Home/Daniel Larison/Trump Keeps Taking Us to the Edge of the Abyss

Trump Keeps Taking Us to the Edge of the Abyss

Trump speaks at Washington rally against the Iran deal back in September 2015. Credit: Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA/Newscom

The president gave conflicting signals in his statements earlier today about the downed U.S. drone:

President Trump blamed someone “loose and stupid” in Iran for shooting down a United States surveillance drone early Thursday, and in bellicose comments warned that “this country will not stand for it, that I can tell you.”

But the president at the same time appeared to offer a way out of the crisis, saying that he suspected it was some individual in Iran who “made a big mistake,” even as Iran had taken credit for the strike and asserted that the high-altitude American drone was operating over Iranian air space, which American officials denied.

Trump emphasized that shooting down the drone was a “mistake,” but he also seemed to suggest that the matter wasn’t closed. When he says “this country will not stand for it,” that implies that he intends to order an attack, but as with much of what Trump says it is a guessing game which threats are real and which are meaningless. On the one hand, Trump keeps telling people in his administration that he doesn’t want war, but he has supported every aggressive and provocative action against Iran for more than thirteen months that brought us to this point. Trump’s approach to Iran is like a driver racing his car towards the edge of a cliff and occasionally shouting, “I don’t want to drive off this cliff!” at the same time that he presses down the accelerator. He does not brake, and he does not attempt to steer in a different direction. He just keeps going forward towards a disaster of his own making while protesting that he is against the disastrous outcome that he has made increasingly likely through his actions. Trump can’t have it both ways. He can’t continue to pile on sanctions, make threats, and indulge the whims of his most hard-line advisers without increasing the risk of war. There will have to be significant changes or we will be on a knife’s edge for at least the next year and a half.

I commented on this earlier today:

As we try to figure out what happened in this latest incident, we need to step back and acknowledge how crazy and unnecessary the entire crisis is. The crisis has essentially been cooked up by hard-liners and regime changers here in the U.S. with the approval of regional client states that hate Iran, and they have brought the U.S. and Iran dangerously close to unnecessary war in a misguided pursuit of compelling the Iranian government to capitulate to a host of unrealistic and excessive demands. Just as the Trump administration brought us alarmingly close to the brink of conflict with North Korea in 2017, they have done the same again with Iran over the course of the last year. The U.S. has been strangling the Iranian economy with increasing intensity since May 2018, and it has set such preposterous conditions for obtaining relief from the pressure campaign that the Iranian government would have no reason to negotiate even if negotiations were the administration’s real goal. U.S. policy towards Iran is regime change in all but name, but pursuing that goal has never been debated or approved by Congress, and there has been no consideration of the costs and likely consequences of pursuing this destructive course.

This has happened out in the open for all to see, and there has been a disturbing lack of serious opposition to Trump’s Iran policy. If Trump has once again taken us to the edge of the abyss, he faced remarkably little resistance in getting us there. One reason for this is the strange bipartisan consensus that treats Iran as a major threat when it is not really a threat to the U.S. at all. Even many of Trump’s partisan foreign policy critics disagree with him over tactics rather than with the relentless hostility towards Iran that he has displayed since taking office. We argue about whether Trump’s Iran policy can “work” or whether it is “working,” but most critics don’t say nearly enough about how cruel and needlessly destructive it is. There also needs to be greater emphasis on how dangerous it is. It has further destabilized the region and it has ratcheted up tensions between the U.S. and Iran to the highest level in decades, and this has happened all so that because hard-liners wanted to sabotage a successful non-proliferation agreement that deprived them of a pretext for conflict. If Trump really wants to avoid war with Iran, he needs to start reversing and undoing the destructive and provocative things that he and his administration have been doing since May 2018. That won’t repair all of the damage that has been done, but it will at least keep us from going off the cliff that the current policy threatens to take us over.

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.

leave a comment