National Security Action: Narrowly Avoiding Needless War — For Now — Is Not a Win

WASHINGTON, D.C. Jan. 8, 2020 — President Trump’s reckless approach has created a dangerous reality in which the best case scenario is avoiding war with Iran. Trump may have met that exceedingly low bar — but just barely. 

At the same time, his actions have not made us safer. Far from it, as Americans around the world and our partners are now under increased threat from an array of challenges, all of which are direct results of Trump’s approach. 

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Among the immediate and ongoing consequences of Trump’s actions:

  • The U.S. military has suspended all operations against ISIS, as American service members have been forced to reposition and take cover. 
  • The Iraqi Parliament has voted to kick American troops out of the country, which, if implemented, would be a further boon to ISIS and provide even more of a welcome mat for Iranian influence in Iraq. 
  • We now have more than 15,000 additional U.S. troops in the region than we did at the start of the summer. 
  • An Iranian public that only weeks ago was protesting its own political leaders is now directing its ire at Washington. 
  • Iran has stepped even farther away from the nuclear deal, announcing that it would no longer abide by the deal’s strict enrichment limits. 
  • The United States find itself even more isolated from our allies and partners, many of whom have condemned the Trump administration’s reckless approach. 

Finally, while this retaliation may entail the conclusion of Iran’s response — not yet a guarantee — Tehran’s proxy and militia forces have been galvanized into action by Trump’s recklessness. If history is any guide, they will seek to take on a months’ or even years’-long effort to seek vengeance for Soleimani’s death, taking advantage of their presence throughout the region and even beyond. 

Rather than temporary deescalation alone, this moment calls for real diplomacy — unlike what we’ve seen from the Trump administration with North Korea and in other contexts. That’s because a fragile stand-off is unlikely to endure if not accompanied by meaningful commitments to a diplomatic approach, especially if we begin to endure anticipated attacks from Iran’s proxies and partners. 

  • As part of that, the administration owes to Congress and the American people a full accounting of its strategy going forward, including how it will seek to ensure this step back from the brink does not again set us down the path to war. 
  • Congress, too, has a constitutional obligation to ensure this administration cannot enter in a catastrophic conflict with Iran, whether on purpose or by miscalculation.

We are Americans—former senior officials and policy experts, academics and civil society leaders—who have seen first-hand how the United States is stronger, safer and more respected in the world when we stand strong with our allies, pursue principled diplomacy, and stay true to the values that have long defined America at home and abroad. www.nationalsecurityaction.org