Escalation with Iran: Outcomes and Implications for U.S. Interests and Regional Stability


Ariane Tabatabai, Associate Political Scientist

The U.S. maximum pressure campaign against Iran is working on a tactical level. Iran has less money, for example, to send to various proxies it's supporting in the region. But strategically, Iran is not changing its behavior. And so I think that on a strategic level, the maximum pressure campaign against Iran is not working.

Iran responded to the U.S. targeting of Soleimani by launching some attacks against bases in Iraq that house U.S. troops. That is unlikely to be the last we'll hear from Iran, and Iran is likely to continue to take action against the United States, though we are much more likely to see Iran take action via its proxies and in a covert manner, in a way that allows it to have plausible deniability rather than directly through its own armed forces.

The United States is conventionally superior to Iran. But Iran does have a comprehensive toolbox at its disposal and a number of options that it can use to challenge the United States. That includes options in the cyber space. For example, it can use this information and interference in the U.S. elections. It can leverage its proxies throughout the region to target U.S. interest partners and personnel and facilities. It can also use the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps itself to challenge the United States and target U.S. interests in the region. And of course, Iran has a nuclear program that has been capped by the nuclear deal, but it can take actions to resume certain activities when it comes to this nuclear program.

The appetite to negotiate with the United States is currently limited in Iran. That said, there are things that we can do to begin to create the groundwork for future talks. For example, the administration can be a bit clearer and more coherent in its messaging when it comes to Iran. Try to tell what its objectives are to Iranian decision makers, what it is willing to offer them in exchange for any concessions that they may be willing to make.

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