The latest talking point from Democrats is that President Donald Trump is maneuvering the United States into a war with Iran — but ironically, it may be Democrats themselves who are making war more likely by defending the Iranian regime and encouraging it to stand firm against the president.
Last week, former Obama national security aide Ben Rhodes, an architect of the Iran nuclear deal, publicly doubted reports that Iran was sabotaging tankers in the Persian Gulf. (More evidence has since emerged.)
Last month, the Daily Beast reported that several Obama administration alumni were continuing to speak to, and advise, Iranian officials: “As the Trump administration sent warplanes and an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, a small group of former Obama administration officials reached out to their contacts in the Iranian government, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Their message to Iran: Don’t take Trump’s bait. Stay calm.”
And last year, former Secretary of State John Kerry was reported to have told Iranian officials to “wait out” President Trump — not to comply with American pressure to stop funding terror, stop developing ballistic missiles, and return to talks to create a better agreement that stops Iran from getting the bomb.
When Republicans, led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), signed a letter in 2015 to the Iranian regime warning that Obama’s talks were circumventing the Constitution and therefore might not be honored by future administrations, Democrats accused them of treason, with Obama himself alleging they were making “common cause” with Tehran.
Now Democrats are undermining Trump’s attempt to pressure Iran — not for any constitutional reason, but to preserve Obama’s most important (and dubious) foreign policy legacy.
Some may naïvely believe they are helping to avoid war. If anything, they are likely doing the opposite.
If Iran believes that American threats are not serious, especially about the use of military force as a last resort, it may behave in more aggressive ways, certain the Trump administration will relent.
Analysts at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) wrote last week: “Iran has escalated its violent activity against the Gulf states – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – with the aim of bringing the U.S. into negotiations with it on Iran’s own terms: indirect negotiations aimed at lifting the U.S. sanctions on it.”
They added that Iran has interpreted “conciliatory U.S. measures,” such as negotiations on a prisoner release and a maritime border between Israel and Lebanon, as shows of weakness. The regime has also interpreted — or at least spun publicly — President Trump’s recent offers of negotiation as a sign that it is winning.
Democrats have added to that impression by excusing Iran’s behavior, blaming the Trump administration for the growing tensions in the region. South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg — citing the insights he gained through his own military service — claimed recently that the administration had “engineered” the crisis with Iran. Buttigieg did not blame Iran, or point out that both our European allies and our Chinese and Russian rivals have been shoring up the regime.
None of this is to say that criticism of the administration, or scrutiny of intelligence reports about Iranian terror, is wrong (we ought to have learned that much from mistakes in the Iraq War).
But Democrats who are telling Iran it has nothing to fear, or to wait until after 2020, could cause the regime to make a fatal miscalculation that forces President Trump to react to defend America’s broader security interests and diplomatic credibility.
Trump has shown, in Syria and elsewhere, that he is willing to act. By assuring Iran that he will not, and declaring that he should not, Democrats are increasing the chance that he will have to do so.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.