While Memorial Day presents an opportunity to reflect on the historic toll of America’s involvement in military conflict, it’s also a chance to look forward to the sobering prospect of future engagements, especially with the drumbeat of tensions mounting in the Middle East.
It would be naively optimistic to expect the nation to never again go to war, but it is essential that it is clear-headed about the reasons to deploy forces overseas, and the likely outcome. It’s not certain such temperance is in play currently, as the administration makes overtures of intervention in Iran. Forces already have been deployed to the area after the White House said there are “threats” to American interests emanating from Tehran, though it’s unclear exactly what those are.
Earlier this month, National Security Advisor John Bolton issued a statement saying the U.S. has seen “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from the Iranian regime and that it is necessary to “send a clear and unmistakable message” to the Middle Eastern country.
No doubt Iran under its current government is inclined to enmity toward the West, and it has a record of human rights violations against its own citizens. In a press conference after briefing members of Congress on the issue, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reminded the attendees that Iran has engaged in 40 years of terrorist activities. But there is a lack of detailed evidence that the nation’s actions with regard to nuclear development or military maneuvering pose a current threat to the U.S. or its allies.
On Friday, Trump ordered another 1,500 troops to the surrounding region. Should matters escalate, it would be a mistake to bypass Congress. It is the constitutional province of Congress to declare war, but many conflicts have begun on the basis of executive order. Here, it’s good to see Congress reasserting itself after years of inaction. In March, it passed a resolution to end U.S. military involvement in Yemen. The president vetoed the resolution in April.
So far, signs point toward less destructive motivations in Iran. Acting secretary of defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters that U.S. action is already having a hampering effect on the regime. “This is about deterrence, not about war,” he said. Indeed, neither country would benefit from armed intervention. Military strikes may turn the sympathies of everyday Iranians against the U.S., and it seems Trump wants to avoid conflict.
So why sound the alarm? Some experts in the field think it’s an effort, along with intense economic sanctions, to cripple the Iranian economy, drive oil exports to zero and possibly utilize dissatisfaction in parts of the country to spark a regime change. That idea, as Gerald Seib of The Wall Street Journal points out, is as old as the four-decade conflict.14 comments on this story
A different goal, according to Seib, may be to force Iran into talks with the United States. Given Trump’s affinity for conducting diplomacy in person, this may be a plausible strategy for crafting better relations. It certainly would be the better path over military engagement.
In the meantime, the administration should be as open as possible with the public. Shanahan told reporters that Congress wants “us to be more communicative with the American public, and we agreed to do more of that.” The Utah delegation and other members of Congress should hold the administration accountable to that claim so citizens need not be confused or panicked.