A phony war

If you consume the mainstream media, you might be under the impression that President Trump is about to take the U.S. into war with Iran. Even if you only watch Fox News, you might believe that John Bolton is pushing Trump to go to war. Tucker Carlson says that Bolton wants a war with Iran.

This is fake news. There’s no evidence that Bolton desires a war with Iran and none that, even if this were what Bolton wants, Trump would be willing to start such a war.

Matthew Continetti of the Washington Free Beacon debunks the notion that Bolton is pushing Trump towards war. He observes that neither President Trump nor anyone in his administration, including John Bolton, has said a single word about a preemptive strike, much less a full-scale war, against Iran. He notes too that Trump’s reluctance to intervene militarily overseas is well known.

In Continetti’s view, the claim that Bolton is trying to lead us to war with Iran stems from the desire of the Iranians, the liberal foreign policy establishment, and the mainstream media to salvage former president Obama’s Iran nuclear deal:

The antiwar cries are not about context, and they are certainly not about deterring Iran. Their goal is saving President Obama’s nuclear deal by manipulating Trump into firing Bolton and extending a lifeline to the regime.

I think that’s generally right.

This is not to deny that Trump’s Iran policy carries more risk of war in the short term than Obama’s appeasement policy. The president wants to squeeze Iran. By doing so, he hopes either to force Iran back to the table to negotiate the termination of its nuclear program (very unlikely) or to bring about regime change (possible, but not easy). If he succeeds in doing either, the chance of the U.S. ever going to war with Iran will drop to just about zero.

However, Iran doesn’t like being squeezed. Thus, it has responded by taking a more aggressive and militaristic approach to U.S. interests in the Middle East. This response, in turn, caused the U.S. to take counter-measures. The purpose is to deter Iran from the kind of overt aggression against U.S. interests that might trigger a military response by the U.S.

In all likelihood, Iran will be deterred. U.S. military strikes against it would be devastating to the regime. They would probably bring it down. There is a slight risk, though, that Iran won’t be deterred and that war could ensue.

But there’s always a slight risk of war when the U.S. stands against the ambitions of regimes that threaten U.S. interests and regional stability. There’s a slight risk that we could end up fighting Russia or China — a much more daunting prospect than fighting Iran.

The alternative to Trump’s policy is to ease the pressure on Iran and watch as it continues its aggression in the Middle East and, eventually, obtains nuclear weapons. Our choices then will be war or Iranian domination of the Middle East to the severe detriment of American interests, economic and otherwise.

Thus, Trump’s policy of simultaneously squeezing the regime and deterring it seems clearly preferable to the alternative.