Forget the media hysteria. Trump’s team is unified behind deterring bad acts by Iran, which is under economic pressure to pull back and renegotiate the nuclear deal. This is not war; this is active, artful, and hard to argue deterrence.
As an international belligerent, Iran is in a league of its own. The Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the most destructive, ideologically hateful (internally and externally) insidiously pro-terrorist and destabilizing nations in modern history.
Post-1979, the regime’s Shia Islamic leadership fought a war with Iraq that killed 500,000, executed 8000 political opponents, and began a run of terror. Internally, they punish free speech, press, religious worship, gender equality, sexual activity and political activism – often by execution.
More than 60 papers have been shut down, journalists imprisoned. Seeking reform of radical Islam is punishable by death, as demonstrated by the 2002 execution of a history professor. Oppression of speech is rampant, including the death fatwa against British author Salman Rushdie for “blasphemous” writing.
Internal violence against innocents is common. As an Iranian leader explained in 2018: “If two people are thoroughly flogged” and then “executed” it “will be a lesson for everyone else.” Ironically, this is the same country where little girls are “legally” married at nine, making Iran a state-sponsor of child abuse. Public corruption is rampant and fair elections an oxymoron.
As state-sponsor of anti-Western terrorism, Iran’s theocratic normalization of terror attacks on the West by proxy – including Hezbollah and Hamas – are the extension of internal violence. Military intervention in Syria, Iraq and Yemen are expressly focused on destabilization. And as the New York Times reported, Iran’s foreign ministry is sworn to “wipe Israel away.”
A year ago, refusing to be duped by non-compliance, the Trump Administration pulled out of Iran nuclear deal – arguing for a real deal. When Iran pivoted to ballistic missile tests and terrorism, the Administration began to layer on sanctions.
Now to recent events. Iran’s oil-based economy is in free fall. Even so, they have pushed arms to Yemen aiming for Saudi destabilization, pushed attacks on Israel from Syria and Gaza, threatened Iraq’s democracy and resisted renegotiation of the accord.
In response, the Trump Administration has tightened sanctions. And they are working. Trump sanctioned individuals, ended waivers for those importing Iranian oil, and named Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a “foreign terrorist organization.”
The Goal? Get Iran to step back from attacks on Israel, scroll back military presence in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, stop supporting global terrorism – and rethink diplomacy.
Does the US want war with Iran? Not at all. In fact, what happened this week is more positive than most understand. By all indications, Iran and surrogates took the low road. Under pressure, they pushed terrorism not diplomacy. They attacked.
On May 4, Iranian surrogates launched more than 250 rockets at Israel from Gaza. Similar attacks hit Israel from Syria over the past year. Public reports indicate Israel targeted Iranian outposts in Syria with strikes on Friday.
On May 6, the White House took deterrent measures, sending an aircraft carrier, battlegroup and bomber squadron to the Gulf. Battlegroups have often been sent to the Gulf, to signal US support for allies, blunt terrorism, assure free navigation.
Notably in the 1980s, the US responded to Iranian terrorism by destroying most of Iran’s navy and leveling six Iranian oil platforms, after giving Iran time to cap the wells.
On May 8, Secretary of State Pompeo made a surprise visit to Iraq. Public reports indicate he was briefing Iraq on “a stockpile of Iranian ballistic missiles” in Iraq. That would be important.
On May 9, the Secretary conducted an interview sending the message: Stop these games. As former CIA head, Pompeo assessed Iran was planning attacks.
On May 12, four oil tankers were attacked in the Persian Gulf, two Saudi. International experts attribute them to Iran’s IRGC. US officials again warned Iran, which denied involvement and officially renounced the nuclear deal in 60 days.
On May 13, the US warned US citizens against travel to Iraq. Not outside norms, the Defense Department was pulsed for contingency planning, if Iran attacked US forces. Not to review such plans would be irresponsible; nothing in contingency planning means the US is headed for war. Iraqi leaders indicate no signs of incipient war.
On May 14, the US confirmed Iran was likely behind the tanker attacks and was pushing Yemeni rebels to attack Saudi oil facilities. These reports tend to confirm the initial reading by US intelligence experts.
On May 15, as periodically occurs in unstable zones, State pulled non-essential staff from the Iraqi embassy. Such precautions are not uncommon. They are prudent, not provocative.
Historically, US embassies have been attacked 51 times since 1924. These events did not precipitate war. They occurred in Japan, Pakistan, Colombia, Uzbekistan, Montenegro, China, Yemen, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Syria, Indonesia, India, Tanzania, Kenya, Gabon, the Philippines, Turkey, Taiwan – and yes, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iran. Point: Caution is advisable is a rising threat stream.
Bottom line: Nothing suggests America is going to war with Iran, even if the mainstream media wants to pin the goal on John Bolton, dividing him from the President. This is textbook deterrence. We are preparing for proportionate action in the event of attack – as America did under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.
Recent events have one endgame: Tell Iran’s leadership to remember the past, not underestimate America’s commitment to allies, regional stability, or free oil flow. The President and his national security team are unified. And yes, by the way, the President’s line is open, call any time.