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Trump's New Secretary of State Is Pushing America Closer to War with Iran

Mike Pompeo's "plan B" is reckless and dangerous.

CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/NewscomCHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/NewscomSecretary of State Mike Pompeo's first major foreign policy speech was everything Iran hawks have dreamt about.

The address was filled with tough-sounding rhetoric about Iran's behavior in the Middle East. Pompeo provided red meat to neoconservatives, unilateralists, and primacists alike, outlining an approach that relies on economic, military, and political pressure to bend Iran to Washington's will.

What the Trump administration billed as a "plan B" in a post-Iranian-nuclear-deal world was in truth not a plan but a long list of grievances and a series of demands that Tehran will almost certainly reject. "Relief from sanctions will come only when we see tangible, demonstrated, and sustained shifts in Tehran's policies," Pompeo told his audience.

These may be popular words from the standpoint of domestic politics. But in terms of actual policy, the speech is substanceless.

Few will take issue with the administration's ultimate goal. If we could wake up one day, turn on the television, and discover a reformed Iranian government that respects the sovereignty of its neighbors, dismantles its entire uranium enrichment infrastructure, ends its support to Damascus and Hezbollah, and stops threatening Israel, that would be wonderful. That is, in effect, what Pompeo is demanding—a wholesale reformation of the Iranian regime's foreign policy, something it has not done after more than 40 years of American sanctions and threats.

The chances that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani will have an epiphany one day and act the way Washington wants are less likely than your chances of winning the lottery. The probability that the Iranians will succumb to pressure alone is so small that it's negligible. Coercing a regime that prides itself on total resistance to Western demands is no easy task. It may be close to impossible.

For those more interested in beneficial outcomes than intentions, what Pompeo outlined was not a realistic plan for a "better deal." Indeed, there is no better deal is to be had. Pompeo's speech was a transparent attempt to lay the foundation for another counterproductive, costly regime change campaign.

As the old adage goes, we need to start living in the complicated and often unfair world as it is rather than the utopian world we wish it to be. America's core national security interests in the Middle East are a balance of power where no hegemon dominates the entire region, pressure on transnational terrorist groups that threaten the U.S. homeland, and a strong and vibrant U.S. diplomatic presence with as many players as possible. What the White House needs is an actual strategy that prioritizes those interests.

Such a strategy will require difficult trade-offs as to what can be realistically achieved and expected from Iran. It will also require a willingness to bargain or hold a dialogue when the opportunity presents itself, as well as a general understanding that U.S. interests do not automatically and unconditionally match those of America's partners in the region. Just as critical to an effective Iran policy is an acknowledgment that Washington can do only so much in a part of the world that has repeatedly defied Washington's expectations.

Iran will remain a central player in the region. This is not a scenario that Washington would prefer, but this is the reality. The Trump administration has an opportunity to reorient how America conducts business in the Middle East. But it can only begin this process if it recognizes that coercion alone, without any flexibility or diplomacy, will merely lead to more failure.

Photo Credit: CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/Newscom

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  • Homple||

    There gonna get us in a waawer and tak are freedomz away!

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    I'd love to have no government foreign policy whatsoever -- no treaties, no embassies, no trade deals, no foreign aid, no overseas military -- nothing.

    Suddenly foreigners would have to convince the American public instead of a few cronycrats. The worse their PR image, the less charity they'd get, the fewer tourists, the fewer trade deals with companies, the fewer imports they could palm off. The best benefit would be no more sudden transformations at every election. Just as businesses hate arbitrary sudden changes, so do dictators and despots and even elected foreign governments.

    Americans would have a hundred boycotts going on all at once, some more effective than others. Instead of foreign aid engineered by corrupt politicians, they'd get it from people and charity. Sean Penn could donate all he wants to Venezuela, but he would n't be able to convince politicians to donate my tax money. Idiots who trust the Ayatollah could donate all they wanted -- and it sure wouldn't be much. Back off on the Scud attacks, get more money. Saudi Arabia would find how many actual friends they have in the US, and if they didn't act real fast after their citizens kill Americans or bomb Yemen, they'd lose more friends.

    What the fuck, I may as well dream of Jeannie while I'm at it.

  • John||

    Nothing says non-intervention like trying to maintain an artificial balance of power in a region.

    As the old adage goes, we need to start living in the complicated and often unfair world as it is rather than the utopian world we wish it to be. America's core national security interests in the Middle East are a balance of power where no hegemon dominates the entire region, pressure on transnational terrorist groups that threaten the U.S. homeland, and a strong and vibrant U.S. diplomatic presence with as many players as possible. What the White House needs is an actual strategy that prioritizes those interests.

