Posted on May 17, 2019
There are two competing narratives.
The first, which is favoured by US President Donald Trump’s administration, is that Iran is up to no good. Preparations are said to have been seen for a potential attack on US targets, though few details have been revealed publicly. The US has moved reinforcements to the region; it is reducing its non-essential diplomatic personnel in Iraq; and it is reportedly dusting off war plans.
The message to Tehran is clear: any attack on a US target from whatever source, be it Iran or one of its many proxies or allies in the region, will be met by a significant military response.
The second narrative lays the blame for this crisis squarely at Washington’s door.
Iran – not surprisingly – holds to this view, but so too do many domestic critics of the Trump administration’s approach. Indeed, to varying degrees many of Mr Trump’s key European allies share some of these concerns.
According to this narrative, the “Iran hawks” in the Trump administration – people like National Security Adviser John Bolton, or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – sense an opportunity. Their goal, this narrative argues, is regime change in Tehran. And if maximum economic pressure does not work then they believe, military action is not ruled out in the appropriate circumstances.
These two narratives reflect different interpretations of the reality and, as so often, they play up certain facts and ignore others to make their case. But perceptions here matter just as much as reality. Indeed, in many ways they produce the reality.
And that reality is that a conflict between the US and Iran – albeit by accident rather than design – is more likely today than at any time since Mr Trump took office. Tensions in the Middle East are certainly mounting. Iran, its economy suffering from the re-imposition of US sanctions that were lifted under a 2015 nuclear accord with world powers, is pushing back. It has warned that it may no longer abide by the restrictions on its nuclear activities.