The escalating crisis with Iran puts the Democratic Party in a difficult situation. Iran’s fanatical, anti-American regime is an ideal adversary from the perspective of President Donald Trump — a foe no one across the U.S. political spectrum can or will defend. Moreover, if war comes, the proximate cause likely will be a provocation or hostile act on Iran’s part, such as the shooting down of a U.S. drone this week. If the United States is seen to be acting in self-defense, Americans will rally around the flag and Democrats naturally will support our military forces in harm’s way.
The fact that a military strike on Iran was in fact ordered, but that President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger welcomes baby boy Tennessee lawmaker presents self-defense bill in 'honor' of Kyle Rittenhouse Five things to know about the New York AG's pursuit of Trump MORE called it off at the last minute only highlights how close we are to getting entangled in another war in the Middle East.
It is essential that Democratic leaders resolutely oppose war with Iran and make it clear to the American people that responsibility for such a conflict rests with the president — it would be a direct result of his reckless decision to unilaterally withdraw the United States from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with Iran.
In making that decision, Trump could have opted for a diplomatic approach; working in concert with the other JCPOA signatories, he could have tried to induce Iran to negotiate a strengthened, improved deal. Instead, he allowed his hawkish advisers — who want to eliminate the Iranian regime, not negotiate with it — to launch a campaign to systematically suffocate the Iranian economy and impose acute hardship on the Iranian people. Their aim, clearly, was to provoke a war with Iran, which would provide the long-awaited opportunity for regime-change proponents to crush the Islamic Republic once and for all.
One does not have to be a sympathizer with the mullahs to understand that they will neither capitulate nor accept economic strangulation without a fight. Indeed, this is exactly what national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonFormer Trump officials plotting effort to blunt his impact on elections: report Equilibrium/Sustainability — Fire calls infrastructural integrity into question Will Biden's 2021 foreign policy failures reverberate in 2022? MORE is counting on.
Those who are pushing for war with Iran do not have President Trump’s interests at heart. They would not care if it turned out badly and helped to make him a one-term president; at that point, he already would have served his purpose anyway.
Trump clearly senses the risk, and that is why a resolute, united stand by the Democrats can help the president to make the choice for diplomacy.
By making it clear to the American public that this would be Trump’s war — an avoidable, unnecessary war of choice — it could help to save the United States from another disastrous military intervention in the Middle East.
Democrats also should explain to the public that war with Iran would be a strategic blunder for the United States because — just like the war in Iraq — it would substantially benefit our principal adversaries, China and Russia, by distracting our attention and draining our resources.
There is no question that Iran poses a strategic challenge to our friends and allies in the Middle East — “strategic” meaning the kind of threat that can justify going to war. But Iran does not pose that kind of threat to the United States. We need to keep our focus on U.S. strategic threats and competitors — China, Russia, a nuclear-armed North Korea. Ironically, Iran would fall into that limited category only in the event that it actually became a nuclear-armed power. This underscores the folly of withdrawing from the JCPOA and the necessity of returning now to diplomacy to ensure its preservation.
The Democratic Party made a colossal error in 2002-2003 to the extent that many of its leaders provided support and cover for President George W. Bush’s disastrous course in Iraq. It is of utmost importance to our country that Democrats do not repeat that mistake. Standing now against war with Iran is the best way to help President Trump avoid that calamitous outcome.
James B. Foley is a retired career foreign service officer and was U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, 2003-2005, and to Croatia, 2009-2012. He helped to negotiate the resignation of Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, coordinated Iraqi refugee issues for the State Department, was Deputy Commandant of the National War College and a deputy permanent U.S. representative to the United Nations in Geneva.