Dealing With Iran - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Opinion

Dealing With Iran

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Posted: Friday, September 27, 2019 5:48 pm

As the United States was emerging as a great power at the beginning of the last century, Theodore Roosevelt famously advised, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” President Donald Trump could benefit by following both suggestions. Leaders of truly powerful nations do not have to resort to bluster, hyperbole, red lines or repeated threats as Mr. Trump often does. Also, our stick needs to be bigger to be more convincing, especially from a military standpoint. It may not be large enough to withstand repeated use without breaking.

In the current crisis with Iran, Mr. Trump has shown restraint on spite of pressure from hawks to launch a retaliatory strike. The stick he chooses to wield for now consists of economic sanctions which are crippling the Iranian economy and raising discontent among the Iranian people. He is threatening more in response to the attack on the Saudi oil facility. U.S. intelligence determined that the drone and missile attack originated from western Iran in spite of Tehran’s denials and claims of responsibility by Houthi rebels in Yemen. Who would you be inclined to believe, U.S. intelligence or the mullahs?

The good news is that the U.S. is now energy independent, thanks to the fracking revolution, and Saudi production will be quickly restored, with minimum disruption to world oil supplies and a temporary spike in oil prices. The bad news is that Iran was testing the Trump Administration to see what they could get away with and will take the lack of a retaliatory strike as a sign of weakness. This makes it imperative that that Washington act quickly with harsher economic and diplomatic sanctions including restrictions on Iranian diplomats entering the U.S.

Also among the bad news is the fact that we were caught by surprise and neither the U.S. nor the Saudis were prepared to defend against or counter this attack. This leads us to the need for a bigger stick. Mr. Trump has increased defense spending but we still have a long way to go before we have the forces, especially naval and air forces, needed to protect our far-flung vital interests. He is sending additional military forces to the Middle East but the navy will struggle to maintain a carrier battle group in the Middle East while maintaining its other commitments with a force of only 10 CVNs. Persistent problems with the new Ford-class aircraft carriers won’t help.

As Mr. Trump has indicated, to the reported displeasure of the Saudis, we are under no obligation to fight Saudi Arabia’s regional wars for them or to defend their facilities. The Arab kingdom is rich enough to fight its own battles, although its performance in the endless war in Yemen raises questions of competence. Nor do we have a responsibility to ensure a continued supply of cheap Arab oil to Europe or China. We do, however, as a maritime power, have a vital interest in ensuring freedom of navigation, including the transport of that product. Threats by Iran to block vital access to the Persian Gulf by closing the Strait of Hormuz or continued harassment of shipping, could lead to conflict.

We know that Iran is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, largely carried out by its proxies. We know also that Iran is pledged to the destruction of Israel, our only democratic ally in the region. We know further that Iranian leaders start their day by chanting “Death to America” and refer to America as the great Satan. Iran seeks domination of the region and the acquisition of nuclear weapons, which we have pledged to prevent, not just delay, which is all that the flawed nuclear agreement would have achieved.

Unless crippling economic and diplomatic sanctions work to drastically change Iran’s behavior or provoke a successful revolution, we must be prepared for possible eventual conflict. The best way to prevent this is to be prepared for the worst and to have the forces necessary to convince an aggressor that an attack on our vital interests or on Americans would trigger a devastating response. No need, then, for bluster. Just speak softly and carry a big stick, which is really just another way of saying that the best defense is having a good offense.

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