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A Completely Avoidable Crisis with Iran

David Hendrickson has written an excellent analysis of the consequences of the Trump administration’s economic war on Iran:

From the beginning, escalation has seemed the likely consequence of the Trump administration’s decision to asphyxiate the Iranian regime by cutting off its ability to export oil. This was a declaration of economic war. That is the polite term, as it is an action every international lawyer on the planet, back in the day when these things mattered, would have called an act of war without any precious qualifiers [bold mine-DL].

Seeking to strangle another country’s economy is bound to provoke resistance and retaliation, and that is what has happened. There would not be increased tensions and the heightened risk of war were it not for the mindless “maximum pressure” campaign. U.S. actions have led directly to increased instability and made war more likely, just as critics of this Iran policy have been warning for the last year and a half. Many Iran hawks presumably hoped for this escalation as a result of the economic war as a way to get the shooting war they have wanted for years, but I suspect quite a few of them were arrogant enough to believe that Iran would eventually yield under enough pressure.

It is important to remember that the decisions to renege on the JCPOA and launch the economic war on Iran were completely unnecessary and wrong. The JCPOA was working exactly as intended, and Iran was complying fully with it. Indeed, Iran continued fully complying with it for more than a year after the U.S. left. In this case, Iran was cooperating and fulfilling its commitments, and for that the Trump administration severely punished them. There was no legitimate cause for the U.S. to withdraw and absolutely no justification to go back on our commitment to provide sanctions relief.

The Trump administration violated the agreement because it wanted to kill it and because it wanted to strangle Iran into capitulation, but they underestimated Iranian resilience and intransigence. The U.S. has been strangling Iran, and so the Iranian government is predictably struggling and fighting back. The obvious course for deescalation would be to stop the strangulation that has caused all of this, but Iran hawks are evidently incapable of acknowledging that their own preferred policies have made things worse. They point to the raging fire that they set, blame everyone else for their mess, and then demand that we pour more fuel on it. The events of the last few months should utterly discredit the boosters of the economic war, but somehow they are never held responsible for the damage that their reckless policies cause.

Besides the disgraceful support for the war on Yemen, the economic war on Iran is the most consequential and dangerous Trump policy, and it has been driven by the misinformation and fantasies of ideologues from the start. These ideologues have encouraged Trump in every destructive decision he has made over the last sixteen months. If he keeps giving them what they want, he will lead the U.S. and his administration into a ruinous and entirely unnecessary conflict that will very likely trigger a global recession and destroy what remains of his presidency.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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