Trump's approach to Iran invites disaster

It is probably too kind to say the Trump administration has a strategy concerning Iran. But for the sake of argument, let’s say it does. If the point of that strategy is to prevent Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons and encourage it to become a more democratic and less meddlesome neighbor in the Middle East, it is likely to fail spectacularly.

However, if the goal is to drive Iran toward rebuilding its nuclear weapons program and to boost the chances of war and create greater instability in that part of the world, it could prove a smashing success.

Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani is dead, killed in a precise strike by the U.S. military. It was a violent end for a man who ignored any rules of war or international norms in directing the Quds Force and its related militias to bomb, kill and kidnap as the means to expand Iranian influence across Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Those victims included U.S. troops killed and maimed during the ill-conceived campaign to invade Iraq.

His demise was fitting. But it wasn’t smart. He is now a martyr. A divided Iraq has largely reunited against a common enemy, the Trump-led United States. And Iran’s leaders must now see it as a terrible mistake to have agreed to stop the nation’s nuclear program.

There has been nothing smart about President Trump’s approach to Iran. Beginning with his campaign for the presidency, Trump has criticized the multinational deal under which Iran agreed to end its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions. According to international observers, Iran was abiding by the terms.

The deal had its flaws. In 10 to 15 years, Iran could have walked away and tried to race to develop a bomb. It did not stem Iran’s international military meddling. But it bought time and the possibility that Iranians, if they saw prosperity with sanctions lifted, would not see it in their interest to return to pariah status by pursuing a nuclear program.

Whether Trump opposed the deal because he thought it a bad one, or simply because it was President Obama’s deal, who knows. But abandoning it was a terrible decision. How can any future president negotiate with an adversary, or call on a partnership of other nations in doing so, when that adversary and those partners have learned such agreements are only as good as the current U.S. administration?

What has Iran learned? That it needs nuclear weapons. Agreeing to cease the pursuit of them resulted only in the United States issuing new punishing sanctions and crushing Iran’s economy. Not having nuclear weapons left Iran relatively impotent to respond to the U.S. killing of one of its top leaders, instead employing a largely symbolic missile strike for domestic consumption.

The United States would not be so quick to strike at a nation that carried the threat of nuclear retaliation. This almost certainly is the conclusion reached by Iranian leaders.

A nuclear armed Iran cannot be allowed to happen, however. On that we agree with the president. Which means that having tossed so easily aside the fruits of diplomacy, the method of stopping an Iran bomb will likely be the horrors and unpredictability of a military assault. It may not happen on Trump’s watch, but it is now far more likely to happen.

In the short term, while the killing of Soleimani has not set off a series of back and forth reprisals, the threat is not over. The Middle East and the world are left with a situation that is more perilous, with a path to peaceful resolution that has been washed away, and with war an increased possibility.

Great strategy.

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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