President Trump is not usually known for restraint, but his brief speech to the nation Wednesday morning showed tough-minded restraint of just the right sort

“By announcing a further tightening of the sanctions that are already crippling Iran’s economy, Trump shows that the U.S. will not meekly accept even a largely failed missile attack on its military bases — and he does it without further violence. By leading with the assertion that the U.S. will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, and by returning to it several times, the president made clear the main imperative that has driven, and must drive, American grand strategy toward Iran. Yet, by refraining from any immediate military action, Trump provided room for Iran to de-escalate and accept his closing offer of peace.”
Quin Hillyer, Washington Examiner

“Military experts will be debating this for a while, but if a country fires 22 missiles at targets and doesn’t kill anyone, either they’re really bad at their jobs or this operation was primarily symbolic. The Iranians could have tried other methods more likely to kill Americans last night, but they didn’t. The Iranian Air Force stayed within its own territory. They’re telling their people that they won a great victory. The message to us, between the lines, is that they don’t want this fight to get any bigger…

“If the fight ends now, the United States is the big winner. We killed Soleimani, demonstrated that we can target just about anyone in the Iranian regime and eliminate them without warning, and have, so far, not lost any American lives in the Iranian counterattack, nor have our Iraqi allies.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“In the run-up to the attack on Soleimani, Shiite militias under the general's ultimate direction were firing rockets at U.S. troops, and Iran had orchestrated an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. This came on top of months of broader escalation, including the targeting of drones and tankers in the Arabian Sea and attacks on Saudi oil fields. It was necessary for Trump to do something significant to reestablish deterrence against Iran. Killing Soleimani was a way to weaken Iran severely and reestablish deterrence in a targeted way… Trump’s foreign policy positions have been criticized as incoherent. But his recent actions on Iran are the most consistent manifestation yet of his foreign policy impulse to project strength while avoiding protracted wars.”
Editorial Board, Washington Examiner

“President Trump has demonstrated that he is uninterested in the lofty goals of nation-building and regime change that once characterized his party… On Wednesday, he vowed that Iran would not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon ‘as long as I am president.’ And yet in that same speech, Trump extended a hand of cooperation to Iran. ‘The destruction of ISIS is good for Iran,’ he said. ‘We should work together on this and other shared priorities.’ This doesn’t sound like a man bent on regime change by military force. They are the words of a president who seeks to deter Iran from targeting Americans and building nuclear weapons…

“It’s sometimes said that war is the failure of diplomacy. That’s not quite right. More often, war is the failure of deterrence.”
Eli Lake, Bloomberg

“The [Iranian] regime received windfall concessions upon signing the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, including tens of billions in cash and billions more from new access to the global economy. But instead of using its newfound riches to invest in the Iranian people — as hoped for by Obama and his supporters — Tehran instead doubled down on its efforts to disrupt the Middle East… It is true that a more aggressive U.S. posture against Iran could lead to additional threats against U.S. installations and interests, such as Tuesday’s limited missile strikes against bases housing American troops in Iraq. But that possibility has to be weighed against the fact that Iran has already claimed hundreds of American lives and has been busy plotting and planning future attacks…

“After two years of crippling U.S. sanctions (Iran’s GDP contracted by nearly 10 percent in 2019), a restive public, and a U.S. administration willing to back up its diplomacy with force, the regime confronts existential choices. Will it try to maintain its position as the world’s leading state sponsor of terror while squandering countless resources on internal repression and nuclear and ballistic missile programs? Or, will it choose the path of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, recognizing it is backed into a strategic corner, and negotiate a peaceful way out?”
Stuart Gottlieb and Danielle Pletka, The Hill

“If a dozen drones or missiles can do the kind of damage to the world economy as did those fired on Saturday—shutting down about 6 percent of world oil production—imagine what a U.S.-Iran-Saudi war would do to the world economy. In recent decades, the U.S. has sold the Saudis hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment. Did our weapons sales carry a guarantee that we will also come and fight alongside the kingdom if it gets into a war with its neighbors?… the nation does not want another war. How we avoid it, however, is becoming difficult to see. John Bolton may be gone from the West Wing, but his soul is marching on.”
Patrick Buchanan, The American Conservative

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“While running for president in 2000, George W. Bush derided ‘nation building’ and said American foreign policy should be ‘humble’ rather than ‘arrogant.’ As president, Bush brought us the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq… While running for president in 2007, Barack Obama rejected the idea that the president has the authority to wage war without congressional authorization whenever he thinks it is in the national interest… As president, Obama did that very thing in Libya… A few years before his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump said the U.S. should withdraw immediately from Afghanistan… As president, he sent more troops to Afghanistan…

“Three men with little or no foreign policy experience entered an office where they were surrounded by experts, and they quickly shed their initial skepticism of military intervention… we should worry about a president with little knowledge of the world whose military decisions are driven by anger or domestic political considerations. But it's not clear to me that such a president poses a bigger danger than the experts who have been disastrously wrong more times than we can count.”
Jacob Sullum, Reason

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