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:
I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 22, 2020
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:
To state the obvious, the American president just retweeted a fake account managed by the MeK – a violent, corrupt cult based in Albania that has literally zero support or legitimacy inside Iran. https://t.co/YcTRb2JEWC
— Thomas Juneau (@thomasjuneau) April 22, 2020
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.