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One can hear the beating drums of war

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department last Thursday in Washington.  Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

The tone is hardening and the risk of war seemingly grows in the case of the United States and Iran.

Against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s decision to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, Iran has shot down a U.S. drone. Iranian officials say now that they are within days of breaking out of the nuclear pact by exceeding the stockpile limit for enriching uranium by up to 20 percent — only a few degrees away from having nuclear weapons-grade levels — unless Europe intervenes against reinstated U.S. sanctions.

On the U.S. side, rhetoric is heating up as President Donald Trump and his national security staff build a public case against Iran, which the United States blames for apparent attacks on oil tankers last week. Earlier this week, the administration vowed Iran would not get to develop a nuclear weapon, and ordered another 1,000 troops to the Middle East.

And Trump tweeted on Thursday that “Iran made a big mistake!” before telling reporters that we will “soon find out” if the United States plans to militarily strike Iran over the downed drone.

War has its own signature drumbeat and some are starting to hear it. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is saying “all options are on the table.” He and his team say they are preparing to show detailed photographs of the gulf mines that the Iranian navy allegedly used against the tankers, to pressure skeptical allies to join an anti-Iran campaign. U.S. economic sanctions against Iran have been punishing, and Iran has countered by saying there is no reason to engage diplomatically with America.

Wars are preventable if neither side sees an advantage in waging one. At this point, we have to hope that the Europeans step in and broker a deal that turns the heat down on the escalating war of accusations between Washington and Tehran, or that a country like Iraq, somewhat caught in the middle, might step up to say it has no interest in having its territory used for potential strikes against Iran. The country most eager to prod the United States into a conflict with Iran is Israel; one has to pray that its own post-election confusion will deter Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from adding fuel to the fire.

In the meantime, lives and treasure are at risk.

Tara D. Sonenshine, a former U.S. undersecretary of state, advises students at The George Washington University.

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