But the situation is actually much more dangerous than the usual Washington groupthink: Flynn and Ledeen have constructed a narrative in which the world is at war with a great evil and Iran is the central player on the enemy side. It is a viewpoint that is, unfortunately, shared at least in part by the new secretaries of defense and state and endorsed by many in Congress. This has consequently developed into a new sensibility about U.S. national security that is apparently driving the Trump administration’s responses to Iranian behavior.
As we have seen over the last few weeks, this Iran obsession leads Trump and his officials to exaggerate threats from Iran, accuse Iran of doing things they aren’t doing, and blame them for the actions of groups they don’t control. Inflating the threat from Iran is nothing new, as Giraldi notes, but the early and intense fixation on Iran as the source of all the region’s problems shows how eager the Trump administration is to exaggerate Iranian capabilities and influence. This isn’t a sober response to real Iranian behavior, but comes from a worldview that sees all Iranian actions in the worst possible light and attributes to Iran far more power and influence than it possesses. At best, this is a terrible way to make policy, and at worst it is a recipe for war with Iran in the near future.
Flynn’s tendency to see Iranian involvement where there isn’t any is extreme even by Washington standards, but the bigger problem is that this fantasizing isn’t likely to be called out by very many people in the media or in Congress. Many in Congress share the delusion that Iran has been “expanding” throughout the region, and they reliably echo Saudi propaganda about Yemen. Trump and his advisers are reportedly contemplating deeper U.S. involvement in Yemen based on the lie that the war on Yemen has something to do with combating Iranian influence, and they aren’t encountering much resistance or skepticism because very few people can be bothered to understand the conflict and most don’t seem to know that Iran’s role in the conflict is practically non-existent. It doesn’t help when analysts effectively endorse these errors in their framing of the conflict in Yemen. For example, Yaroslav Trofimov starts a report this way:
Yemen’s simmering war is getting fresh attention from Washington—to the delight of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, hopeful that President Donald Trump will choose the conflict as his first battleground to roll back Iran [bold mine-DL].
It would be more accurate to say that the Gulf states are delighted that the president and his officials are buying into their dishonest justification for their war. Whatever the U.S. does next in Yemen, it won’t “roll back Iran” because Iran isn’t there to be rolled back. If the Trump administration falls for this, they will be dragging the U.S. deeper into an unnecessary war that will do nothing to Iran. Instead, it will continue our shameful policy of helping to inflict death and destruction on Yemenis that have done nothing to us.