Economic sanctions the U.S. has placed on Iran are taking a toll.
The U.S. and Iran are engaged in a nasty war of words and more.
So be it — the rhetorical exchange beats a real war or a series of back-and-forth military actions that could lead to war.
While the bombast has been striking, the tensions are not new.
The U.S. and Iran have had a difficult relationship, to say the least, since militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and held its occupants prisoner for more than 400 days.
The latest dispute stems from Iran’s decision to shoot down an American surveillance drone that may — or may not — have been in international air space and launch attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.
Iran’s current grievance stems from the hardship that country is enduring as a consequence of economic sanctions the U.S. put in place to discourage Iran’s nuclear weapons production.
President Barack Obama negotiated a 2015 multi-nation agreement with Iran that limited the amount of enriched uranium Iran could produce for its weapons program.
Unhappy with the deal and concerned about Iranian compliance, President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement while, at the same time, European governments continue to abide by — and expect Iran to abide by — its terms.
The European countries are doing so to maintain their business relationships with Iran. Given U.S. sanctions, they’ve found that increasingly hard to do.
As a consequence, Iran apparently has decided to make some high-profile trouble to persuade the U.S. to back off.
Economic sanctions are a common solution to deal with troublesome, authoritarian countries like Iran. They are damaging, but to what end?
Ruthless leaders are generally unaffected by their people’s economic suffering, only concerned to the extent that those afflicted don’t rise up to protest their country’s policies and threaten their leaders’ rule.
Perhaps that is what is driving Iran’s leadership. Whatever the situation, Iran is preparing to step over another line on July 7. That’s when it has said it expects to exceed the 660-pound limit on its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium.
What will the European countries do then? If past is prologue, the answer is not much.
In the meantime, the situation remains tense and volatile. After Iran shot down the drone and attacked the tankers, Trump decided to launch an air attack on Iranian resources and then reversed himself because he said the damage to Iran would be “disproportionate” to the damage Iran had caused.
Instead, Trump satisfied himself with less overt measures that include cyberattacks and increased sanctions.
To reduce tension, Trump has offered negotiations with Iran with no limitations on what could be discussed. Iran has rejected any talks and suggested its intention to seek nuclear weapons is the reason why.
“It is like you hold a weapon, so the other side does not dare come close,” said Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Given our current commitment in the Middle East, the last thing the U.S. needs is another war, even if it could win one. But Iran is in an even bigger hole because it could not win one.
Both countries have been through showdowns like this before.
In 1988, Iran tried to disrupt oil flow in the Persian Gulf by laying mines, one of which damaged the USS Samuel B. Roberts.
In retaliation, the U.S. launched Operation Praying Mantis in April 1988 that ultimately sunk, or severely damaged, half of Iran’s naval fleet.
It served the purpose at the time. But no one is looking for a repeat.