Skip to main content
On Iran Strategy, Donald Trump Replaces Barack Obama’s Mirage with Containment
US President Donald Trump leaves after announcing his decision about the nuclear deal with Iran during a speech from the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, DC, May 8, 2018. (SAUL LOEB/Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

On Iran Strategy, Donald Trump Replaces Barack Obama’s Mirage with Containment

Michael Doran

Donald Trump has a well-articulated strategy toward Iran. Like almost every other Republican candidate for president in 2016, he argued that President Barack Obama empowered Iran at the expense of America’s traditional allies and its own vital interests. Trump has implemented instead a policy of containment.

When critics claim that his strategy lacks an “endgame,” they are really expressing nostalgia for the clarity of Obama’s vision. The Iranian regime, Obama told us, was moderating, it was willing to dispense with its ambitions to become a nuclear weapons state and was eager to stabilize the Middle East in cooperation with the West. Taken together, these trends inevitably led to an attractive endgame: strategic accommodation between Washington and Tehran.

This vision, however, was a mirage. Events in Syria during Obama’s administration gave us a preview of the true consequences of his strategy. Out of a misguided belief that recognition of Syria as an Iranian sphere of interest would transform Tehran into an agent of stability, he made no attempt to counter the provocative new moves that Iran and Hezbollah made to save the Assad regime.

This miscalculation allowed Iran and Russia to form a military alliance that bears primary responsibility for the deaths of over half a million Syrians and the displacement of well over 10 million more.

Trump’s strategy does not permit him to define a clear endgame. A containment policy does not seek war but will not shrink from it if provoked. Nor does it seek regime change. Rather, it recognizes that a transformation of Iranian politics is an essential precondition for a strategic accommodation between Washington and Tehran.

In the meantime, if the Iranians remain determined to launch suicidal attacks on the United States and its allies and disrupt the oil supply, we can’t necessarily stop them — but we can make them pay an exorbitant price, while also ensuring that they never acquire nuclear weapons.

In short, Trump has replaced the clarity of a mirage with the messiness of reality.

Read in USA TODAY.

Related Articles

The Middle East and the Next Administration

Lewis Libby & Hillel Fradkin

A highly unusual development has thrust itself into the Middle East: some good news. As usual, the Middle East is beset by turmoil and is likely to r...

Continue Reading

Will Biden Turn Boom Into Bust?

Irwin M. Stelzer

Any doubt that the American economy is a resilient beast is in the process of being dispelled. It is in the midst of an unexpectedly sharp recovery. T...

Continue Reading

The Look Ahead Series

Hudson Institute

The past year brought an array of challenges on domestic and global fronts: a once-in-a-century disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic and subs...

Continue Reading