The Perils of Trump’s Iran Obsession
Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson chide Trump for his dangerous Iran obsession:
The United States’ treatment of Iran as a serious strategic competitor is deeply illogical. Iran imperils no core U.S. interests.
Trump’s Iran obsession is probably the most conventional part of his foreign policy and it is also the most irrational. The president’s reflexive hostility to Iran is one of the few constants in his view of the world, and it is one that aligns him most closely with his party’s hawks and parts of the foreign policy establishment. This has been clear for several years ever since Trump declared his opposition to the nuclear deal and surrounded himself with hard-liners. The Iran obsession is among the worst aspects of Trump’s presidency, but it is also one of the least surprising. Over the last eighteen months, Trump’s Iran obsession has become more of a derangement, and it is putting the U.S. and Iran on a collision course at the expense of our relations with many other states and our own economic interests. The risk of unnecessary war continues to rise because the president and his allies insist on making maximalist demands of Iran while imposing stringent sanctions on the country without justification.
As Simon and Stevenson capably explain, there is no valid reason to view Iran as a major threat to the U.S. Contrary to the fevered warnings about Iranian “expansionism,” Iranian military power in the region is quite limited:
Yet Iran’s foreign policy has evolved essentially on the basis of opportunistic realism rather than especially aggressive revisionism, and, as noted, it has a sparse military presence in the region.
There is certainly no reason for our government to treat Iran as if it were a major competitor. Our government’s fixation on Iran as the source of all the region’s problems exaggerates Iran’s influence and puts the U.S. at odds with a regional power whose interests are sometimes aligned with our own. The obsession simply makes no sense:
Casting Iran as a major strategic rival simply doesn’t make sense in terms of traditional international relations considerations such as threat- and power-balancing.
The authors list a number of causes for the unwarranted obsession with Iran, including “pro-Israel” influence and the influence of the Saudis and Emiratis in Washington, and I agree with them. Our political leaders’ enthusiasm for engaging in threat inflation and credulously accepting the threat inflation of others would has to figure prominently in any explanation as well. Obsessing over a non-existent Iranian threat to U.S. interests obviously has nothing to do with American security, and it represents an unhealthy subordination of American interests to those of its reckless regional clients. Indulging those clients in their paranoia about Iran will only stoke more regional conflicts and ensure that the U.S. becomes more deeply involved in those wars, and the result will be greater costs for the U.S. and greater turmoil, instability, and loss of life throughout the region.