Foreign policy expert: Trump could take the US to war with Iran by accident

Trump’s approach “demonstrates an astonishing ignorance of history, politics realities, and the practice of nuclear negotiations”.

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Tensions are rising between the US and Iran as President Trump ramps up the rhetoric. National Security Advisor John Bolton, a long-time Iran hawk, has called for “regime change” in the Islamic Republic, and the US recently pulled out diplomatic staff from the country.

I spoke to Brett Bruen, the president of consulting firm Global Situation Room and former US diplomat who served as director of global engagement in president Obama’s White House, to get his key takeaways from the recent developments in the US’s policy towards Iran. His answers reveal a situation which is at best deeply troubling, and at worst could lead the US to stumble into an armed conflict – perhaps even a nuclear standoff.

“Trump has failed almost every diplomatic test he has faced,” Bruen told me. “His negotiations with Pyongyang have stalled, his policies have made peace in the Middle East a distant dream, he has managed to isolate the United States from our allies and embolden our adversaries. With such a poor track record, one would think he would not seek out new ways to add problems to the agenda. Yet, now we find ourselves clenching conflict from the jaws of a functioning diplomatic deal.

“One analysis goes that because talks with North Korea have gone so poorly, he needs to create a distraction,” Bruen continued. “That is his standard move. Now we are seeing it play out in the fragile minefield that is today’s Middle East.”

Bruen said that the US stands largely alone in its hawkish posture. “The problem he confronts is that few countries are following him down this path. This makes the pressure play considerably harder. While they may be forced to break off business deals, major powers are actually actively trying to find ways to ease the pressure on Tehran to keep them in the deal.

“The real risk we confront in this environment is that one wrong move, one wrong statement, could exacerbate a strained situation and quickly escalate into an overreaction. We might well find ourselves in open conflict with Iran, not by design, but because of the dysfunctional diplomacy currently being practiced by Washington. They don’t consider the facts. They don’t listen to allies. They don’t have a strategy. Instead they operate on the premise that bludgeoning Iran will force them to renegotiate more favorable terms.”

“This approach demonstrates an astonishing ignorance of history, politics realities, and the practice of nuclear negotiations,” he added.

Nicky Woolf is the editor of New Statesman America. He has formerly written for the Guardian and the New Statesman. He tweets @NickyWoolf.