The Times quoted a senior administration official as acknowledging that it may in fact have violated Iranian airspace; if so and the administration is caught lying to the world, this will be an enormous self-inflicted blow. Iran’s decision to shoot down a drone in its own airspace would be understandable; certainly the United States would shoot down an Iranian drone that intruded over our territory.
The national security adviser, John Bolton, and secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, reportedly are pushing for military action. Both are longtime hawks, with Bolton urging in 2015 that “to stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran.” Bravo to uniformed officers in the Pentagon for pushing back and warning of the dangers of escalation.
I suggest this principle of foreign policy: Hawks who were completely wrong about Iraq should refrain from jingoism about Iran.
What can be done to reduce the risk of war? Here are four steps for Trump to take:
1. Ensure that U.S. forces fire only in clear self-defense or on presidential orders, to reduce the risk of an accident. In 1988, the U.S.S. Vincennes shot down what the crew believed was a threatening Iranian military jet. In fact, the airplane was a civilian Iranian airliner, and all 290 people onboard were killed.
2. Try to organize an international force to protect ship traffic through the Strait of Hormuz. This would present a united front against Iranian provocations and reduce the risk of a limpet mine starting a war.
3. Disentangle the United States from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have played a pernicious role (along with Israel) in encouraging belligerence toward Iran (the Senate took a landmark step in the right direction a few days ago by voting to block weapons sales to Saudi Arabia). The blundering Saudi efforts to challenge Iran have so far backfired in Qatar, Lebanon and, most tragically, Yemen, so Trump should listen carefully to what the Saudi crown prince says — and then do the opposite.
4. Seek secret talks with Iran to patch back together the nuclear agreement.
These approaches may not succeed, but the stakes are high enough that they are worth trying. War is sometimes necessary; this is not one of those times.