Last Friday, in response to an Iranian missile test, the Trump administration imposed sanctions restricting multiple entities connected to the missile program. The Iranian Foreign Ministry asserted that the test was, “solely for defensive purposes.” Iranian testing of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles is prohibited by UN resolution.
Only a short time into the Trump administration has revealed a collection of unique changes and events. Donald Trump has escalated rhetoric with Tehran, breaking with previous Obama administration efforts to foster cooperation. President Trump argued that Iran does not respect the relief from sanctions provided by the Obama administration. He also indicated that, in the future, his administration would not be as kind.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded to the administration’s actions, making allegations of corruption against President Trump. He said that the American president is an appropriate representative of his nation, also saying that Trump shows, “the true face of the US.”
The war of words is only likely to continue. Trump is unlikely to back down in his rhetoric. Frustrated Iranian leaders aren’t likely to either. Furthermore, Trump has found international support for his approach in other prominent conservatives.
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had an awkward relationship with Barack Obama. In the past, Netanyahu has maintained a firm position on Iran. He has often warned of Iran’s hidden intentions and the threat that it poses to nations around the globe. He and other conservatives argue that Iran is subversive and that it actively fails to participate in the international community in a complete way.
On Monday, Netanyahu made statements in support of further sanctions, saying, “Iran seeks to annihilate Israel. It says so openly. It seeks to conquer the Middle East, it threatens Europe, it threatens the West, it threatens the world. And it offers provocation after provocation […] That’s why I welcome President Trump’s insistence of new sanctions against Iran. I think other nations should follow soon, certainly responsible nations.”
The administration obviously wants to distance itself from the reputation gained by its predecessor. Trump’s choice of National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, is known for his factually questionable, exaggerated, right-wing positions. He is, for example, terrified of the proliferation of Sharia law in the U.S., and has claimed that it is, indeed, spreading unchecked.
Flynn announced last Wednesday that Iran is, “on notice,” in response to the failed missile test on Sunday. It is likely that Flynn will only serve to heighten the anti-Iranian sentiment already present in the White House.
According to a leaked email, apparently sent from Colin Powell to his son, “Flynn got fired as head of DIA. His replacement is a black Marine 3-star. I asked why Flynn got fired. Abusive with staff, didn’t listen, worked against policy, bad management, etc. He has been and was right-wing nutty [ever] since.”
The new approach threatens to send Iran back down the slippery slope of provocation to enemy status. It also threatens to offer no future alternatives beyond provocative behavior. A question worth asking, when considering Iran policy would be “will the following action increase anti-American sentiment?” in reference to each decision made. Certainly, this question is not the fundamental consideration, however it is valuable in the long term.
The Trump administration could be paving the way for military action. Otherwise, it could simply be attempting to dictate terms wherever possible. Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric promised the renegotiation of agreements that give the U.S. what he considers to be raw deals. He said that he would use every means at his disposal to work through better deals with foreign countries.
Going forward, the Trump administration has several options in approaching the Iranian issue. On the table is attempting to renegotiate the important 2015 nuclear deal. President Trump has been critical of the agreement for some time. Also on the table would be measures, including military intervention and further sanctions, that could force this renegotiation to occur.
All this talk leaves one to wonder precisely how far Trump is willing to go. It is evident that Donald Trump dislikes the perception of weakness that an accommodating foreign policy has brought the United States. On the other side of this, it will be important for the administration to maintain its negotiating ability as a legitimate diplomatic power and not as a bully.