Watch what they do, not what they say. That is sage advice about any government. It is particularly true today in the Persian Gulf as the United States and Iran edge ever closer to conflict.
President Donald Trump’s public statements are far blander than the actions of his chief foreign policy advisers. While Trump on Tuesday downplayed the risks in the Gulf and called the mining of two oil tankers last week “minor,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was reported by the Washington Post to have warned Tehran that even an isolated incident by an Iranian proxy that results in an American death will bring a military response.
In that light, the announcement this week that 1,000 more U.S. troops will be sent into the region appears an attempt to get someone killed and create an excuse to open a broader conflict. A thousand troops aren’t enough to fight a land war in Iran, but they may be enough to ignite one.
A complicating factor is that the Iranian president has limited command and control over crucial parts of the Islamic republic’s armed forces, in particular the Revolutionary Guard, which answers, if it answers to anybody, to the mullahs rather than the elected government.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been badly undercut by the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy. Iran’s hardliners, who opposed the nuclear restrictions Rouhani agreed to, see the current U.S. policy as proof that the Americans cannot be trusted.
And indeed, trust is a problem for Washington in all directions. The administration’s constant mendacity has alienated virtually all our allies except Israel and Saudi Arabia, the latter of which deserves to be alienated. The false claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction by the George W. Bush administration could at least be excused as a good faith error, but Trump’s constant falsehoods shadow any assertion his administration makes.
The United States’ traditional allies, signatories to the nuclear agreement Trump has renounced, clearly mistrust his intent in the Gulf.
The U.S. insistence that Iran continue to abide by the agreement while we undermine it is unworkable and unwise. Washington appears to have a deeper goal of overthrowing the regime — a goal long proclaimed by John Bolton, now Trump’s national security adviser. This raises the risk that the administration will bumble its way into a nasty, bloody war.
Pompeo’s reported assertion to congressional leaders that the 9/11 resolution covers military action against Iran is ludicrous. Congress has repeatedly failed since the Iraq War to exert its constitutional authority over the initiation of military action. It should not again lie supine while a president overreaches.