One of Donald Trump’s very few merits (maybe his only merit?) is an instinctive aversion to major US military intervention abroad. That aversion of course didn’t prevent him from appointing the country’s premier warmonger as his national security adviser, nor from naming an uber-hawk as his secretary of state. (Intellectual coherence is not a Trumpian merit.) So, we have a turnaround from the early phase of Trump’s presidency, when we hoped that relatively sane advisers would save us all from an unbalanced president. We now have to hope that the primitive instincts of an unbalanced president will save us from the fondest dreams of his dangerous advisers.
But make no mistake about it: the prime mover of the escalation of tensions between the US and Iran is Donald Trump. We are where we are today because of Trump’s trashing of the nuclear agreement with Iran and the all-out economic warfare he has waged against that country since. Whether it is well-advised or not, Iran’s decision to finally start moving away from the agreement’s restrictions is entirely understandable. And, while attacks on international shipping cannot be condoned, as an assault on human welfare they should be compared with the effects of sanctions on the Iranian people. They are already suffering a decline in their standard of living and will very likely experience an increase in mortality. Iran is being crushed economically and has little means to defend itself; it’s not surprising that the regime should choose to lash out.*
So, what now? The Iranians want the Europeans to find more effective means of circumventing the US sanctions. I don’t know if that’s a realistic possibility. Probably the most ideal solution, as long as Trump is president, would be for the two sides to “renegotiate” the Iran nuclear deal, making minor revisions. (The model here would be the “re-negotiated” NAFTA agreement, which in fact has remained little changed.) Trump would then be able to claim a great victory while the Iranians would be none the worse off. I’m not too hopeful for such a breakthrough, though, because Bolton and Pompeo would effectively stand in the way. So, for now, our best hope for averting disaster lies with the primitive instincts of the man-child in the White House.
* It is reasonable to be skeptical of the administration’s blaming Iran for the recent attacks. All things considered, however, I think it likely that Iran is, indeed, the culprit.