The Trump Administration is having trouble convincing our allies of the necessity of a confrontation with Iran. Administration claims that Iran is posing an increasing threat to U.S. interests in the region have been met with skepticism by a number of governments.
American efforts to enlist our European allies in an effort to crack down on Iran have fallen flat. A senior British general, who serves as deputy commander of the U.S. coalition against the Islamic State, typified their response. On May 14, he said, “there has been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces.”
When the Secretary of State made a surprise visit to Iraq on May 7 to share threat information, Iraqi officials were not impressed. That response might be taken with a grain of salt because our ill-conceived invasion of Iraq drove that country much closer to Iran. But, it does demonstrate a troubling credibility gap in a critical part of the world.
It may be that Iran has plans to harm American interests in the region, requiring a U.S. response, or it may be that Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, the Administration’s Iran hawks, are just trying to pave the way for another unnecessary military conflict. The problem is that truth-challenged, seat-of-the-pants foreign policy is seriously eroding America’s credibility around the world and putting our country at risk.
There is something to be said for employing a certain amount of uncertainty in dealing with our enemies. An element of bluffing is fair game in dealing with an adversary. However, it must always be carefully employed and rooted in reality. A chaotic policy or one based on untruths will not deter our enemies.
And, when dealing with allies, it is essential to be truthful and respectful. When we surprise our partners with policies harmful to their interests, fail to be truthful with them, or fail to honor our commitments, it erodes our credibility and ability to advance our national interests.
Foreign governments, both friends and foes, carefully follow American politics. They see tallies of the untruths attributed to the President. They are aware of the wide policy swings that can occur in a short period of time–an immediate pullout from Syria one day, a retraction several days later, something else a short time later. Or, in this hemisphere–off-and-on promises to help the people of Venezuela rid themselves of a dictator, or alternating threats and promises to Central American countries regarding aid to keep their people at home.
When our friends and enemies can’t rely on predictability and a certain amount of truthfulness from the U.S. government, it damages our moral standing and harms our national interests. This month our allies won’t buy our case for confronting Iran because they have seen a lack of candor on other issues. What will it be next month and the month after? Once credibility is lost, it is hard to restore.
The icons of the Republican Party–Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan–stood up for the moral dignity of the United States. While they were not perfect and may have strayed from the absolute truth on occasion, they understood the need to let both friend and foe know where America stood, what they could expect from the U.S. and the consequences of transgressing our national interests. It is not too late to restore America to its position as moral beacon of the world. Let’s demand it of our leaders.