    Reason's descent into a leftist, globalist rag continues.

  • damikesc||

    Reason has decided that hopes and dreams are a suitable replacement for a policy.

    Reason seems quite concerned that noted Libertarian haven IRAN is being inconvenienced by repeatedly violating a terrible agreement.

  • HippieSauce||

    I dunno about charity for foreigners—the Saudis seem to be the ones writing the checks.

    Link

    Link

  • John||

    So Iran hates the West and will always be hostile to our interests such that sanctions will never work. But somehow

    Such a strategy will require difficult trade-offs as to what can be realistically achieved and expected from Iran. It will also require a willingness to bargain or hold a dialogue when the opportunity presents itself, as well as a general understanding that U.S. interests do not automatically and unconditionally match those of America's partners in the region. Just as critical to an effective Iran policy is an acknowledgment that Washington can do only so much in a part of the world that has repeatedly defied Washington's expectations.

    Get the fuck out of here. This is the dumbest thing I have read in a long time. if we just give Iran everything they want, they will give back. Yeah sure.

    And telling Iran to go screw themselves and not helping to fund their regime oppress the hell out of their people and cause trouble all over the middle east is the road to War!! But engaging in some power game whereby we fuck our allies and try to obtain some artificial balance of power is going to keep us out of war?

    Holy shit, how can someone be dumb enough to believe that? Really. It is just amazing.

  • El Oso||

    How could anyone be so fucking dumb as you. Oh yeah, I just have to go to Breitbart...

  • John||

    That is a hell of a rebuttal there champ. Did you think hard on that one?

    Son, if you are too stupid to join in the conversation, and you clearly are, just sit it out. It is better for everyone.

  • jcw||

    Why are you intentionally misreading the article? God it's so difficult to have a conversation with you John because you literally argue against whatever you want, regardless of the content. You have to stop putting words in the mouths of these writers. Saying that DC can only do so much in such a turbulent region and maybe talk when the opportunity presents itself does not mean "give Iran everything they want" no matter how much you wish it did.

    You ruin any dialogue on such an important topic by caricaturing your opponents. It's stupid and you know it and you are a troll, plain and simple.

  • gormadoc||

    He's not going to stop. He's just turning into the Republican Hihn, with less boldface.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    He seems to be pissed that Reason is really going lefty lately. Some Reason staff are not even trying after Trump has racked up some serious pluses in the good column.

  • John||

    Effectively it is. What exactly does he propose doing? Nothing. He just says we should end the sanctions but somehow try to maintain a balance of power.

    I read these articles for what they mean and what their implications are. I don't just buy whatever dumb ass shit the author is selling. You should try reading and thinking for yourself sometime instead of just giving the author the benefit of the doubt.

  • Robert||

    The chances that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani will have an epiphany one day and act the way Washington wants are less likely than your chances of winning the lottery.


    So what? Why should that have any bearing on what Pompeo says?

    America's core national security interests in the Middle East are a balance of power where no hegemon dominates the entire region, pressure on transnational terrorist groups that threaten the U.S. homeland, and a strong and vibrant U.S. diplomatic presence with as many players as possible.


    Because that worked so great for Britain.

  • John||

    Yeah. Britain got into three world wars, the Napoleonic, World War I and World War II in a Quixotic pursuit of a balance of power in Europe. How can the author of this understand that the desire to maintain a balance of power nearly always ends with you fighting a war to maintain it? How is a balance of power to be maintained absent war?

    I honestly think the author is just stupid and doesn't understand what the words he is using actually mean. They are all just buzzwords that sound good to him.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Writing articles about foreign policy does not require any history degree, political science, or knowledge of the topic.

  • Flinch||

    Funny thing, but I think Bend Over Ayatollah was written in the late 70s. The more things change, the more they stay the same: power/politics/life... it's all a circle, which is why most A/B scenarios the media serves up tend to be stupid.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "The probability that the Iranians will succumb to pressure alone is so small that it's negligible. Coercing a regime that prides itself on total resistance to Western demands is no easy task. It may be close to impossible.

    For those more interested in beneficial outcomes than intentions, what Pompeo outlined was not a realistic plan for a "better deal." Indeed, there is no better deal is to be had."

    There are a couple of things wrong with this.

    1) The Iranians succumbed to pressure before.

    Because Obama gave them the farm in exchange for magic beans the last time sanctions drove them to the negotiating table doesn't mean that the sanctions didn't drive them to the negotiating table.

