President Donald Trump is already engaged in a war of words with Iran. More rational voices from Congress, the Pentagon, the U.N. and allied nations need to be heard as the threat of an actual war builds.
“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Trump tweeted early Monday. “Never threaten the United States again!”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif returned the rhetorical fire. Recalling “other aggressors” such as Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great, Zarif tweeted that “Iranians had stood tall for millennia” and that “#EconomicTerrorism and genocidal taunts won’t end Iran.”
The foreign minister’s missive ended with “Try respect — it works!,” but it’s unlikely that Trump will ever take that approach with Iran, especially since he hasn’t respected allies or even the American people regarding an unnecessary escalation with the Persian nation. Trump, after all, abrogated America’s involvement in the multinational Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, designed to thwart the theocracy’s potential to develop nuclear weapons.
While the pact isn’t ideal and has failed to curb Iran’s regional destabilization, it was not the “disaster” Trump has called it; international inspectors and even the administration agreed Iran was in compliance.
The administration hasn’t stopped there; it’s threatened economic penalties on JCPOA signatory countries that live up to the agreement and continue to conduct commerce with Iran. Predictably, Iran has threatened to increase its nuclear activity in response. It set a 60-day deadline with these nations to protect its oil and banking sectors from further U.S. penalties or it will begin enriching uranium nearer to weapons-grade levels.
For its part, the U.S. recently deployed an aircraft carrier and B-52s, in a show of strength, and on Sunday commenced “enhanced security patrols” in international waters with the Gulf Security Council. Now world security depends on neither side making a military miscalculation that could spark a broader conflict or even war.
The Pentagon has already drawn up plans to deploy at least 120,000 troops to the region should Iran attack U.S. interests or if it begins to develop nuclear weapons. An actual war, of course, would require scores more, and such a conflict could easily spiral into the type of conflict candidate Trump railed against in 2016. And it should not be forgotten that the U.S. already backs Saudi Arabia in the devastating war in Yemen that the U.N. calls the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.
Diplomacy is difficult because the U.S. does not have formal relations with Iran. But in an encouraging sign, Oman’s minister of state for foreign affairs, who has acted as an intermediary before, was dispatched to Iran after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called that nation’s leader.
But the bellicose Pompeo also may be part of the problem. National Security Adviser John Bolton, an unrepentant Iraq hawk, wrote a 2015 opinion piece for the New York Times urging a strike on Iran to prevent proliferation.
Iran has never had a nuclear bomb, although that’s at risk with the scrapping of the JCPOA. So diplomacy, including the call from the U.N. secretary-general “to lower the rhetoric and lower the threshold of action as well,” is welcome. So, too, would be urgent calls for caution from Congress.