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Thanks to Trump, Iran has the Upper Hand

The assassination of General Soleimani is proving to be a resounding success for Iran. It accomplished what the ayatollah could not: common ground between Iran and Iraq, Iraq’s invitation to the US military to leave the country; an end to Iranian popular protests against the regime’s economic policies, and instead broad support for retaliation against the US air strike; and further division in Washington over Trump’s Middle East policy, including renewed calls for restraining him from attacking Iran.

So when you think about it, Iran has the upper hand. Early yesterday, before Iran sent missiles over an Iraqi base that housed US soldiers, I thought that Iran’s leaders would have every reason to be patient and not put retaliation against the US into play too soon.

In fact, its better strategy would be to let developments evolve—let the Iraqi government keep up the pressure on US troop withdrawal, let popular anti-American anger in Iran continue to simmer, let the Europeans show their upset over how Trump’s attack has put their troops in danger, and let the Democrats in Congress continue to make life miserable for Trump and weaken his popular base.

Now, fortunately, it appears that there were no casualties in Iran’s reprisal, probably by design, and therefore no pretext for a further US attack. The opportunity to deescalate is before Trump.

His speech on January 8 did not raise new threats, but neither did it offer Iran an incentive to move relations out of the danger zone. Just more sanctions, lies about Obama’s Iran plicy, and boasts about US military power, oil independence, and of course Trump’s exceptional foreign policy leadership.

The US and Iran thus remain at an impasse–still with no active diplomatic channel to avoid either another round of tit-for-tat or a crisis over Iran’s nuclear plans.

Absent anything resembling a diplomatic strategy, Iran is free to decide its next move: Feed on the successes Trump has delivered to the ayatollah, or test Trump’s boasts again.

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Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

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