Iran May Be Weak, But Its Strategy Is Working

Sep 12, 2019 | 08:00 GMT

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani leads a Cabinet meeting in Tehran on Sept. 11, 2019.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani leads a Cabinet meeting in Tehran on Sept. 11, 2019. The standoff between the United States and Iran might soon be returning to square one.

(IRANIAN PRESIDENCY/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)


  • Iran's brazenness this summer is paying off: Washington continues to face a massive dilemma in trying to deter Tehran in the Persian Gulf, Iran has exposed U.S. President Donald Trump's extreme reticence toward war and France has offered the Islamic republic financial incentives in return for de-escalating tensions.
  • The removal of national security adviser John Bolton — a hawk on Iran — from Trump's war Cabinet could provide more space for diplomacy, but unless Trump accedes to Iran's demand for some sanctions relief, there is little chance that the two countries will reach a breakthrough at this month's U.N. General Assembly in New York.
  • With political pressures to rise in both Tehran and the White House heading into 2020 and Iran now more confident that Trump is intent on avoiding war, there is still potential for Tehran to resurrect its military threat in the Persian Gulf to break another stalemate.

Over the past three months, the U.S.-Iran conflict has gone from Washington's campaign of "maximum pressure" against Tehran to Iranian provocations that called the White House's bluff (and brought the region to the brink of war in the process) to a French-tailored diplomatic opening. Bloodied but unbowed, Tehran has endured Washington's sanctions, demonstrating to U.S. President Donald Trump that it has no intention of entertaining any of the United States' demands until it receives sanctions relief. The question now is whether, amid the glimmer of possible negotiations, the White House actually relents on sanctions or chooses to double down on its maximum pressure campaign to force through what it wants. That, however, is only likely to return the two foes to a stalemate -- and lead the Islamic republic to kick off a new cycle of tensions in the hopes of finding succor for its ailing economy....

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