18 March 2020   Leave a comment

Barry Posen has written a very insightful essay on the relationship between the US and Iran, a relationship that continues to escalate in an uncertain way. Posen details the more recent history of the US-Iranian relationship, paying particular attention to the significance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iranian nuclear deal. The re-imposition of sanctions, as well as the secondary sanctions imposed by the US on the other signatories to the agreement, have placed the Iranians in a desperate situation. Posen describes the attitude of the Iranians:

“In its eyes, the sanctions are particularly malevolent, because Iran had agreed, after long negotiations with the Obama administration and the European Union, to constrain its nuclear ambitions in return for enhanced economic exchange with its negotiating partners. The Trump administration defected from this agreement, dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). So long as Iran adhered to its obligations under the JCPOA, other states were ostensibly committed to trade with Iran. But other guarantors did not hold up their end, even though Iran initially adhered to the terms. The European Union, in particular, has done essentially nothing to fulfill its part of the JCPOA bargain, because the United States has threatened punishing secondary sanctions on foreign banks and companies if they do so. Russia and China, the other co-guarantors of the JCPOA, have been somewhat more willing to help Iran, but the help is furtive and insufficient to ameliorate the U.S. sanctions effort.”

Posen believes that the Iranians are currently holding out for a new US President. But if Trump is re-elected, the Iranians will be forced to figure out a way to break the US control over likely Iranian trading partners. That course of action would involve continuing the incremental attacks on US forces in Iraq as well as attacks on US Arab allies in the Gulf. THat course of action would require a US response, but Posen believes that US military action would not achieve US objectives:

“The United States could try to end such a war quickly and cheaply by bombing Iran’s diverse capabilities out of existence, though this would probably take more time than many expect and probably would not fully succeed. The U.S. air campaigns against Serbia and Libya took much longer than anyone expected; both adversaries managed to continue military operations while under aerial pressure. Both were much weaker than Iran. At some point, the United States would ask Iran if it is ready to capitulate. And if Iran is unwilling, as is likely, then the United States would have five options: negotiate an end to the war that includes compromises on U.S. objectives; stop bombing and hope that the Iranians also stop fighting; settle in for a long, grinding blockade and attrition war; escalate the bombing to civilian targets, a war crime that the president has already hinted at in one of his tweets; or invade Iran with ground forces. None of these options look good. War would be costly, and probably unwinnable in the traditional sense without an invasion of Iran.”

Both the US and Iran have been rattled by COVID-19 and it is likely the case that neither side wishes to take provocative action at this time. But the vulnerability of both could lead to serious miscalculations.

Posted March 18, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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