Escalating tensions with Iran
Video allegedly showing Iranians removing a mine
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran reached new heights this week as Tehran announced that it would increase its nuclear fuel stockpile past the limit it agreed to in the 2015 nuclear deal, while President Trump deployed 1,000 more American troops to the Middle East. The latest escalation in the conflict came after the U.S. accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guards of launching attacks that crippled two oil tankers belonging to Japan and Norway in the Gulf of Oman. The Defense Department released grainy video purportedly showing the crew of an Iranian patrol boat removing an unexploded mine from one of the tankers. Iran denied any involvement, but has launched similar attacks in the past. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. does “not want war,” but warned that any action by Iran that kills a single U.S. serviceperson will trigger a military counterattack.
Iran demanded that European nations provide relief from punishing American sanctions imposed since last year, when the Trump administration pulled out of the nuclear agreement negotiated by the Obama administration. Iran and the European signatories have stayed in the pact. But Iran now says that without sanctions relief, it will violate the agreement and accelerate its enrichment and stockpiling of uranium, and may even start enriching higher-grade uranium that could be used for developing nuclear weapons.
What the editorials said
Tehran’s provocations were “entirely predictable,” said The Washington Post. After withdrawing from the Obama administration’s nuclear deal, the Trump administration abandoned diplomacy for a “maximum pressure” campaign designed to economically cripple Iran. Retaliation was inevitable. The White House has offered Tehran only one off-ramp: a list of 12 demands to completely change its foreign policy with no concessions from the U.S. Trump sounds sincere when he says he does not want a war, but “has backed himself into a dangerous corner on Iran.”
“Iran is the bad actor here,” said The Wall Street Journal. Tehran used the “financial windfall” from Obama’s short-sighted nuclear deal to fund its ballistic missile program at home “and spread terror abroad” through its proxy wars in Yemen and Syria. President Trump was right to try to force Iran back to the negotiating table. Tehran’s “tantrum” should convince European leaders to join Trump’s campaign to isolate Iran, instead of “clinging to the remnants of the nuclear deal.”
What the columnists said
Don’t expect Europe to follow Trump’s lead, said Ishaan Tharoor in The Washington Post. The current crisis is exactly what European leaders feared when they begged Trump not to unilaterally pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. “Now they are hesitant to join a confrontation they say was wholly avoidable and, in part, manufactured by the White House.” Trump is definitely in an “awkward position,” said Elliot Hannon in Slate.com. The White House is “now demanding that Tehran comply with an agreement the American president has not only derided but pulled out of!” That agreement may not have been perfect, but the Obama administration knew that half a loaf—no Iranian nuclear development for 15 years—was better than none. “That feeling you have right now is nostalgia for competence.”
If the U.S. doesn’t respond to Iranian provocations, said Eli Lake in Bloomberg.com, we are “asking to be blackmailed.” Holding Iran “accountable for its actions” doesn’t require a full-scale invasion. “A limited strike on Iranian naval facilities” or a few well-placed cruise missiles would send the right message.
But what’s the end game here? asked Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. Trump has veered wildly between making maximalist threats—such tweeting that he could “officially end” Iran—and calling for talks with the Supreme Leader. The president killed the nuclear deal just to prove he could “one-up” President Obama, but with no coherent idea what to do next. Now we have tankers being attacked, a U.S. carrier group on patrol in the region, the Iranian nuclear program on the verge of restarting, and a dangerous crisis building. Trump appears to be approaching this like “someone who plays a commander in chief—on TV.” ■