Dateline: 12 July 2019
US-Iran escalation: It’s message-sending, but the risks are high
[The Christian Science Monitor]
WHY WE WROTE THIS
The U.S. and Iran each want something. But they are expressing that through sanctions and military provocations. How high can they escalate tensions before it slips out of their control?
Colossally expensive carriers, instruments to project power and intimidate little nations, have long been the signature of the American empire in practically all latitudes. The official CSM caption reads: “A pilot speaks to a crew member by an F/A-18 fighter jet on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea on June 3. In response to harsher U.S. sanctions, Iran has broken through uranium enrichment and stockpile limits set by the 2015 nuclear deal.” (Jon Gambrell/AP)
Another day, another step in the apparently inexorable escalation of U.S.-Iran tensions that has brought the arch-adversaries to the brink of war since President Donald Trump last year withdrew from the nuclear deal.
The escalation has included a U.S. “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign that has crippled Iran’s economy and targeted its supreme leader and elite Revolutionary Guard; incremental Iranian violations of the landmark 2015 deal; Iran shooting down a $130 million U.S. intelligence drone; and Mr. Trump at the last minute calling off a retaliatory surgical strike – while planes were reportedly mid-route.
The result: the U.S. and Iran have not been this close to open conflict since the 1980s.
Which raises two very pressing questions: What is the psychology of escalation at play? And how far can this tit-for-tat trajectory go without stumbling into a war that leaders on both sides say they don’t want?
Mr. Trump states that his aim is to pressure the Islamic Republic to negotiate a new deal that includes limiting Iran’s missile forces and curtailing regional proxies. But hawkish aides like his national security adviser, John Bolton, have argued for years for military strikes on Iran and regime change.
For their part, Iranian officials vow that they will not negotiate under pressure, state that America can’t be trusted, and declare – as Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently did – that talking to the Trump administration would be poison “twice as deadly.”
And while Iran stuck to the nuclear deal for a year after the U.S. withdrawal – imploring the European Union, Russia, and China to uphold their side of the bargain, even if the U.S. did not, by providing Iran with economic benefits in exchange for Iran curtailing its nuclear program – analysts say the consensus has grown in Iran to take action.
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