Trump Draws a Reckless ‘Red Line’ in the Sea

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

Earlier this week, I said that we would be hearing more exaggerations warnings about minor nuisances around the world. One example of these nuisances has been the recent “harassment” by Iranian boats in the Persian Gulf. Right on schedule, the president tweeted another reckless threat of escalation:

Threatening to commit acts of war against another country over something like this is unhinged. These confrontations have gone on for years without any loss of life. As long as no one overreacts and starts killing people, there is no reason for the situation to escalate. Once again, Trump is choosing escalation when he doesn’t have to. There is always some danger in having our naval forces and theirs in close proximity, but threatening to start a war over it is cartoonish overkill. The president is giving a green light to further escalation against Iran when he has no legal authority to do so, and that makes it more likely that the U.S. and Iran end up in an avoidable conflict. The president likes to mock Obama over his ill-advised “red line” in Syria, but this is far more irresponsible because the behavior that he is using as his “red line” isn’t a serious threat to anyone. At best, this is the president’s desperate attempt to distract attention from the ongoing failure of the federal government’s response to the outbreak here at home. At worst, he is trying to provoke an incident to give him an opening to launch a diversionary war.

If the US and Iran had normal diplomatic relations, our government could protest Iranian actions that we find unacceptable without having to risk taking our countries to the brink of war for the third time in a year. Even without Trump as president, U.S.-Iranian tensions could easily flare out of control because there are no regular channels of communication to avoid accidents and to de-escalate incidents when they do occur. There needs to be a military channel set up between the US and Iran so that we can prevent accidents and calm the situation down if there is a collision or confrontation. We aren’t likely to get one anytime soon when we have a president shouting threats of war to the world.

The significant US military presence in and around the Persian Gulf has never made less sense. The price of oil is now extremely low, so we have little reason to fear that temporary disruption to the supply from the region would create a serious problem. Our naval presence is not stabilizing, but rather serves as a constant source of friction between the US and Iran. The Middle East has never mattered less to vital US interests, so it would be truly absurd if we were to blunder into yet another war there at a time when we can least afford one.

Update: As an added bonus, the president just retweeted the fake persona run by the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) because it praised his reckless threat:

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.

5 thoughts on “Trump Draws a Reckless ‘Red Line’ in the Sea”

  1. The US ratified the UN charter making it part of US law. That charter, legally binding on Trump, has a clause in it regarding threats:

    B. Article 2 (4) – Prohibition of threat or use of force in international relations. Article 2 (4) of the Charter prohibits the threat or use of force and calls on all Members to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of other States.

    1. True. As it is a treaty, it is the Senate’s responsibility to enforce the rule on the executive.

  2. “The price of oil is now extremely low, so we have little reason to fear that temporary disruption to the supply from the region would create a serious problem.”

    This may actually be a bad thing, and quite possibly the reason why this latest escalation is occurring right now. Iran’s presence in the Gulf of Hormuz is their greatest defense against invasion. If this card is no longer in the deck, an attack appears, at least superficially, to be far less dangerous for the invader. What we’re looking at here is low hanging fruit for a hungry executive psychopath.

    1. It’s plausible to explain US enmity with Iran for the last few decades solely in terms of propping up artificially high oil prices. Artificially high prices do two things:

      1) They keep US-friendly regimes in power in the Middle East by providing those regimes with lavish revenues that can be spent on buying public support with e.g. subsidized electricity and gasoline; and

      2) They make US shale oil competitive.

      Keeping Iran’s oil out of part of the world’s markets helps keep the price up. Periodic scares over a potential war with Iran helps keep the price up.

      And of course presidents have to walk a tightrope on oil prices. On the one hand, they want to keep those prices high. On the other hand, they don’t want to be SEEN as keeping those prices high. So using Iran as the excuse is helpful.

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