Iran has announced that it has shot down an American drone over its airspace. The United States has acknowledged that a drone was shot down, but says that the drone was over international waters.
The tensions escalating in the region serve a few groups. They help Iran, who is seeking to assert its dominance over the area. They help Saudi Arabia, who as the main local adversary to Iran in the area is given more political leeway over its decisions to crack down on human rights, to butcher a journalist alive who was under American protection, and to pursue nuclear arms. They help the Trump administration, who is seeking convenient ways to distract from domestic and international scandals.
Although there are some positive ramifications for the Trump administration in the escalation, there are few for America.
The best result America could achieve out of a conflict with Iran would be the elimination of the Iranian nuclear program. This would be a highly desirable endgame. To get there, however, the remainder of the the match must be played… and that match will be played with human lives and at the expense of many assets. Potentially much worse, it would destabilize the region and trigger another wave of refugees into Europe and throughout the world while emboldening small terrorist groups. That might be minimized, but only with a huge presence by American troops. We have seen, with the growth of ISIS, what happens to a power vacuum in the Middle East.
Every possible response has significant drawbacks. This is a time when the expertise of those in the top levels of government is at a premium; they are expected to have spent considerable time projecting out likely actions and best responses, so as to present the President with the best available plans and the likely ramifications of various responses.
The President has no good options, but he will have an array of advisers ready to help him make a fully informed decision.
That’s the theory. In practice, those advisers must be seated in positions where they can make their projections, and that means slating people for positions not due to their political bent or their willingness to retroactively adjust their views to those of the President. They may need to follow orders, but they must be grounded firmly in reality.
Also in practice, a President needs to value the expert opinions being presented to them, recognizing that an underling with experience and expertise may have a better grasp on a specific situation than an administrator who needs to keep an eye on dozens of issues simultaneously.
There are no good options. It is unreasonable to criticize the President or those in his administration for making decisions which fail to bring immediate peace to the Gulf region. The task at hand is to select from among the most productive choices available, to minimize the long-term threat to the United States and allies’ property and authority. The foreign policy decisions made by the President to date, with their lack of nuance, destructive results, and public refutation of expertise do not fill me with hope that he is up to that task.