Because America is the world’s sine qua non economic power, U.S. “secondary sanctions”—meaning we will not trade with anyone who trades with the target country—are potentially deadlier than atom bombs. Trump added secondary financial sanctions as part of his revocation of Obama’s “Iran deal,” reducing Iran’s oil sales to a trickle. Compared to that measure of war, bombing a few ports would have been nothing.
Were the United States to place secondary sanctions on all manner of goods, especially food, the effect would be far greater than an invasion by the entire U.S. army. How the Iranian people would deal with the choice between starving and ending their government’s war on America would be their business.
Correctly, U.S. officials have come to realize that the public despises them as weak if they fail to respond to Iranian provocations and that, if they fight, the public accuses them of incompetent warmongering. Americans rightly despise the establishment’s weakness and fear its force. It could hardly be otherwise, since few alive have experienced U.S. military action as anything but sacrifice of ordinary people’s blood and treasure in pursuit of an incompetent establishment’s gauzy goals. President Trump’s words swelled the American people’s expectations.