Iran's dilemma, negotiate with Trump or escalate

James Robbins:
For now, Iran may bluster. But as sanctions continue to bite the regime will face a hard choice; negotiate or escalate?

Escalation would be a mistake. President Rouhani may threaten that a US-Iran confrontation would be “the mother of all wars,” but it would surely be a mother for Tehran. If Iran’s navy took steps to close the Hormuz Strait by force, the American military response would go well beyond simply reopening the sea lanes. We could expect that Iran’s navy and port facilities would soon cease to exist. Iran’s military aircraft and bases would be obliterated. Any land-based missiles that could potentially threaten U.S. or allied shipping would be destroyed whenever they were detected. It would not entail a full-scale invasion of Iran but would mean substantial degradation of Iran’s military assets.

Iran could pursue an unconventional warfare offensive against the United States, as it did in the 1980s in Lebanon, involving terror attacks and kidnappings. Iran might also attempt cyberattacks or other disruptive measures against the U.S. economy. But Tehran would not have escalation dominance against an American leader who was determined to make a point. Rather than using diplomatic means to reduce demand for Iranian oil, the U.S. could pursue a supply-side strategy. If Tehran thinks that they can close the straits, imagine what the U.S. Navy could do. Iran’s ports and oil shipping facilities might come into the target group, as well as pipelines and tanker trucks. Iran may chafe at the current round of economic warfare, but actual warfare would be a great deal worse for them.

We would hope that these dramatic exchanges are simply diplomatic posturing, and that Twitter wars will not translate into the real thing. But Iran should understand that President Trump really would rather negotiate a comprehensive deal than be forced to confront a military crisis in the gulf. On the other hand, if the Mullahs decide to resort to armed conflict, it might serve as a welcome distraction from the swirl of American domestic politics. With midterm elections approaching not even Democrats would attempt to make the Iranian regime look like the good guys.
Iran would lose and not be able to export any oil if it tried to shut down the Straights of Hormuz. Iran might try all its war-making options, but in the end, they would lose their military hardware and infrastructure.  And, Iran would likely see all of its nuclear facilities destroyed in the process.


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