June 18, 2019

Iran Tensions

“The U.S. military on Monday released new images it says showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) removing an unexploded limpet mine from a Japanese-owned tanker that was attacked on June 13 in the Gulf of Oman… ‘Iran is responsible for the attack based on video evidence and the resources and proficiency needed to quickly remove the unexploded limpet mine,’ the U.S. military’s Central Command said in a statement.” Reuters

Also on Monday, an Iranian official announced that the country “will surpass the uranium-stockpile limit set by its nuclear deal in the next 10 days… Atomic energy spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi suggested that Iran’s enrichment could reach up to 20%, just a step away from weapons-grade levels… Hours later, the two countries seemed locked in a standoff when the Pentagon announced it was sending about 1,000 additional American troops to the Middle East to bolster security in the region in the face of what U.S. officials said was a growing threat from Iran.” AP News

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From the Left

The left is critical of Trump’s inconsistent strategy, believes he has lost credibility with allies, and worries about the potential for military escalation.

“If Trump doesn't trust his own intelligence community or the media, why should we?... Much of [the] doubt existed even before Trump became President. Ever since the Iraq War, when the United States launched a military invasion and roped our allies into it based on faulty intelligence, the trust deficit over US intelligence has been high when it comes to the Middle East. Of course, Trump has not helped matters. He has openly questioned the intelligence community's assessments on numerous occasions…

“[Moreover] because of Trump's own track record of wielding big sticks when it personally suits him, and then putting them down based on his mood that day, we are no longer viewed as a trustworthy partner. Since assuming office, Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty -- just to name a few… Countries may question whether working with the United States is a lot of pain and no gain. And consider this: we asked our allies to work with us on the Iran deal. They did, and then we withdrew from it -- so getting them on board with more coordinated action on Iran will be more difficult.”
Samantha Vinograd, CNN

“Securing the gulf for oil tankers would require enough naval vessels and reconnaissance capability to monitor just about every ship passing close to Iran’s shores. ‘That requires a coalition,’ said John F. Kirby, a retired rear admiral who participated in the tanker wars of the 1980s and served as the State Department spokesman during the negotiation of the Iran deal. ‘We don’t have enough ships to do it ourselves.’ Whether the United States can convince allies to supply additional ships may be a test of how big a price Mr. Trump has paid for alienating the other nations that were part of the 2015 agreement and that also fear Iran’s move to a bomb.”
David E. Sanger, New York Times

“[Meanwhile] Iran has plenty of IOUs it can call in… It has armed and trained Hezbollah, perhaps one of the most effective fighting forces in the Middle East. It has backed the Houthis in Yemen, who have managed to fight the US-backed and armed Saudi and Emirati armies to a standstill. An array of militias in Iraq receive support from Iran. Plus, Tehran has had close ties with Syria going back to the 1979 revolution. Iranian troops and advisers helped, along with Russia and Hezbollah, to keep Bashar al-Assad in power… Perhaps a few more carrots, and less sticks, are in order.”
Ben Wedeman, CNN

“Iran is keen is to show that bullying tactics will not work. Tehran has met maximum pressure with maximum resistance, first refusing to leave the nuclear deal and then threatening to restart its nuclear program… And Iran’s military posture in the Persian Gulf has become more menacing… Maximum pressure has brought the United States close to war. If that is not what Mr. Trump wants, then he has to change tack. Pressure may get Iran to consider talking, but there has to be some give and take for negotiations to begin.”
Vali R. Nasr, New York Times

“The administration’s thinking, apparently, was to exit the deal, then ramp up pressure and goad Iran into military action, thereby forcing a confrontation and/or move by the European Union to exit the deal. The problem is that because President Trump has made clear he doesn’t want war — even if his advisers seem to invite it — what’s an appropriate response that won’t trigger a war?
Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

“As Iran moves to gradually withdraw from the JCPOA’s limits, it is creating leverage for itself while keeping the window for negotiations open if the administration shows serious interest. While the risk of war is real as long vehement anti-Iran hawks like John Bolton are in the White House, Trump himself has seemingly shifted his approach on Iran—and Iran may be sending its own signals. In Japan recently, when Trump proclaimed that the United States is ‘not looking for regime change, we're looking for no nuclear weapons,’ Ayatollah Khamenei forcefully declared for the first time in years that Iran is ‘not after nuclear weapons.’ To strike a new deal, President Trump must be willing to trade relief from U.S. pressure in exchange for realistic concessions from Iran.”
Sina Toossi, National Interest

From the Right

The right is generally supportive of Trump’s aggressive stance, but worries about the risk of escalation.

