U.S. sends mixed messages on Iran threat
President Trump threatened to wipe Iran from the map this week, only to swiftly dial down his rhetoric the next day by saying he’d be happy to negotiate with the Islamic Republic. Fears of a U.S.-Iran clash have intensified in recent weeks, after Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton—a longtime proponent of regime change in Tehran—announced that the U.S. was sending an aircraft carrier and bombers to the region following reports that Iran or its proxies were preparing to target American forces. After a rocket launched by a suspected Iran-backed militia landed within a mile of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad this week, Trump tweeted, “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.” A day later, the president softened his stance. “If they called,” he said of Iran’s leaders, “we would certainly negotiate.” Administration officials say they want Iran to end its support for terrorism and abandon its nuclear program. Iran had curtailed its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief as part of an international deal signed in 2015; Trump withdrew the U.S. from the pact last year.
Iran announced this week that it had quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium, which is suitable for power plants but not for nuclear weapons. By raising production, Iran could soon exceed the stockpile limit on enriched uranium set by the 2015 accord. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said his country would not cave to U.S. threats. “Iranians have stood tall for a millennia while aggressors all gone,” he tweeted. “Try respect—it works!”
What the editorials said
If war breaks out, it’ll be Bolton who’s to blame, said USA Today. Trump was elected in part because of his promise to end America’s endless wars. Yet he seems to have been talked into a “maximum pressure” campaign of ever-tighter sanctions and increasingly bellicose threats by Bolton, who “has made a career out of advocating force against Iran.” With U.S. naval battle groups and Iranian gunboats eyeing each other warily in the Persian Gulf, Trump should be aware that one wrong move could ignite a regional conflagration. If you want to blame anyone for the soaring tensions, “blame the state sponsors of terrorism in Iran,” said The Wall Street Journal. Rather than spend the money it harvested from sanctions relief to help its own citizens, Tehran used that cash to sponsor Houthi militants in Yemen, the murderous Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and “the terrorist militias of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.” Trump and Bolton’s goal isn’t to start a war, it’s to force Iran to stop spreading chaos and behave like a normal country.
What the columnists said
“You know we’re in trouble when Trump looks like the adult in the White House,” said Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times. Bolton’s solution for every international crisis—North Korea’s nukes, Nicolás Maduro’s autocratic regime in Venezuela, and now Iranian belligerence in the Middle East—is U.S. military action. Thankfully, Trump has overruled his warmongering adviser every time. But “all those collisions raise a question: Why does Bolton still have his job?”
Bolton has far more “clarity and intelligence” than his critics, said Hugh Hewitt in The Washington Post. He recognizes that Iran will remain a rogue state so long as it’s ruled by “theocrats bent on the destruction of Israel and the triumph of its Shiite ideology over Sunni Islam.” Of course, Bolton isn’t going to persuade Trump to launch a full-scale invasion, given the president’s disdain for “nation-building” projects. But Trump might put the mullahs in their place with a limited show of force, as he did with the two strikes he ordered on Assad’s genocidal regime.
There’s no such thing as a limited strike on Iran, said Max Boot, also in the Post. The country has highly advanced, Russian-supplied air defenses that could cause a “greater loss of pilots and aircraft than we have become accustomed to.” And Tehran has spent decades planning how to hit back after a U.S. strike, through swarms of drones and anti-ship cruise missiles, cyberattacks, and assaults by proxies on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Just like the Iraq hawks in 2003, today’s hard-liners have no idea how such a fight would end. Far better “not to risk starting one.” ■