The Trump Administration has wasted no time in making a number of cavalier threats against Iran. While it is difficult to understand why it has chosen this course of action, it is undoubtedly counterproductive and dangerous.
By "officially putting Iran on notice" and "taking nothing off the table," the President and his National Security Advisor have threatened Iran with military action if Iran does not do as Washington tells it to do. Washington's tirade appears to stem from Iran's recent ballistic missile tests, its alleged involvement in a number of Middle Eastern countries, its alleged undermining of regional stability and its alleged support for terrorism.
As a sovereign nation Iran has every right to missile research and tests. There is nothing in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that prohibits Iran from developing its missile capabilities. Moreover, if the US persists in pressing this point, it will be doing so without the support of its allies and that of China and Russia. Such threats are duplicitous beyond belief when America's closest Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, bought medium-range Chinese missiles whose only purpose was the delivery of nuclear weapons in 1988. Later Saudi Arabia, with US support, bought more advanced missiles from China that carry the same ominous implication for Iran. The US "condones" Saudi purchases of missiles, across the Persian Gulf from Iran, and tells Iran that it cannot develop its own!
Yes, it is evident that Iran supports Hezbollah in every way and might be assisting Hamas. Yes, Iran has been meddling in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria; and Iran is in all likelihood supporting its allies in Yemen and Bahrain. The US calls Hezbollah a terrorist organization, something that most Arabs dispute. Iran meddles in Lebanon and Iraq and Syria, all countries in its neighborhood while the US has meddled and continues to meddle in every Muslim country of the Middle East. The Saudis threaten Iran in all of these neighborhoods and the US expects Iran to do nothing. The Saudis have suppressed peaceful and democratic opposition in Bahrain (with a 65% Shia population) and have been behind the government's well documented atrocities, which are condemned by many observers as crimes against humanity. Washington has been quite mute on this as the US and the UK continue to sell arms to both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. But Iran is told to stop indirect and muted support of its abused Shia brethren. Saudi Arabia continues its widely condemned carpet bombings in Yemen, the US sheds a few crocodile tears and then refuels Saudi bombers and gives them intelligence reports.
The US has accused Tehran of its destabilizing influence in the region. Sadly, the US record is not stellar as a few incidents should confirm: the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953, its support for Saddam Hussein before and after he invaded Iran, the transfer of internationally outlawed chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein, and the invasion of Iraq with all its fallouts, including the rise of ISIS. Most unhelpful of all, the US has supported its client dictators in the Middle East and North Africa for over half a century and these oppressive rulers have robbed their citizenry of their freedom, and of political and human rights. This the US has invariably defended on the grounds of regional stability and access to oil but to the detriment of the region's development and progress. This "stability" will blow up, the only question is when?
If the Muslims of the Middle East had benefitted from US policies, the US would be very popular in the region. A glance at the respected Pew Surveys tells an interesting story. The US is not popular among the citizens of Arab countries but enjoys popularity among Iranians. The reader may ask why? Well, here is a hypothesis. The US has not supported the clerical rulers of Iran for nearly 40 years but has supported the Arab dictators of the region as they oppress their people.
The US accuses Iran of being a state sponsor of terrorism. Yet the US supports Saudi Arabia--the home of nearly all 9/11 terrorists, the home of Osama bin Laden, the financial backer of the extreme (Saudi) interpretations of Islam in Madrassas and mosques across the world, the country that prohibits churches and synagogues and the country that teaches hate in its schools with books that the US condemns. Can anyone take US accusations seriously?
From an Iranian perspective, these threats seem almost bizarre. The US, a country that is over 6,500 miles from the Persian Gulf, has bases in Bahrain and Qatar, thousands of military personnel and vast quantities of American pre-positioned arms in the region, tells Iran not to develop missiles or to protect its own interests in the region, and to stand idly by as Saudi Arabia threatens Iran and its interests.
General Flynn has probably not dealt with the folks who run Iran. If he had, he would know that they know the game of poker well. What can America do to force its will on Iran? Very little short of using tactical nuclear weapons and unleashing a WWIII. America cannot bomb Iran into submission as Iran is too big a country. America does not have the will to send more than 500,000 servicemen to Iran, to conquer and occupy it. America is financially weak, with a national debt of over $20 trillion and cannot afford another war that would spill over to the entire Muslim World. So the rulers of Iran will call General Flynn's bluff and the new administration in Washington will be embarrassed yet again and lose more support across the Muslim World.