The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


The prevailing narrative vis-a-vis Iran and its attacks on tanker traffic in the Gulf of Hormuz is represented by Aaron Miller:
The Iranian regime is authoritarian, ideological and repressive, a serial human rights abuser and regional troublemaker. But we now find ourselves in a dangerous situation largely as a result of a great unraveling begun by the Trump administration's unilateral decision last year to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.

The accord — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — was flawed, to be sure, and didn’t address Iran’s aggressive regional behavior or its ballistic missile programs. Even so, it was still a highly functional arms control agreement that imposed significant constraints on Iran's nuclear program for at least for a decade or more.

Campaigning hard against the agreement, candidate Trump vowed to renegotiate or leave what he deemed the worst agreement ever negotiated. Then as president, he pulled out of the agreement and launched his "maximum pressure" campaign. The administration reimposed sanctions on banking and petrochemicals and, in the past several months, has made a major effort to reduce Iran's lifeblood — its oil exports — to zero. As intended, all of this has wreaked havoc on the Iranian economy.
Let's consider this position for just a second. The previous administration established a "deal" that would allow an "authoritarian, ideological and repressive, a serial human rights abuser and regional troublemaker" a clear path to nuclear weapons over a ten year span, suggesting—with a level of naivete or stupidity that was breathtaking—that same "Troublemaker" would somehow reform itself during that time, eschew nuclear weapons, and make nice to everyone in the region. To cement the deal, the previous administration bribed the mad mullahs with pallets of hard cash, secretly flown into Tehran in the middle of the night. But the Trump Administration is somehow culpable for Iran's current troublemaking because they wouldn't buy into to the fantasy of the previous administration.

So now, the Democrats, GOP #NeverTrumpers, and their trained hamsters in the media are all clutching their pearls and talking all-out war in the Middle East. After all, Iran is doing what repressive (Islamist) regimes always do—they're throwing a tantrum because Trump's sanctions are working.

Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh comment on the situation:
Iran is in no shape for a prolonged confrontation with the U.S. The regime is in a politically precarious position. The sullen Iranian middle class has given up on the possibility of reform or prosperity. The lower classes, once tethered to the regime by the expansive welfare state, have also grown disloyal. The intelligentsia no longer believes that faith and freedom can be harmonized. And the youth have become the regime’s most unrelenting critics.

Iran’s fragile theocracy can’t absorb a massive external shock. That’s why Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has, for the most part, adhered to the JCPOA, and why he is likely angling for negotiation over confrontation with the Great Satan.

The ruling clerics, Mr. Khamenei in particular, are competent strategists. They appreciate the need to enhance their leverage before any talks. Terrorism has always been the regime’s preferred method of inflicting pain on adversaries ...

The regime also has at its disposal foreign militias such as Hezbollah, which it uses to target regional foes without admitting direct responsibility. And there are more-direct means to increase negotiating leverage. The attacks in recent weeks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman are probably the handiwork of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s naval units, which train regularly in the use of mines. The most recent shipping attacks have had their intended effect. European officials, Democratic politicians and much of the American press are pleading for dialogue.

The key to dealing with the Islamic Republic is to appreciate that it is an exhausted regime, perhaps well on its way to extinction. A vulnerable, resentful enemy is a dangerous one. The U.S. should shore up its military might in the region and harden defenses around bases and diplomatic compounds. But the regime’s essential weakness means it can’t muster sufficient strength for a prolonged conflict with a determined superpower. The mullahs’ clenched fists, slogans of martyrdom, and staged demonstrations shouldn’t be confused with real power. The Trump administration’s strategy of maximum pressure shouldn’t be diluted as the two sides edge closer to the negotiating table.

Despite the criticisms from Democrats and Europeans, Mr. Trump’s Iran policy has had considerable success.
As Aaron Miller correctly stated, Iran is a bad actor—"authoritarian, ideological and repressive, a serial human rights abuser and regional troublemaker" and the previous administration deal with it was deeply "flawed." Why on earth would the Democrats, the #NeverTrumpers, and the trained hamsters in the media take Iran's side over the rather measured actions of the current administration?


Like any good blackmailer, Iran has announced that it will increase enriched uranium production with the clear implication that it will produce nuclear weapons downstream. The Democrats, GOP #NeverTrumpers, and many European allies and their trained hamsters gasp in horror and try blame it all on our exit from the "Iran Deal." That's laughable, given that Iran has continually demonstrated that it cannot be trusted and has likely violated both the terms and the spirit of the "Iran Deal" repeatedly. Of course, the Dems and the Euros would prefer their fantasy that all was sweetness and light until the evil Trump arrived to roil the wonderful deal between the mad mullahs and the West. Instead we now see the reality that is Iran—not a responsible nation, but a country that is "authoritarian, ideological and repressive, a serial human rights abuser and regional troublemaker." That reality collides with the Dem/Euro fantasy, but reality will prevail no matter how loud the accusations that it's all Trump's fault.


The usual suspects along with their trained hamsters in the media would have us believe that Trump's foreign policy is purposeless and that he is setting the stage for regional conflict (psychological projection from the past administration?). Walter Russell Mead has a different take:
The latest crisis with Iran illustrates an important but widely neglected point about world politics: Amid all the talk about American decline, American power in the international system has actually grown. Even five years ago the U.S. could not force Iran out of world oil markets without causing a devastating spike in oil and gas prices that would destabilize the world economy. Today, world energy markets are so robust that Brent crude prices have fallen since the first set of attacks on oil tankers in May.

Simultaneously, the U.S. has developed the ability to globalize unilateral sanctions. Washington doesn’t need the support of its allies to isolate Tehran economically, because “secondary sanctions” can effectively compel other countries to comply with the U.S. effort. That the administration has accomplished this while also engaged in trade battles with nearly every important American trading partner underscores the magnitude of U.S. economic power and the administration’s determination to bring it fully to bear on Iran.

As the shades of Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy can testify, however, great power does not automatically confer wisdom. Having demonstrated an impressive ability to squeeze Iran, North Korea and Venezuela, the Trump administration now needs to translate raw power into policy success. This goal remains elusive with all three countries so far, and the path forward is anything but clear.
All of that is true. Trump must proceed carefully. He must not be goaded into kinetic action, and immediately be characterized as a "bully" and a "warmonger." But Iran must not be allowed to threaten a major trade route and develop nuclear weapons. The balance between restraint and resolve is difficult. Restraint cannot (as it diod under the previous administration) become paralysis. Resolve cannot lead to a war that is cannot be won (give our current politics). The answer lies somewhere in between those two poles.