Over the past 18 months, Donald Trump has picked a fight with Iran that he won’t end and can’t win. That fight has had horrifying consequences for the Iranian people, led Tehran to restart its nuclear program, and now left parts of the American embassy compound in Baghdad in flames. In the days and weeks to come, Trump’s policy will likely lead either to war or to additional American humiliation, or both.
The fight began in May 2018, when the Trump administration left the Iran nuclear deal, and intensified last spring, when the United States designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization and moved to shut off Iran’s ability to export oil. Numerous observers warned that Iran would meet America’s escalation with escalation of its own. The Revolutionary Guard Corps designation, The New York Times reported last April, “was opposed by some top Trump administration national security officials who said it could incite retaliation by Tehran against American troops and intelligence officers.” The following month, the Times added that “in private meetings, military officials have warned the White House that its maximum-pressure campaign against Iran is motivating … threats to United States troops and American interests in the Middle East.” In The Atlantic that same month, Mike Giglio noted, “The militia groups that act as Iranian proxies in Iraq … would be an effective tool for further [Iranian] escalation” against the U.S.
Iran’s escalation left the Trump administration in a quandary. The president likes grand diplomatic gestures. But his administration’s withdrawal from the Iran deal—combined with its absurdly maximalist demand that, as a condition for any future nuclear agreement, Iran entirely capitulate to Saudi Arabia in the two countries’ contest for regional influence—has made a diplomatic solution to the crisis virtually impossible. [Continue reading…]