Last week, the president asked what options there were for attacking one of Iran’s nuclear facilities:
President Trump asked senior advisers in an Oval Office meeting on Thursday whether he had options to take action against Iran’s main nuclear site in the coming weeks. The meeting occurred a day after international inspectors reported a significant increase in the country’s stockpile of nuclear material, four current and former U.S. officials said on Monday.
The president’s Iran obsession has been one of the few consistent things in his foreign policy views over the last five years, and it has been one of the most dangerous. Even though he clearly lost his re-election bid, he was still entertaining the possibility of launching an unjustified and illegal attack on another country in the closing weeks of his presidency. It seems that he brought this up because of a reported increase in Iran’s stockpile of nuclear material, which was a direct result of his decision to renege on the JCPOA and wage an economic war on Iran while it was still fully complying with the deal. Having created the problem, he was considering making it far worse by launching an attack that would guarantee war with Iran. The episode is alarming for what it says about the president’s judgment and the possibility that he might try to start a war before he leaves office, and it encapsulates much of what has been wrong with his foreign policy.
Trump’s hostility to the nuclear deal makes no sense if he were really interested in preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons. Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon and it has not had a nuclear weapons program for 17 years, but attacking them for modest increases in their stockpile of nuclear material would be a good way to encourage them to do just that. In addition to being illegal and wrong, attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities would be colossally stupid if discouraging their government from developing nuclear weapons were the real goal. The president has ordered illegal military attacks against another government several times before. His openness to ordering another such attack reflects not only his knee-jerk hawkishness, but it also once again proves his contempt for the Constitution and international law. It is good that he was dissuaded from ordering the attack this time, but it shows how close the U.S. and Iran still are to a completely unnecessary war because the president violated a successful nonproliferation agreement two and a half years ago.
Benjamin Armbruster pointed out that the article, while valuable, contained a number of mistakes and framed the story in a bizarre and misleading way:
Unfortunately, that’s about where the usefulness of this report ends, as the piece engages in what many call “threat inflation” by painting a misleading picture of Iran’s nuclear program, ignoring key context —such as what might be motivating Iranian behavior — and dancing around the fact that this is a crisis of Trump’s own making.
The article makes it seem as if Trump’s willingness to order an attack is somehow reasonable. The report says, “The episode underscored how Mr. Trump still faces an array of global threats in his final weeks in office.” In fact, the episode showed how the president could become a threat to international peace and security over the next two months. There is no threat coming from Iran’s nuclear program, so there is nothing that could conceivably justify military action against their facilities. The idea of bombing Iran has become so normalized in our foreign policy debates that people tend to forget that it would be an act of unprovoked, criminal aggression by one state against another. If we are ever going to have a more restrained foreign policy, we have to insist that preventive war is an absolutely unacceptable option that should never be considered.