The right is generally supportive of Trump’s aggressive stance, but worries about the risk of escalation.

Mr. Trump’s Iran policy has had considerable success. He abrogated a deficient agreement that was smoothing Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon. He restored sanctions, which many Iran-deal partisans insisted couldn’t be done effectively. The economic pain Tehran feels today is as great as when the Europeans implemented their oil embargo in 2012. Iran’s oil exports have contracted rapidly, denying the regime billions of dollars in hard currency. The key challenge for the Trump administration now is to sustain its strategy as the Iranians start dangling the possibility of a diplomatic opening…

“[Iran] can’t muster sufficient strength for a prolonged conflict with a determined superpower. The mullahs’ clenched fists, slogans of martyrdom, and staged demonstrations shouldn’t be confused with real power. The Trump administration’s strategy of maximum pressure shouldn’t be diluted as the two sides edge closer to the negotiating table.”
Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh, Wall Street Journal

The 2015 Iran deal “not only provided Tehran a financial windfall that helped them finance Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, but it also gave the Islamist regime a path to an eventual nuclear weapon once the agreement expires in 2025… Obama’s failure in the negotiations made it imperative for his successors to correct his mistakes and to force Iran back to the table, where it must be stripped of its nuclear options and ability to fund terror. Trump has… made real progress toward that end with re-imposed sanctions that have brought Iran’s economy to a standstill, starved terrorists like Hezbollah of funds, and prevented the Europeans from giving it a way to evade them.”
Jonathan S. Tobin, The Federalist

“[Europe’s] leaders have refused to join the U.S. effort to drive Iran back to the negotiating table to plug the holes in the 2015 deal. Those holes include no ban on ballistic missiles, which Iran keeps testing; no inspections of certain sites inside Iran; and a 2025 expiration date on many of the deal’s terms…

“Europeans and American Democrats are blaming Donald Trump for ‘backing Iran into a corner,’ but Iran is the bad actor here. Iran could have used the nuclear deal as an invitation to rejoin the world economy as a normal trading state. But it used the financial windfall to finance its missile program at home and spread terror abroad. The best way to reduce the danger of a shooting war in the region is for Europe to join the U.S. in a united campaign to persuade Iran that its only path out of sanctions is to renegotiate the nuclear deal and cease its export of revolution.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

Some note that “U.S. and Iranian forces are arrayed across the Middle East. In Iraq, Syria, and the Persian Gulf, they brush up against one another. Neither party trusts the other. Each side must be prepared for the other to unexpectedly strike, taking steps to prepare defenses and get retaliatory options in place. The other sees these defensive preparations and fears an attack even more, creating a cycle of escalation that neither intended

“Why would a state with a per capita GDP that rivals Belarus and a military whose equipment belongs in a museum take on the world’s sole superpower? One might say that ‘no rational Iranian could believe that an attack on us could result in anything but disaster for his country.’ Yet swap in the word ‘Japanese’ for ‘Iranian’ in that last sentence, and you’ve got a verbatim quote from Dean Acheson, pooh-poohing worries that the tensions of late 1941 could end in some sort of sudden and deliberate attack.”
John Allen Gay, The American Conservative

“Iran already knows that we are tough, and fears us. That’s why these actions make Iran more likely to restart its nuclear program—Libya’s dead former dictator Muammar Gaddafi gave up his nukes, and look what happened to him. The Iranian program was likely prioritized in the first place after the Bush administration’s regime change campaigns in the Middle East… The current approach is contrary to Trump’s repeated objective to not start war in the Middle East, and to seek talks with Iran. Instead, Trump is tinkering with the Middle East balance of power, as Obama and Bush did.”
Willis L. Krumholz, The Federalist

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