Trump strains to balance diplomacy, military threat to Iran

An oil tanker is on fire in the Gulf of Oman on June 13. Saturday’s assault on the beating heart of Saudi Arabia’s vast oil empire follows a new and dangerous pattern that’s emerged across the Persian Gulf this summer of precise attacks that leave few obvious clues of who launched them. Associated Press file

The standoff with Iran over the attack on one of Saudi Arabia’s primary oil fields changes daily as American hawks circle waiting to dive in for a fight.

Iran has been our sworn enemy since 1979, consistently backing those who would attack the U.S., Israel and our allies and aspiring to nuclear weapons. It’s a dangerous nation.

The tension has been building since the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and a western coalition dissolved. President Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, and Iran subsequently resumed atomic development. The administration has applied severe economic sanctions that, among other things, cut off Iran’s oil exports.

In response, Iran is doing what it can to provoke a response. The attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil processing plant and its Khurais oil field disrupted about 5% of the world’s daily supply of crude oil production.

Iran has denied involvement, and Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility. President Trump insists intelligence indicates Iran is directly responsible, but it seems like a distinction without much of a difference. The Houthis are Iranian proxies in Yemen. Iran and the Houthis have a common enemy, Saudi Arabia, our ally.

After the Abqaiq attack, Trump tweeted that the U.S. is “locked and loaded,” which was widely interpreted as a move toward military force. Such war-like language may play well politically, but it’s a dangerous game.

The American experience of the past 18 years is that being the world’s dominant superpower has its limitations, particularly in the ability of military strength to solve conflicts with determined opponents. Our military is unmatched in the world and certainly not by Iran, but that’s not the ultimate leverage we once thought it was.

America continues to send soldiers and money into Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria with no end in sight. Once we turn to war, we are stuck with protracted struggles that breed new generations sworn to fight us. Does anyone think that the results in Iran — a nation enormously larger in area and population than Iraq — would be any better?

Trump has backed away from his initial bellicosity, in favor of continued economic sanctions. Good.

Rushing into war is a fool’s choice. Diplomacy and economic pressure take patience and may not succeed, but military conflict is no alternative.

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