The new American strategy on Iran is to dismantle the nuclear deal and lay the groundwork for a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s most recent Secretary of State, recently visited Saudi Arabia and Israel, and in both countries he focused almost exclusively on Iran. As yesterday’s early morning bombing of Iranian targets in Syria has shown, the Israelis are becoming increasingly concerned that a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria will harm their security.
North Korea is different: it already has nuclear weapons and the ability to strike American targets. Pompeo speaks softly with the North Koreans, but with Iran, which has no nuclear capacities (and according to Pompeo himself, was not seeking them prior to the nuclear deal), he carries a stick. John Bolton, whose support for the criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003 is well documented, has long advocated a military strike against Iran, and he has a very cozy relationship with the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, an Iranian dissident organization dedicated to regime change in Iran.
For their part, the Iranians already see the nuclear deal as a huge compromise: Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the treaty clearly states that signatories are not under any legal obligation to refrain from enriching uranium, so long as it is used for civilian, not military purposes. The fact that the Iranians even accepted this deal is already a major concession to Western powers, and the only reason they accepted the deal was to escape years of crippling economic sanctions. The idea that they would now return to the table after years of grueling negotiations is highly unlikely.
This de facto blockade will embolden hardliners in Iran who saw in the nuclear deal little more than capitulation to the fickle and ever-changing demands of the West. The Iranians will themselves abandon the deal if the cost of remaining in it becomes higher than the cost of pulling out. They may decide to reinstate their enrichment program. The Trump administration is betting that this will occur, and that it will cause European powers to unite behind an American military strike against Iran. All of the pieces will be in place.
The meaning of Trump’s alleged “isolationism” is finally becoming clear: what he really opposes are large-scale ground invasions (which he perceives as a drain on American military resources), not air campaigns against foreign adversaries. He hired Pompeo and Bolton partly in order to pursue a more aggressive strategy against Iran. They know what they are doing.
An American strike against Iran raises the specter of a wider regional war. Unlike their mute response to Israel’s recent strike against Iranian targets in Syria, the Russians will likely see any attack on Iran as an attack on one of their key assets in the region. Those opposed to military action against Iran urgently need to start speaking up now if they hope to inform the American public on the disastrous consequences any attack against Iran is likely to have, for the region and for the Iranian people themselves.