Last week, around the one-year anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, Iran announced it would restart a portion of its halted nuclear program. The Trump administration responded by announcing “new” sanctions. 

Both moves contain their share of smoke and mirrors —as  Iran’s “restart” will likely remain within the nuclear agreement, and the U.S. sanctions duplicate others already in place. Which begs the question:   What is the intended end game?

Our concern isn’t limited to dealings with Iran. The United States first raised the ouster of President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela to a high priority, only to drop the plan when  the Venezuelan military refused to abandon the Maduro government. And what began as bellicose criticism of North Korea and its “Rocket Man” leader has now morphed into what appears to be docile accommodation, as Kim Jong Un moved from his much ballyhooed meetings with President Trump to unmistakable efforts to improve his regime’s nuclear weapons delivery capability. Similarly, the administration’s new tariffs on China have markets, farmers and the business world confused, and worried that the threat of reciprocal tariffs will bring higher prices for American consumers and hard times for American businesses. 

So where is this all headed? Are we seeing an irrational, uninformed and wholly reactive set of foreign policy moves, or is there a method, purpose and direction to the in-your-face confrontations being pursued by the Trump administration?   

When it comes to Iran, although the much-criticized 2015 deal was flawed, we also know that a year of enhanced U.S. sanctions pressure has not reduced Iran’s regional meddling nor prompted any changes in the country’s malign policies and activities. Indeed, Iran’s threat to Israel grows worse as Teheran takes steps toward going nuclear. While the administration’s dispatch of a carrier strike group and bombers to the region may have sent a “clear and unmistakable message” of U.S. resolve, one can’t help but wonder whether the muscle flexing is really necessary or is simply a recognition that traditional diplomacy with Iran has not succeeded and that shifting national attention to potential confrontation will somehow mask the failure.   

Unfortunately, the Democrats in Congress haven’t been much help in crafting a more deliberate agenda.  Instead of seeking to help guide the administration through ever-mounting international difficulties, they have chosen to focus almost full-time on the alleged corruption of the president and his family, and are now seeking to hold the attorney general and other government leaders in contempt for failing to cooperate with congressional committees. And heated talk of impeaching the president continues, even as Democratic leadership tries to tamp it down.

The threats and crises — real and manufactured — have been unsettling and destabilizing. And there’s no end in sight. JN

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