Commentary

Trump’s Incoherent Approach to Iran

President Donald Trump is once again issuing bombastic threats of war, this time against Iran. This administration’s total lack of a coherent approach to Iran has created a strategic vacuum, wherein U.S. policy is reduced to the hackneyed regime change rhetoric of neoconservatives and the primal screams of an undisciplined, callow president.

On Sunday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, taking note of an increasingly antagonistic Trump administration, said America should know that “peace with Iran is the mother of all peace and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”

The truth is that Trump’s threat lacks credibility. A U.S. attack would provoke a wider regional war that would be an order of magnitude worse than what we saw in Iraq.

In response, Trump tweeted: “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED.”

That seems a bit of an overreaction, but it is even stranger in the context of Trump’s tweets from 2013, in which he lambasted President Barack Obama for planning to go to war against Iran “to save face” and “to show how tough he is.”

And let’s not forget that as president elect, Trump promised in late 2016 to “stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about.”

Trump’s Twitter threat came just as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was giving a speech Sunday in California aimed at rallying the Iranian people and diaspora to undermine the regime in Tehran. Pompeo railed against the Iranian regime’s tyranny and rights abuses, offering sympathy and support for those who seek to overthrow it.

The notion that the Trump administration cares one wit about democracy and human rights in Iran is so transparently ludicrous as to hardly even require refutation. After all, the White House is enthusiastically supporting the authoritarian regime in Saudi Arabia, a tyranny much worse than the one in Iran and which is committing war crimes in Yemen with U.S. help.

Contrary to Pompeo’s feigned concern for the welfare of the citizens of Iran, the administration’s approach harms, rather than helps, the Iranian people.

The truth is that Trump’s threat lacks credibility. A U.S. attack would provoke a wider regional war that would be an order of magnitude worse than what we saw in Iraq.

The Trump administration’s hostility toward Iran is irrational. Backing out of the nuclear deal not only created a proliferation risk in Iran, it also locked the White House in a policy of confrontation. The result has been confusion, needless antagonism and a dangerous risk of stumbling into yet another costly war in the Middle East.

John Glaser is director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.