Trouble for Tehran
NYT: Trump’s Iran Policy Is Working

The New York Times may not like to openly admit to admiring President Trump’s Iran policy, but its latest dispatch from Tehran shows how his combative approach is already causing headaches for Iran’s leaders:

Gloom and dread can be felt across the Iranian capital, and some people blame not only Mr. Trump, but also their own leaders. […]

In classrooms, taxis, hair salons and homes, many people in this nation of 80 million have gone from first dismissing Mr. Trump’s comments as political bombast to worrying about new sanctions and even military strikes by the United States. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has responded to Mr. Trump with mocking sarcasm.

“Trump is unpredictable; our leaders are unpredictable,” Ms. Sameni said. “It suddenly feels as if we are on a sinking ship.” […]

“After the nuclear deal, everything looked up,” said Ali Sabzevari Fasfangari, 33, a magazine publisher. “It was far from perfect, but at least improving.” […]

“It seemed it was a pivotal turning point: We were on our way back to becoming a part of the international community,” he said.

In the nearly three weeks since Mr. Trump’s inauguration, that feeling has completely dissipated.

It sure looks like Trump’s policy of turning up the heat on Iran is causing problems for the Iranian government—and, indirectly, confirming critics of the Iran deal who argued that its effect was to make it easier for the mullahs to keep power at home, even as they stepped up Iranian aggression abroad.

Taking a tough posture toward Iran has been one of Trump’s most clear-cut priorities since assuming office; in many ways, he has more clearly laid the groundwork for confronting Iran than Sunni jihadists like ISIS. By putting Iran “on notice” after its latest missile launch, imposing new sanctions, calling out Iranian proxies in Yemen, and questioning the future of the nuclear deal, Trump is signaling that the Obama era is over and that the Iranians can expect forceful pushback, not conciliation, when they challenge U.S. interests.

Despite the risks, picking an early fight with Iran does make some strategic sense for Trump. Of the three main revisionist powers who have gained ground under the Obama administration, Iran is clearly the weakest and most overextended. By coming out swinging against Iran, Trump is stoking fears of unpredictable escalation to make the Iranians back down from further provocations, while sending a signal to other challengers that it is unwise to test the new administration. Time will tell whether that calculation proves correct, but the early reports suggest that Trump is indeed making Tehran feel the heat.

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