Trump Confronts Iran—Without Allies, a Defense Secretary, or a Coherent Policy

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“It sort of reminds me of someone divorcing their spouse and then demanding their ex-spouse doesn't 'cheat' ...

Mother Jones - June 20, 2019

... The crisis comes at a moment when relations between the US and its traditional allies are under strain. Trump has repeatedly bashed multilateral institutions such as NATO and has criticized European countries for not paying their fair share to support the alliance. The Europeans resent Trump’s unilateral decision to abandon the nuclear deal and, more recently, have felt economic pain from the administration’s efforts to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero. Iran, experts say, is trying to take advantage of the situation to further drive a wedge between Trump and European leaders.

“[Iran is] walking a fine line. They’re trying to avoid any pretext for greater cooperation between Europe, Russia, and the Trump administration,” Suzanne Maloney, senior fellow in the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy, said. “At the same time, in their own perception, they see an interest in demonstrating to the United States that they won’t bow to pressure.”

Complicating matters is the fact that the US has all but exhausted its menu of choices to isolate Iran. Trump’s brutal sanctions have already decimated the Iranian economy and limited the financial support regime officials have been able to provide to Hezbollah and other militant groups propped up by Tehran. Left with few remaining options, the administration has veered toward the possibility of a war with the second-most populous country in the Middle East—a country that possesses “the region’s largest and most diverse arsenal of ballistic missiles,” according to the Missile Defense Project from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

No policy consensus has emerged from the Trump’s ramshackle team, which has not included a permanent Defense secretary for more than 170 days. In that vacuum, uniformed military officers have spearheaded the administration’s Iran work, alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, who both argued repeatedly before joining the administration for the possibility of a first strike against Iran. Just this week, Bolton told the Washington Free Beacon that Iran “would be making a big mistake if they doubted the president’s resolve on this.”  ...
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