    Obama wanted to capitulate to Iran's ability to enrich their own uranium. Because his goals and their goals were the same in that regard doesn't mean that they wouldn't have succumbed to pressure--if Obama had demanded it.

    Their inflation rate was up over 50% a year. They had burned through all of their foreign reserves. Meanwhile, they were scared to death that the Arab Spring raging in Syria next door might turn into a Persian Summer, so they were fighting like mad to keep Assad in power.

    They were desperate to sell their oil on the world market and to get access to international credit markets.

    All we asked in return is that they abide by the NPT and accept uranium sufficiently enriched for civilian use from some other member of the NPT.

  • Ken Shultz||

    2) The idea that no better deal can be had is problematic.

    No better deal can be had--and yet we had a better deal with the current Iranian regime from 1979 to 2015. The United States had a better deal for 36 years! Why should we believe that Iran would rather suffer sanctions, inflation, etc.--rather than accept uranium sufficiently enriched for civilian use from Russia, their ally?

  • Rich||

    "Relief from sanctions will come only when we see tangible, demonstrated, and sustained shifts in Tehran's policies," Pompeo [said.]

    "Relief from our development of a nuclear weapons program will come only when we see tangible, demonstrated, and sustained shifts in Pompeo's policies," Tehran [said.]

  • El Oso||

    I guess nothing else would matter for the author, if only Iran would stop 'threatening' Israel.

  • John||

    Its always those damn dirty Jews isn't it?

  • El Oso||

    Zionists

  • Juice||

    America's core national security interests in the Middle East are a balance of power where no hegemon dominates the entire region, pressure on transnational terrorist groups that threaten the U.S. homeland, and a strong and vibrant U.S. diplomatic presence with as many players as possible.

    How does the US benefit from perpetual internecine bickering and skirmishes among constantly pissed off countries and groups in the Middle East? Wouldn't it be better to deal with a hegemon and have that country deal with all the minor bullshit? Let them be the Middle East cops for a change.

    And if "pressure" on terrorist groups means constant drone strikes, that tends to create more terrorists over time. Pressure needs to come from the countries and people directly affected by these terrorist groups, not US missiles.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Shouldn't it be "Iran is getting closer to war with the USA"?

    Iran is the country that has threatened to nuke the USA. Iran is the country that kidnapped our embassy staff in 1979.

  • Juice||

    Remember when Iran helped to topple our government and install a dictator? Or that time they shot down one of our civilian airliners full of passengers and didn't even apologize? What kind of assholes would ever do that?

  • gormadoc||

    The time they tried to completely end our international trade was quite aggressive.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    So we are at war? At least America can ramp up our military for destruction of Iran then.

    The USA is wrong to start and/or meddle in coups. The USS Vincennes shoot down was a horrible mistake. The USA fucked up.

    I failed to mention all the times that Iranians attacked non-American shipping in the Persian Gulf and tries to topple the Yemen government by supporting the rebel Houthis. Iran fucked up.

    Did you know that the British and Russians invaded Iran in WWII? America pushed to return Iranian territory back to the Persians.

  • Flinch||

    Same country that was throwing cash at anyone on the Arab street a few decades ago to chant "death to America...", run by the same people. Detente didn't work, and neither did Bush's "new tone". The fossils running Iran need containment - most of the original thugs are due for their dirt nap in the coming decade anyway.

  • Empress Trudy||

    This of course is the same nonsense that Reason's been spouting for a year and a half. Every Sec State, every word, every act lurches us to atomic war next Thursday.

  • Wesley||

    If his speech was "substanceless", how is it pushing us closer to war?

  • Flinch||

    Ooh. Love it when people pay attention. I'm going to have to dig up the audio of the speech now.

  • khm001||

    Appeasement always stops war, amaright?

  • JoeBlow123||

    "As the old adage goes, we need to start living in the complicated and often unfair world as it is rather than the utopian world we wish it to be. America's core national security interests in the Middle East are a balance of power where no hegemon dominates the entire region, pressure on transnational terrorist groups that threaten the U.S. homeland, and a strong and vibrant U.S. diplomatic presence with as many players as possible. What the White House needs is an actual strategy that prioritizes those interests."

    How about we just go back across the Atlantic and let the Europeans and Saudis and Israelis deal with this mess themselves? Our meddling has not seemed to do much good.

  • crufus||

    The plan is for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to provoke a war with Iran so Trump can lead the US into the war to "defend Israel against Iranian aggression" while Congress meekly abandons its war powers by failing to restrain Trump.

    It will be a good deal for Netanyahu to inoculate himself against looming corruption charges, and a good deal for Trump to appear Presidential by leading the country to war.

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