The origins of the heightened crisis with Iran can be traced back to “maximum pressure,” the Saudi war in Yemen, and the broader Sunni-Shiite fight between Riyadh and Tehran. The recent attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure should come as no surprise. But it is a major warning to de-escalate. As realists predicted, economic sanctions are strangling Iran’s economy, but it is resulting in increasingly risky, belligerent behavior—the exact opposite of its intent. Any military response could spiral into a regional war. Unwinding economic sanctions and pursuing strong diplomacy would best safeguard U.S. interests.
Like most Middle East nations, Iran is guilty of malign behavior—but it is weak, regionally isolated, and unable to meaningfully project power. Its undesirable local activities pose no direct threat to the United States, and it lacks the capability to cause significant disruptions to the flow of oil. The threat Iran does pose is easily checked by its more powerful neighbors. “Maximum pressure” is a risky strategy that could provoke a war instead of negotiations. Normalizing relations with Iran would enhance U.S. security, extricate the U.S. from the region’s disputes, and avoid a potentially catastrophic war.