Guest Opinion: Trump should push back against Iran
Iran is offering the Trump administration its first foreign policy crisis. In a provocative act likely intended to take advantage of U.S. political turmoil, Tehran tested a ballistic missile understood by leading Western allies to be a violation of the recent nuclear deal brokered under the Obama administration.
Hawks in America and elsewhere had already begun to push Trump to tear up the Iran agreement, with doves warning even an imperfect deal offered a much better chance at peace and stability than any more forceful alternative. Given the political climate he faces at home, Trump must use international support to apply pressure to the mullahs without risking a degree of escalation he can no longer control.
Without doubt, Iran’s plan is to press for advantages now, figuring out how much it can get away with while attention is focused or scattered elsewhere. In addition to the missile test, which it refuses to confirm or deny, the regime has ratcheted up conflict with America’s Persian Gulf allies. Using shoulder-fired rockets supplied by Tehran, Houthi rebels in Yemen crippled and nearly sank a UAE auxiliary ship that had previously been contracted to the United States.
Sensing opportunity in a fluid situation, the mullahs likely presume that the Trump administration will struggle to mount a concentrated response — or back off in the interest of closer relations with Moscow.
Trump should surprise them. Although Russia has indeed denied that the missile test amounts to a violation of the international agreement, Britain and Israel share the U.S. assessment that it has. Countries with a stake in the dispute should be made to go on record about where they stand and what subsequent action they support or oppose.
Even a Security Council resolution that draws a Russian veto, or offers only watered-down language, affords the Trump administration a starting point for negotiations and coalition-building.
Russia’s behavior will help reveal just how committed to Iran Putin has become, while European reactions can be used to help gauge appetites for a broader adjustment of priorities regarding Russia from the Baltic Sea to Syria.
This episode will prompt the first of many judgment calls from the new administration on Middle Eastern affairs. Trump’s opponents and allies alike share little appetite for an unpredictable wider war in the Mideast theater. At the same time, no one will benefit from a lax or inconsistent approach to Iranian aggression and provocation. President Obama does bear substantial responsibility for the current state of play, but America’s best interests are not served by Trump simply doing the opposite of what Obama has done.
The key is to quickly and effectively connect a potent, immediate response up to a broader strategy that preserves the basic balance of the international order short of war. Too many enemies and adversaries could pile on and hope to make the best of a chaotic situation. And too many friends and allies could falter in that environment.
To prevent that sort of meltdown, the Trump administration needs to mobilize adequate international support for serious but limited consequences against Iran’s recent acts — then swiftly begin the hard work of restoring a durable, predictable order along the blurry edge of the Western world.