Is the United States heading towards war with Iran?

If it happens, the US would face a nation far more militarily advanced than Iraq. 

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Is the United States heading towards war with Iran? US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insists that the Trump administration does not want war – but also insists that Iran is behind the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, while not ruling out taking whatever actions necessary to protect ships in the Strait of Hormuz and to prevent the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb. 

There are three reasons why so many of the United States' traditional allies, including both the EU and the vast majority of member states, are sounding lukewarm about the intelligence showing that Iran is behind the attacks on the tankers. The first is that the intelligence is not certain, as Jack Straw reminded the Today programme this morning, there is always a value in questioning intelligence. The second is that outside of the Trump administration, there is no appetite for war with Iran and the third is that, even more importantly, there is vast opposition across the continent to any war in Iran, particularly one with Trump's White House at its helm. Unsurprisingly, there is little enthusiasm among European voters to refight the Iraq war with a more formidable opponent and a less competent President, and as a result there is precious little support for it in European capitals.

That's also true here in the UK, but the opportunity to remind British voters of Jeremy Corbyn and the row over Salisbury is too great for the various Conservative candidates to resist. In private, however, most admit that you don't have to share the Labour leader's account of global politics to be deeply uneasy about the bellicose sounds emerging from the White House.

Does Trump want war? We know – as his state visit demonstrated – that this President's convictions shift depending on who he has last spoken to. At present, it is America's remaining neoconservatives who look to have his ear, but that could change very quickly. It's also possible that the US could blunder into a war with Iran it doesn't really want. 

As far as the United Kingdom is concerned, if there is a war with Iran, the UK won't be involved. There is no majority in Parliament for it even before the inevitable opposition to it in the country has kicked into gear. This is still essentially the same House of Commons that voted against intervention in Syria on the side of Barack Obama following the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad: anyone who believes that MPs will opt to back a war in Iran on the side of Donald Trump is kidding themselves. You couldn't even reliably get a majority among the remaining candidate for the Tory leadership in private, let alone in public. 

But that doesn't mean that the consequences of an American war with Iran won't be felt here and across the continent. 

If it happens, this would be a war fought by the US without any allies outside the region against a far more militarily advanced nation (Iran has more than a million troops in uniform – Iraq had fewer than 100,000). It would dwarf the human cost and the scale of the quagmire in Iraq.

And the Iraq war came during the so-called unipolar moment – that period following the collapse of the Soviet Union when the United States was the world's sole superpower. The re-emergence of great power politics that has seen the Syrian Civil War turned into a proxy war would also have implications for a US-Iran conflict, both in terms of its ability to escalate but equally for its ability to trigger instability here in Europe: it could easily provide the cover for Russia to annexe more of Ukraine or to otherwise extend its influence in eastern Europe.

For all they aren't above using the crisis to remind British voters about Salisbury, practically no-one at the top of British politics thinks that a war with Iran is a good idea. But it could still happen – and its consequences will be felt here in ways that are too varied and chaotic to predict. 

This blog originally appeared in Morning Call, our free daily guide to all the news you need to know from around the world, subscribe here.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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