Robert Edwards Hunter has most recently been a Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Washington, D.C.
At long last, the U.S. mainstream media (print division), much of Congress, and the Washington think-tank commentariat are waking up to the prospect of a war with Iran and not liking what they see. Iran as a problem? Yes. But worth yet another Middle East war? No thanks.
This epiphany is coming none too soon. It is already the eleventh hour, if not the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute, something worthy of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock. Ironically, many of today’s handwringers are the same people who, for years, warned constantly that Iran is a major threat to the United States and must be confronted everywhere, with the conviction, however often denied, that only “regime change” would suffice. Further, some leaders in U.S. foreign policy, notably the late Senator John McCain, also consistently advocated bombing Iran, as did the current national security advisor, John Bolton.
Indeed, Iran has posed threats to some U.S. regional partners, notably Saudi Arabia and Israel, though they have not been innocent parties to the confrontation. But strategically, the United States is only indirectly affected. Even keeping Persian Gulf oil flowing is as much in Iran’s interest as anyone else’s—unless war is made on it and thus threatening the oil flow becomes part of its response. Further, despite the repeated insistence by U.S. officials and the commentariat that Iran is the world’s leading exporter of terrorism, that title properly belongs to Saudi Arabia, even taking into account all of Iran’s activities.
Even if Iran were guilty as charged on all counts, making war is another matter. Such a punishment would surely not fit the crime, and most Americans would agree.
President Donald Trump bears a major share of the blame for getting the United States into its current jam over Iran. In addition to the potential for great regional disruption, this confrontation is already having a destructive diplomatic and political impact on key allies, especially in Europe. Even before his election, Trump expressed his contempt for Barack Obama’s success in putting the Iranian nuclear genie back in the bottle and corking it tightly, with the 2015 multilateral Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Trump hyped the Iranian “threat” and withdrew from the JCPOA just over a year ago. Fortunately for almost everyone’s genuine security interests—including the United States, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Europeans—the Iranians so far haven’t left the pact, nor have any of the other signatories. However, in response to U.S. actions, Iran this month suspended some secondary provisions. Trump got his headline without risking Persian Gulf stability in the nuclear realm.
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