On May 5th, John Bolton – Trump’s National Security advisor – announced that the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier had been deployed to the Middle East in response to growing hostility from Tehran and intelligence which suggested that the Iranians were planning an attack on US forces in the region. Bolton said that the carrier’s deployment was meant to “send a clear message to Iran”.
On May 7th, the Pentagon announced that the United States was bolstering its military muscle in the region even further by sending a group of B-52 bombers to the region as well.
Gathering forces in the Middle East may not amount to a declaration of war, but it is certainly a precursor to war. Of course, the United States has deployed ships and forces to regions many times before and likely does so on a regular basis without announcing it to the American people.
So is war with Iran really on the horizon, or will the growing tensions come to an anticlimactic end?
During the Obama administration, Iran had little reason to want a war with the United States. Under the Iran Nuclear Deal, the country was given everything they wanted. Their economy flourished, they were allowed to continue their ballistic missile program, they were allowed to continue sponsoring terrorist activity in the region, and – unburdened by the close examination they are now under – they were even able to continue with elements of their nuclear program.
Once Trump took office, though, things ceased to be so easy for the Iranian government. The Iran Nuclear Deal was abolished, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard was labeled by the United States as a terrorist group, and Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran enforced sanctions that have crippled their economy in only a matter of months.
While all of these things were exactly what needed to be done in order to counter the growing threat that Iran presents, these actions taken by the Trump administration have also backed Iran into a corner.
Now, Iran is left with only two real options – either abandon their hostilities and their ballistic missile and nuclear programs altogether or go to war. The country simply cannot survive under the sanctions that Trump has imposed much longer, and they certainly cannot continue with their plans to become the most powerful country in the region.
Assuming that Iran is unwilling to give up their nuclear ambitions and other ambitions that the United States opposes, war is quickly becoming their only option.
While these facts make it seem as if war with Iran is inevitable, war with the United States is also something that Iran can ill-afford. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have already expressed their willingness to join the United States in a war against Iran.
Unless Iran is able to convince their allies in China and Russia that defending the Iranian regime is worth kicking off World War Three, Iran would likely find itself in a war that is impossible for them to win.
At the same time, though, the Iranian regime could see war as the only way to ease the pressure they are under and reclaim support from both their allies and the Iranian people – who have begun to rise up against the regime. They may also believe that they have a legitimate chance of defending their regime against the US.
Iran has certainly bolstered their military might enough over the years to put up a much more serious fight than the United States has faced in the Middle East thus far. While sending an aircraft carrier to the region is indeed the most powerful way for the United States to project force in Iranian territory, Iran has made no attempt to hide their desire to sink a US aircraft carrier, and, in the confined and shallow waters of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, the possibility of Iranian submarines and/or ballistic missiles sinking the USS Abraham Lincoln is unfortunately not out of the question.
Such an attack would no doubt launch Iran into a full-blown war, but it would also amount to a devastating strike against the United States that may encourage the support of their Russian and Chinese allies.
For now, there are arguments to be made both for and against the likelihood of war with Iran. However, there is also no denying that we are now closer to war with Iran than we have ever been in the past.