A year after a U.S. military operation rid this world of the Iranian terrorist-general Qasem Soleimani, the same tired voices are repeating the same tired message, even on the eve of their return to power: “The Trump administration is on the brink of war with Iran!”
“Trump is a very wounded and very cornered animal in an end-game scenario. He’s got a few weeks left, and we know that he is capable of extremely erratic behavior,” says Professor Danny Postel of Northwestern University. After the events of last Wednesday, it’s hard to argue with Postel’s assessment of the president’s psyche. But I still very much doubt that dragging the country into a war is all that high on the president’s to-do list.
Trita Parsi, a mouthpiece of the Islamic Republic of Iran and executive vice president at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, has also weighed in in a predictably irresponsible manner. Parsi speculates that Trump may carry the U.S. into a war with Iran in order to placate Sheldon Adelson (who has since passed away), evangelicals (whom he smears as being interested in Israel’s security only to bring about the events of the Book of Revelation), and other supporters of the Jewish state. Forget that Trump has always been fond of decrying “forever wars” in the Middle East; the Jews and Christians will have him waging a holy war in Persia on their behalf!
Parsi’s theory is as offensive as it is unconvincing. Deterrence, not war, has always been the aim of the Trump administration’s approach to containing the rogue state. But he’s shown no signs of backing away from his conspiratorial thinking, which is motivated by a stubborn pro-regime ideology. In a tweet on January 3, he claimed to have spoken to a “former U.S. military official” who had told him that war with Iran prior to Joe Biden’s inauguration was “probable.” Idrees Ali, a Reuters correspondent covering the Pentagon, responded tersely that “this is not the current thinking in the military.”
The emphasis on deterrence, in a different way, also traces back to the Obama administration, which, in searching for something that could at least be spun as a signature foreign-policy achievement, did everything in its power to sign a deal, any deal with the Iranians. Obama’s team eventually succeeded, but its desperation led to the capitulation known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Agreement (JCPOA), which freed up billions of dollars for the Iranians, did nothing to curb their global terror network, and at best only delayed their path to a nuclear weapon.
Worst of all, none of the non-Iranian signatories to the deal were willing to enforce it when the Iranians inevitably decided to break its terms. Back before it was finalized, opponents of the JCPOA predicted this would happen. They were proven right this fall when France, Germany, and the U.K. all voted to allow the embargo on selling arms to Iran to lapse, despite the Islamic Republic’s well-documented violations of the deal. Even U.N. secretary-general António Guterres was forced to acknowledge those violations back in 2017, when he handed a report detailing Iran’s provision of ballistic missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen over to the Security Council. Two years after that, in July 2019, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani came right out and announced that Iran would break the JCPOA’s terms. As Zachary Laub and Kali Robinson of the Council on Foreign Relations observed, Tehran did so by exceeding “the agreed-upon limits to its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.” By that November, the regime relayed that it would also start injecting uranium gas into the centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility.
To excuse this shortsighted deal, rapprochement with Iran generally must be treated as an article of faith in a quasi-religion, and the sole alternative to it must be said to be a bloody shooting war in the Middle East. This false choice has been repeated over and over again by the Obama administration and President Obama himself. In one speech, Obama maintained that “congressional rejection of this deal leaves any U.S. administration that is absolutely committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon with one option — another war in the Middle East. . . . I am stating a fact.” Convenient, that.
Even now, as Parsi and his ilk insist that the Trump administration is the party responsible for escalating tensions, Iran is leveling up its nuclear program. Earlier this month, the regime announced that it would start enriching uranium at the 20 percent level, nearly enough to produce a nuclear weapon. It has also declared that if it is to re-enter a nuclear agreement with the United States and other signatories to the JCPOA, there can be no snapback sanction clauses. In other words, Iran does not want to be held responsible if it violates this hypothetical second deal as it did the first one.
No war is forthcoming with Iran, and despite the media narrative, the Trump administration has never been particularly close to open hostilities with the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism — even in the aftermath of the Soleimani operation. If war did somehow break out, though, one can only imagine that Parsi et al. would blame the United States in spite of the Iranian regime’s support for radical Islamic terror, blatant flouting of the JCPOA, efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, desire to use such weapons to either menace or annihilate Israel, and horrific abuses of its own people. And there could hardly be a more damning indictment of them than that.