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Foreign policy is multilevel chess

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), is

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), is questioned by reporters on Tuesday at the Capitol about rising tensions between Iran and the Trump administration. Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

When it comes to foreign affairs, there is no easy button. The world is sketched in many shades besides black and white.

Wise actors think ahead, because actions have consequences. Some are predictable, but some are not. And from those there is no end to what you can learn, if you choose to do so.

Take Iran. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear agreement that had been constraining Iran’s nuclear weapons program, because he wanted to constrain Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He instituted tougher sanctions, and now Iran threatens to breach the deal by exceeding the allowed amount of low-enriched uranium, while saying it might start enriching uranium closer to nuclear-weapons grade. Iran is asking our allies who signed the deal to live up to it by restoring economic benefits canceled by Trump — the same allies Trump alienated over trade and defense issues, the same allies he hopes will back us as he sends 1,000 more troops to the Middle East after apparent attacks on two oil tankers he has blamed on Iran. As tensions spike, it doesn’t help that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said he was stepping down for personal reasons.

Many presidents have made a mess of the Middle East. Who’s to say new tactics might not work? But when your administration has a loose relationship with the truth, when different messages come from different people, and when turnover among top advisers is incredibly high, progress is nearly impossible to make.

Beyond Iran, Trump’s efforts to shut down the Southern border have only increased migration as desperate people decide they should try to enter the country now. The trade and tariff wars he’s pursuing with China and Mexico are pushing up prices on lots of goods here and hurting American farmers, whom Trump has bailed out twice with $28 billion of American taxpayers’ money.

Blunt force has its place. But planning, foresight and trust can be virtues, too, and inconsistency often turns harmful. Food for thought, as our complicated world turns. — The editorial board

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