Unforced Error. The Risks of Confrontation with Iran (CATO Institute)

09 Oct 2017

Unforced Error. The Risks of Confrontation with Iran

By Emma Ashford and John Glaser

CATO Institute

October 9, 2017


During the 2017 presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump was open about his hostility toward Iran and his disdain for the Obama administration’s diplomacy with that country. Since January, the Trump administration has been engaged in an Iran policy review. News reports and leaks suggest the review is highly likely to recommend a more confrontational approach to Iran, whether within the framework of the Iranian nuclear deal or by withdrawing from it. This paper examines the costs of four confrontational policy approaches to Iran: sanctions, regional hostilities, “regime change from within,” and direct military action.

Increased economic sanctions are unlikely to succeed in producing policy change in the absence of a clear goal or multinational support. Indeed, sanctions on Iran are likely to meet with strong opposition from U.S. allies in Europe and Asia, who continue to support the nuclear deal. The second policy we examine—challenging Iranian proxies and influence throughout the Middle East—is likewise problematic. There is little coherent, effective opposition to Iran in the region, and this approach increases the risks of blowback to U.S. forces in the region, pulling the United States deeper into regional conflicts. …

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