Trump Adopts Shrewd Iran Strategy

COMMENTARY Defense

Trump Adopts Shrewd Iran Strategy

Jun 27th, 2019 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
James Jay Carafano

Vice President, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute

James Jay Carafano is a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges.
Trump is not about to give Iran a free pass. MANDEL NGAN / Contributor / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

The president has decided to target Tehran with precision-guided economic sanctions rather than maul the mullahs with missiles.

Iran and the entire Middle East have to realize that America is no longer a pushover.

The new sanctions aren’t designed to change Iran’s bad behavior – they are designed to punish bad behavior. 

There is a hard and messy way – and a smart and skillful way – to do almost anything.

Take a melon. Hit it with a sledgehammer. Or slice it with a sharp knife. Either way, you get fruit.

There are also hard ways and smart ways to deal with Iran. With sweeping new sanctions, President Trump has opted for shrewd strategy over blunt-force trauma.

The president has decided to target Tehran with precision-guided economic sanctions rather than maul the mullahs with missiles.

At issue was the question: How should the U.S. retaliate in response to the Iranian regime’s latest provocation – the downing of a high-priced surveillance drone?

When America didn’t strike back immediately, some of Trump’s critics blasted him for not attacking Iran – the same “loyal opposition” lawmakers who had previously accused him of trying to start a war.

On the other side of the aisle, hawks screeched that Trump wasn’t hawkish enough.

Frankly, it all sounded like a bunch of Monday morning quarterbacks who hadn’t bothered to watch the game on Sunday.

Iran and the entire Middle East have to realize that America is no longer a pushover. When President Barack Obama blinked after Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons in that nation’s civil war, Obama gave Syria’s mass murderer in chief a green light to do whatever he wanted.

Trump is not about to give Iran a free pass. But in opting not to thump Tehran militarily for drone-downing, he actually saved lives without letting the regime off the hook. Iran still faces a red light – and one that shines brighter than ever.

The U.S. capacity to keep the Gulf waters open is not diminished a whit. The U.S. effort to build a coalition to contain Iran has not been dented. Indeed, by showing restraint and statesmanship, Trump probably helped the cause.

Even within Iran, there are increasingly grumpy voices noting that the regime’s constant head-butting with Washington is getting it precisely nowhere.

All three Iranian claims are nonsense. The only people who believe these whoppers are Trump critics, who see the president much as the mullahs do: as the Great Satan incarnate.

Indeed, Iran now finds itself more boxed in than before, thanks to the new sanctions Trump imposed Monday.

“President Trump signed a new executive order authorizing even more expanded sanctions against Iran,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, emerging from the Oval Office. “So now, along with our existing sanctions authority, we have additional sanctions to go after the supreme leader’s office and lock up literally billions of dollars more of assets.”

Let’s be clear. The new U.S. sanctions are unlikely to bring Tehran to the negotiating table any time soon. The Trump team knows that.

The new sanctions aren’t designed to change Iran’s bad behavior – they are designed to punish bad behavior. 

As a result, the new sanctions are likely to hurt Iran’s leadership a lot more than killing some luckless Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps member who might have had the misfortune to be standing too close to an American cruise missile’s target. 

Hard cash is what Iran’s elite need to maintain to control. The less they have, the less they are able to stay in control.

On top of the sanctions came reports that the U.S. unleashed cyberattacks on Iranian military systems. Iran claims the attacks failed. Then again, Iran also claims that it didn’t attack oil tankers in international waters and that it shot the U.S. drone in Iranian airspace.

All three Iranian claims are nonsense. The only people who believe these whoppers are Trump critics, who see the president much as the mullahs do: as the Great Satan incarnate.

Make no mistake, Trump has given Tehran plenty to think about.

So while Iran plays Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, Trump is striking back in a much more refined manner, and in ways to which Tehran can’t respond in kind. Meanwhile, if the Iranian regime decides it wants to strike again, Trump has plenty more tools at his disposal – military and otherwise.

If military action is provoked, expect the U.S. to conduct counterstrikes to eliminate the immediate threat, rather than more expansive punitive strikes to punish the regime. 

In the end, Trump is likely to use force to protect U.S. forces only if that is absolutely required. He isn’t going to start a war. But he’s not about to let Iran get away with murder.

This piece originally appeared in Fox News