As the tit for tat continues between President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterparts, foreign policy experts warn that this has brought us “to the brink” of conflict.
Matthew Bunn, Professor of Practice and a nuclear non-proliferation expert at the Belfer Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said in an interview on the Law&Crime Network’s Brian Ross Investigates that he thinks “it’s very dangerous right now.”
“We have a situation in the fairly crowded Strait of Hormuz with lots of different military forces operating not only there but in Iraq, in Yemen, in Syria,” Bunn told Brian Ross. “There are lots of things that could clash inadvertently and be the spark for the beginning of a war.”
With the breakdown of the Iran nuclear deal, the imposition of American sanctions, and ongoing cyberattacks between the two countries, Bunn warns of the dangers of what he terms a “fog of crisis.”
“We’ve seen situations before where things happen that neither commander actually wanted to happen. In 1988 a U.S. ship shot down a Iranian civilian airplane, killing everyone aboard,” Bunn cautioned. “And during the Cuban missile crisis there were all sorts of events that almost led to war that neither Khrushchev nor Kennedy ordered to happen.”
He thinks a similar situation could play out today.
Bunn’s comments come in the aftermath of Iran seizing a British oil tanker and shooting down an American drone it claimed entered Iranian airspace.
Adding to those tensions is a largely unseen cyber war, Karen Greenberg, the Executive Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, explained to Ross.
“It’s almost like a parallel conversation that’s going on in the conflict between the United States and Iran. Lots of it we know we don’t hear about, but we’ve heard about some of it, which has to do with us attacking Iranian intelligence networks and Iranians targeting our financial and other networks,” Greenberg said.
“Some of it is theft, some of it is ransomware, and some of it is just to show that they can do it. But it is getting more and more intense,” she added. “It’s been going on over the course of the last couple of months and it is not helped by the fact that the bellicose language from the President makes it so that he’s pushing Iran further and further.”
Instead of using diplomacy, the Trump Administration has publicly considered military action. Bunn mentioned that “President Trump launched a military strike on Iran which he called off at the very last moment.”
These attacks might still be forthcoming, Bunn said, since “there are senior people in the administration who believe that it would be a good thing to have military strikes against Iran to take out parts of their nuclear program.”
To Bunn, these attacks would be foolish at best, and actively dangerous at worst.
“I personally think that would be a disastrous, potentially catastrophic move because we could set their nuclear programme back, but only for a few years. And they would likely rebuild in secret. And there are many things throughout the Middle East that they could do in response,” he said. “There is a real danger of setting the whole Middle East even more on fire than it already is.”
According to Greenberg, experts have already begun to consider the potential costs of a “hot” war with Iran.
“People have been starting to talk about the difference between the war with Iraq and what a war with Iran would be. Estimates of people who lived through the Iraq war in positions of command and official authority have said that the Iran war would dwarf what the Iraq War looked like,” she said.
Greenberg reiterated, however, that if Trump is willing, productive engagement can happen.
“Foreign Minister Zarif has offered to talk to the members of Congress. But that’s interesting because there is a hunger for diplomacy. It has to happen. And right now there are no avenues for it,” she said.
Brian Ross Investigates airs weekly on the Abrams Media Law&Crime Network.
You can follow @BrianRossInvestigates
Send tips to Brian@lawandcrime.com
[Images via Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty, Chip Somodevilla/Getty]