When the Iran deal was in force, we did not have the dangerous cycle of tit-for-tat provocation and response with Iran that we have watched unfold in the Middle East over the past year, and there was a united front of allies and partners to address Iran’s destabilizing actions throughout the region. The deal was not only accomplishing the critical mission it was designed for — it was creating an environment where diplomacy was possible.
All of this was utterly predictable. Yet the Trump administration had no strategy to prevent, mitigate or deter Iranian provocations — or stop the ever more dangerous cycle of action and reaction that led us to this moment.
He ordered a drone strike to kill Qasem Soleimani — perhaps the second most important official in Iran — and rushed thousands more troops to the region to deal with the fallout. Iran retaliated by firing a barrage of missiles at two Iraqi bases that host US and coalition forces.
Action and reaction. Provocation and response.
I have no illusions about Soleimani or the Iranian regime. The regime has long sponsored terrorism and threatened our interests, and Soleimani was an architect of those efforts. Iran continues to detain American citizens. The regime has ruthlessly killed hundreds of protesters, and they should be held accountable for their actions.
But there is a smart way to counter them — and a self-defeating way. Trump’s approach is demonstrably the latter. Already, we are seeing the fallout.
Yet, instead of offering the country reassurance and a clear path forward in his public statements, Trump is trying to mislead the country about the Obama-Biden record and blame President Barack Obama for the consequences of his own failed policies.
Trump has no strategy here. No endgame. The only way out of this crisis is through diplomacy — clear-eyed, hard-nosed diplomacy grounded in strategy, that’s not about one-off decisions or one-upmanship. We need diplomacy that is designed to de-escalate the crisis, protect our people and secure our regional interests — including our counter-ISIS campaign.
The best way to start, of course, would be for Trump to rejoin the Iran deal and build on it — if Iran also moves back into compliance with its obligations — re-establishing international consensus about how to confront the threats from Iran.
No one wants war. But it’s going to take hard work to make sure we don’t end up there by accident.
That’s what we owe to those brave men and women who step forward to wear the uniform of these United States, to those who dedicate their lives to diplomatic service and the intelligence community, to those who choose to join the Peace Corps or to work in development, and to those who represent the best of our country all around the world — who are, today, doing so at greater risk because of the actions of our President.