President Donald Trump’s decision to avoid an unnecessary war with Iran deserves plenty of praise. There is no need for another conflict in the Middle East – which would cost the lives of both civilians and military members – over the destruction of a drone ($130M price tag or otherwise).
The next steps for the administration will be quite interesting as it appears there may be a fracture within the ranks on foreign policy. Trump’s inner circle is set up almost as a team of rivals – to steal a line from Doris Kearns Goodwin – with a variety of opinions. The hawks enjoy powerful positions with John Bolton as National Security Adviser and Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State. The more cautious parts include Marine General Joe Dunford, who chairs the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Fox News host Tucker Carlson also weighed in on Iran during a talk with Trump.
Trump appears to vacillate from one side to the other depending on the issue. He called off last week’s strike but had previously approved attacks in Syria. The president has also approved a troop buildup in the Middle East with over 20K military members in the region and a thousand more headed there – per The Wall Street Journal. We’re still involved in the Yemen civil war with Green Berets helping out Saudi troops. Trump will hold summits and praise North Korea but won’t talk with Venezuela.
Restraint should win the day as there is no reason to go to war with Iran. The country is not a threat to the United States – despite their “Death to America” chants in Parliament.
There also needs to be more consistency with Iran. Trump pulled out of the Iran agreement by using the excuse it wasn’t approved by the Senate. He should have asked the Senate to vote on the agreement because it is a treaty, as required by the Constitution. Now he has Pompeo pushing for talks while doing a slapdash of sanctions in hopes of isolating Iran further.
Former President George W. Bush once admitted sanctions weren’t working.
“We’re relying upon others, because we’ve sanctioned ourselves out of influence with Iran,” he told the press in 2004. “We don’t have much leverage with the Iranians right now, and we expect them to listen to those voices, and we’re a part of the universal acclaim.”
The U.S. didn’t change its policy during Bush’s tenure, however, and former President Barack Obama kept major sanctions on Iran in place following the nuclear deal (which really should have gone through the Senate).
It should be pointed out the Iranian regime has figured out ways to get around the sanctions. Via National Interest in 2013:
Iran’s negative economic trajectory has led it to adopt a so-called “economy of resistance.” Over the short to medium term, this has taken shape in several ways, including maintaining a positive balance of trade through import controls and a positive balance of payments through utilizing domestic financial resources in funding projects; relying on foreign-exchange reserves; reducing the state budget’s reliance on oil revenue while boosting revenues from taxes and privatization; and increasing domestic refining capacity in order to use excess crude at home while shifting domestic energy consumption to free up gas for exports. At the same time, trade patterns have been forced to move away from official banking to unofficial financial networks, and merchants have been compelled to resort to barter trade.
The National Iranian American Council wrote in 2013 they believed the sanctions were enabling Iranian leaders to stay in power.
Supreme Leader Khamenei has remained steadfast in his approach to sanctions. The escalating sanctions regime has enabled him to strengthen a powerful pre-existing narrative that portrays Western powers as a brutal, immoral group of governments out to “get” Iran, and that their core interest is to keep Iran underdeveloped and dependent. This narrative serves to maintain unity in a fragmented power structure, through:
*Sustenance of the image of an unrelenting enemy.
*Justification of the need for a feared security apparatus as a means to counter that enemy.
*Mobilizing the support of a minority segment of society who can be paraded as “popular support” when needed – on the anniversary of the revolution, during elections, etc.
The President’s avoidance of military action against Iran is a good thing and one he should continue to keep in place. However, Trump is wrong to not end the current policy of sanctions upon sanctions. Diplomatic engagement and talk will do more to strengthen ties between America and Iran and encourage freedom in both through free trade and free markets.
The role of Congress should not be ignored in this. The Senate needs to vote on whatever plan is made: whether it’s airstrikes or a new agreement with the Iranians. The Constitution demands it, and if Obama was wrong for bypassing the Senate on the Iran Deal (and he was) then Trump should not go around them to enact whatever policy he’s planning. His decision to show restraint on Iran is laudable, but he should show more when it comes to sanctions.