Unlock and unload. Attacking Iran would be a mistake

Fingers crossed that President Trump’s bellicose tweet in response to an attack on a Saudi Arabia oil facility — “locked and loaded” — was just more baseless blather from the president and doesn’t represent any real plan of action. For multiple reasons, as Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, correctly observed: “Direct engagement by U.S. military in response to Iran’s attacks … would be a grave mistake.”

This and past U.S. administrations have authorized the sale of billions of dollars of U.S. weaponry to Saudi Arabia. Providing that level of advanced weaponry to an unreliable ally has only fueled the potential for regional conflict. There has been no reciprocal U.S. demand that Saudi leaders improve their deplorable human rights record. Instead, U.S. weapons and complicity have enabled Saudi Arabia to continue another human-rights atrocity, its bombing campaign on neighboring Yemen, killing thousands of civilians.

But right or wrong, the Saudis have the weapons. So why should that nation expect, and why would the U.S. entertain, fighting its battles with a retaliatory strike on Iran?

If the United States did strike militarily, there are no assurances it could be contained to a single retaliatory action. Iran could take the opportunity to expand the engagement into a regional conflict. U.S. forces in the area could be exposed. Iran’s surrogates could strike out with terrorist attacks. Russian forces remain in nearby Syria. In other words, there would be no predicting how things would play out.

Attacks and retaliations in the volatile region could pitch fragile world and U.S. markets, already skittish over Trump’s trade war, into recession. While the United States is in a far stronger position than it was during the energy price spikes of the 1970s, with the nation now a net oil exporter, energy markets are still global and a disruption of Middle East supplies still a big deal. Energy-price spikes have been tied to most every recession in the last 50 years.

If the United States goes in locked and loaded, it cannot expect a unified allied response as was assembled by past presidents. After President Obama formed a broad alliance to pressure Iran into a deal to end its nuclear weapons' program, including shipping out its weapons-grade uranium and stopping further production, Trump chose to unilaterally withdraw from the agreement. The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy, imposing crushing sanctions on Iran, has only encouraged that nation’s leadership to ratchet up its aggression.

It has been a foreign policy failure for the Trump White House.

European allies, having watched the U.S. blow up the deal without their consultation, are hardly likely to follow him into a Middle East conflict.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., has emerged as a voice of reason from his position on the Foreign Relations Committee. He was a leader in the legislative effort, unfortunately unsuccessful, to end any U.S. involvement in the relentless and cruel bombing of Yemen neighborhoods. Saudi leaders say the attacks are an effort to put down the four-year insurgence of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, but the bombing is out of all proportion.

Murphy denounced the Trump administration’s efforts to simplify the recent events as an Iranian attack without provocation, when in reality Saudi Arabia and Iran are in a proxy war through Yemen and the Houthis. Iran almost certainly played a major role in this attack. The scale suggests it was beyond the capacity of the rebel forces. But given the reality behind this conflict, that is a distinction without much of a difference.

“Such irresponsible simplification … is how we get into dumb wars,” Murphy succinctly observed.

Contrast that with the war-eager comments of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

“It is now time for the U.S. to put on the table an attack on Iranian oil refineries … which will break the regime’s back,” Graham said.

It is more likely that action would unite the Iranian people behind their leaders and invite the broader regional conflict discussed earlier in this editorial. Has Graham learned nothing from past U.S. failures to seek political ends through military force — Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan?

Stay out of this conflict. End U.S. support for the Saudi military attacks in Yemen. And in 2020 elect a new president who can start to rebuild a cohesive foreign policy free of reckless tweet storms.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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