How to respond to Tehran’s pirates, Part Two

Yesterday, I discussed a column by Bret Stephens about how the U.S. should respond if Iran continues to attack ships in the Persian Gulf. Stephens recalled that in 1988, after a U.S. frigate was badly damaged when it hit an Iranian naval mine, we destroyed half the Iranian fleet in a matter of hours.

I noted that today Iran is much more capable than in 1988 of inflicting damage on U.S. interests in a variety of ways, should the U.S. attack its fleet. This doesn’t necessarily mean our response should be different, but it’s a reality we must consider.

There’s a second difference between 1988 and now that I should have pointed out. In 1988, Iran damaged a U.S. frigate. This year, so far, Iran has damaged non-U.S. vessels.

In my view, any Iranian attack on a U.S. vessel, or any other attack that results in even one American death, should produce a strong military counterattack. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly has warned Tehran to this effect.

But should future attacks on non-U.S. ships produce such a response? Stephens argued that “firing on unarmed ships in international waters is a direct assault on the rules-based international order” that should not go unpunished. I agree. Thus, I think there’s a strong case that future attacks by Iran on any ship in the Persian Gulf should produce some kind of a military response.

However, I’m not sure that going so far as destroying (or trying to destroy) Iran’s Navy is the right response to an attack against a foreign ship.