Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gestures as members of Iranian armed forces take part in a rally marking the anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, in Tehran, Iran, February 11, 2018.
(photo credit: PRESIDENT.IR/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was a study in how major enemies could use troop deployments to communicate both their resolve as well as their desire to avoid a broader conflict.
Even with the US announcement on Tuesday that it will deploy an additional 1,000 US troops to the Middle East region in addition to the 1,500 troops and naval and aerial deployments it previously announced – and even with Iran’s announcement on Monday that it is set to pass the 300 kilogram enriched uranium threshold – both sides are clearly still trying to engage in that same rational game.
Iran could have announced it would start enriching uranium to the 20% level, which would have shortened its breakout time to a nuclear bomb; it could have reduced IAEA access to its nuclear facilities; and it could have pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal or out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
But Tehran did none of those things, which means it is messaging its restraint to the US, although it did try to show off its resolve by announcing the exact date it will blow past the limits of minimally enriching uranium and threatening to continue.
The US could have announced a larger troop deployment of tens of thousands or more, sufficient to heighten the threat of invading Iran; it could have fired cruise missiles on selected Iranian facilities in response to the second round of likely attacks by the Islamic republic on Saudi and UAE area oil tankers; and it could have imposed its own counter-deadline on Iran for when it will be ready to use force if Tehran does not restore its compliance with the 2015 deal’s limits.
But the Trump administration, like Iran, sufficed with symbolic actions showing resolve with restraint.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the ongoing deployments that escalated in an extremely gradual manner and continually showed restraint were what gave the sides the space to find a point to back down and resolve the standoff without a massive war.
The main difference now is that Iran ignored Trump’s emissary, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and that there is no red phone for the sides to speak directly to avoid a war.
For those wanting to avoid open war, the hope is that this was not the final Iranian position, but merely a sign from the Islamic republic that this was too early a point for it to be willing to compromise, as Tehran is still hoping it will get Washington to blink based on the premise that Trump is talking tough, but is afraid of war.
July 7 beckons: the deadline Iran has set for when it may escalate its response if the country’s economic situation is not improved.
Whether the two sides can find a plausible compromise will likely depend on whether some other third party can arrive at the exact right moment and strike the right balance for each side, both on substance and on saving face in order to step back from the brink.
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