Start with an obvious point: Whether it was helping overthrow the government in Yemen or saving Syria’s dictator as he gassed his own people, Iran was destabilizing the Middle East even as it negotiated with the West over its nuclear program starting in 2013. That’s one reason why Trump is now trying a maximum pressure approach — to get Iran to end its own adventures in the Middle East.
Another aspect of the critique of Trump’s policy is a fear that U.S. brinkmanship with Iran will lead to a repeat of the Iraq War that started in 2003. Pete Buttitgieg, the Democratic candidate for president, shared this concern in an interview. He pointed to the presence of John Bolton as Trump’s national security adviser as a reason to be alarmed.
This is not the way to look at it. To start, Trump and his top advisers are not planning a large-scale invasion and reconstruction of Iran as George W. Bush’s administration did with Iraq in the aftermath of Sept. 11. The Pentagon announced Monday that it is sending only 1,000 troops and made clear they are “for defensive purposes.” Administration officials tell me that a limited strike on Iranian naval facilities is being considered, along with less kinetic options, such as military escorts for some tankers.