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The Increasingly Dangerous Iran Obsession

There is increasing danger that the Iran-obsessed Trump administration is looking for ways to turn our shameful policy in Yemen into a pretext for direct conflict with Iran.

There was an alarming report buried in this story about Trump’s dysfunctional National Security Council:

Last week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was exploring whether the Navy could intercept and board an Iranian ship to look for contraband weapons possibly headed to Houthi fighters in Yemen. The potential interdiction seemed in keeping with recent instructions from Mr. Trump, reinforced in meetings with Mr. Mattis and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, to crack down on Iran’s support of terrorism.

But the ship was in international waters in the Arabian Sea, according to two officials. Mr. Mattis ultimately decided to set the operation aside, at least for now. White House officials said that was because news of the impending operation leaked [bold mine-DL], a threat to security that has helped fuel the move for the insider threat program. But others doubt whether there was enough basis in international law, and wondered what would happen if, in the early days of an administration that has already seen one botched military action in Yemen, American forces were suddenly in a firefight with the Iranian Navy.

The U.S. obviously doesn’t and wouldn’t have any legal right to seize another navy’s ship in international waters, which would be an act of war. If another government attempted this against an American or allied ship, we would correctly view it as completely unjustified aggression. It is lucky that Trump didn’t stumble into a war with Iran in such a reckless way, but it seems that the plan to attack an Iranian vessel was “set aside” mainly because it happened to leak. If it hadn’t, the U.S. might have already fired the opening shots in a new war. In this case, Mattis doesn’t appear to be restraining Trump’s worst instincts at all, but instead seems willing to indulge them when it comes to hostility towards Iran. Picking a fight with Iran in the name of aiding the disgraceful Saudi-led war on Yemen would also be the height of stupidity, since Iranian support for the Saudis’ enemies has been negligible all along.

The U.S.-backed war on Yemen has been a disaster for that country. Now there is increasing danger that this Iran-obsessed administration is looking for ways to turn our shameful policy there into a pretext for direct conflict with Iran. It was already horrible that the U.S. was enabling and fueling the Saudi-led war, but it would be even worse if the U.S. started a war with Iran as a result of our entanglement there. The fact that top administration officials appear to be looking for a way to do that rather than doing what they can to avoid it speaks volumes about Trump’s foreign policy team.