Although Donald Trump might veto a bill passed by Congress preventing him from launching a war with Iran, the U.S. already has the upper hand, and Trump has no need to use force.
On Feb. 13, the Senate passed a resolution to prevent Donald Trump from recklessly attacking Iran. After the vote, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “a bipartisan majority of senators just sent a clear shot across the bow saying President Trump cannot wage war without Congress’ explicit approval.” [https://www.c-span.org/video/?469361-1/democratic-senators-speak-approval-iran-war-powers-resolution] Last Dec. 27, an American military base in Iraq was struck in an Iranian attack, causing the death of an American contractor. In response, Trump ordered the assassination of Iran’s second-in-command, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, at Iraq’s Baghdad airport via drone strike. The U.S.-Iranian relationship is still tense.
However, although the Senate vote passed with a vote of 55 to 45, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell strongly opposed this resolution and, because both houses lack the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, it is still possible for Trump to overturn the resolution. Congress remains concerned that Trump could initiate war with Iran despite congressional objections. However, an actuary-minded businessman like Trump isn’t likely to recklessly start an unnecessary war.
As a matter of fact, Iran has been suffering under U.S. sanctions because of the nuclear issue. Its economy is facing a severe crisis, and with already insufficient accumulation of resources by the government, Iran is facing its most trying time since the 1979 revolution. Before 2016, Iran exported 2.5 million barrels of oil daily; now that number is only about 200,000 barrels per day. Iran’s economy has always depended heavily on oil; in its annual national budget of $39 billion, almost $25 billion comes from oil exports. Not only that, but in the interest of dominating the Middle East, Iran invests around $16 billion per year toward maintaining its political and military influence in the region. In addition, Iran’s total oil production has been reduced and in late November of last year, the price of oil rose 50%, affecting public oil consumption and leading to an outpouring of popular discontent.
According to the International Monetary Fund’s estimate, Iran’s economy may shrink 9.5% this year and inflation could exceed 35%. Now, Iran is faced with a difficult choice. If it yields, that means admitting defeat under U.S. sanctions, and the regime will lose its dignity and legitimacy. If Iran chooses to be aggressive, it’s still powerless; it will only make its financial situation even worse, make the deadlock even harder to resolve, and make things even more difficult down the road. It appears that using economic sanctions to deplete Iran’s strength was the correct strategic choice for the U.S.
At present, time is on the United States’ side. If the U.S. uses delaying tactics, Iran will surrender in the end. However, recently the U.S. media has been heatedly discussing certain tweets by Trump in 2011, in which he criticized Obama for starting a war with Iran, calling it a sign of weakness and saying it was only to gain reelection. On Jan. 5, Trump ordered the assassination of Iran’s second-in-command Soleimani. This was interpreted as a show of toughness to voters in his bid for reelection, as well as a way to shift attention from the January impeachment proceedings in the Senate. But after the assassination, the Iranian public was furious and swore vengeance, and there was concern that Iran, like a cornered dog, would retaliate against the U.S., no matter how catastrophic the results would be. If Trump was forced to return fire, then the U.S. would be drawn into a war with no end in sight, and war is costly.
In 2001 and 2003, the U.S. was drawn into a war with Afghanistan and Iraq, causing a substantial decline in America’s national strength, and indirectly causing the 2008 financial crisis, which had lasting negative effects. Congress’ apprehensions are fair and reasonable. However, with that said, Trump took targeted action and didn’t declare all-out war, which was a rational calculation.
Trump is a calculating businessman; he wouldn’t fight a war with excessive costs. Moreover, his campaign promise was to make America great again, but since he took office and initiated tax cuts, government spending has exceeded tax revenue. The 2019 financial year budget deficit rose 26% to $984 billion, the record high since 2012. Trump can’t be unconcerned by that.
In addition, Iran is in a tough spot due to economic sanctions. After its second highest military leader was assassinated, Iran’s authorities have raised funds from its people, swearing retaliation. However, it is believed that on Jan. 8, before Iran fired missiles at two U.S. military bases located within Iraqi borders, it notified Iraq in advance; the missiles were shot down, and the U.S. military suffered no casualties. Iran’s authorities were clearly showing restraint. Based on this, we can see that the actuary-minded Trump shouldn’t have any need to start a war with Iran. What’s more, his principal strategic axis is the Indo-Pacific and his target is China. He is unlikely to carelessly start a war with Iran in a moment of frenzy, turning a small problem into a very big one.