On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump made a statement on the escalating Iranian crisis and declared that, despite Iran launching more than a dozen missile strikes at two sites in Iraq, he was comfortable with ending hostilities between both countries.
His measured response was a stark contrast to his approach towards the Iranians on Twitter. Trump tweeted last Saturday that if Tehran strikes any American military assets, the US military has 52 Iranian sites targeted for retaliatory strikes.
Considering Iran vowed to take its revenge on the US for killing Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the President has been fortunate that the missile strikes resulted in no deaths. If there is one outcome that Trump has gained from this situation, it is that the timid response from Tehran demonstrates that they are careful to avoid going to war with the US.
It also shows that Iran does not underestimate the military strength of its opponent. American deaths would have provided the Trump administration with an excuse to declare war on Iran.
Trump has vowed that as long as he is President, Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon and that he will stop them from sponsoring terrorist groups. This was the biggest flaw with Obama’s 2015 Iran Deal. The Trump administration is now issuing more sanctions against Tehran, and the US has called on the UK, Germany, China and Russia to follow his lead.
Yesterday in his statement, the President hinted that he wants to start renegotiating a new deal with Iran. It is unclear what provisions a new agreement would contain, but Trump could lift all sanctions against the Islamic Republic in exchange for an end to their nuclear programme and sponsorship of terrorist groups. Therefore, it does not matter how many targets the US hits or how many Iranian officials the American military kills, Soleimani’s killing has made him realise that a deal could be in sight.
But it is unclear how far Tehran is willing to go before the President declares war. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the Head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards aerospace force, has said missile attacks on US targets in the Middle East will continue until American troops are driven from the region. This contradicts Trump’s comment that Iran appeared to be ‘standing down.’
Esmali Ghaani, the Head of the Quds Force, has also vowed to drive America out of the Middle East completely. If future attacks resulted in American deaths, it would be difficult for Trump to resist the pressure to start a new conflict with Iran.
It seems like the Iranian Government believes that it does not matter how far they push the US, a Trump administration will never declare war on them. The US lacks any leverage in future negotiations if it continues to rule out war as an option, and they need that ‘Trump’ card if discussions between both countries are set to result in a peaceful conclusion.
What is most damaging to the Trump administration’s foreign policy is that he has still failed to convince his allies that the Iran Deal needs replacing. No European government has yet declared that they are siding with the President on this issue, even though it is clear Tehran has violated the agreement. He has stated that his objective is to ensure Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon, but he has failed to specify how he will do that.
Trump made the right decision to protect Americans from attack in Iraq by killing Soleimani. He also proved that Iran is not ready for war. But he must use this situation as an opportunity to explain to his allies how he is going to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing its nuclear programme. He must not be afraid to resort to war as a last option either. Until the President does both those things, tensions between the US and Iran will continue to deepen.