July 29, 2017
Heather Hurlburt wrote about how Trump is increasing tensions with Iran for New York Magazine.
Given Iran’s regional goals, the means it believes are acceptable to employ, and the groups with which it is allied, defending U.S. interests and the nuclear deal was always going to require both strong regional presence and adroit diplomacy. What we have instead, though, is the unpredictable and bellicose rhetoric of the president and his team. Deterrence theory says that countries can be frightened into remaining peaceful if they know exactly what the consequences for aggression would be.
But the range of tweets, offhand remarks, threats, and past ruminations about regime change leave quite a bit of room for Iranian actors to believe that Washington is determined not just to contain their government, but to remove it from power. Michael Crowley points out at Politico that “key Trump officials are on the record as saying that Iran will remain a U.S. enemy until the clerical leaders and military officials who control the country’s political system are deposed.” And they have continued to make such statements — earlier this spring, Secretary Tillerson sparked a public protest from the Iranian government when he told Congress that the U.S. should work with opposition groups “toward the peaceful transition of that government.”
The nuclear deal was never intended to resolve all the problems between the U.S. and Iran. It was intended to take off the table the question of nuclear weapons, which all sides had identified as the flashpoint that could most easily flare into war. But given both Washington’s differences with Tehran on key issues from human rights to Syria, and this administration’s addiction to incendiary and off-the-cuff rhetoric, that’s exactly where we (still) are.