While former Obama administration officials have argued that the September 14 attacks on Saudi oil installations reflect the failure of the renewed economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic, Michael Mandelbaum argues that the opposite is true:
[T]he attack shows that the [Trump administration’s] policy is succeeding. Its objective is to put pressure on the mullahs, making it more difficult for them to carry out their policies of repression at home and aggression abroad. The fact that the Iranian regime has lashed out as it did, running the risk of severe American reprisals, is evidence that it is, indeed, feeling serious pressure. With economic sanctions reinstated, Iran is unable to sell oil, its only source of income, complicating its efforts to preserve itself in power while seeking to dominate the Middle East.
This is only one of the misconceptions about America’s Iran policy that Mandelbaum goes on to dismantle. But if the standard criticisms of the Trump administration’s approach are weak, that approach itself is not without flaws of its own:
[I]f the United States is unwilling to use force against Iran under any circumstances—and the Obama administration gave the impression that this was its policy—then the mullahs, who have no scruples about killing others or even having Iranians die in large numbers in pursuit of their goals, will ultimately get what they want.
Fortunately, one American ally is fighting back [against Iran], and successfully so. Israel, the destruction of which is a major and longstanding aim of the rulers in Tehran, has, through the use of airpower, thwarted the Iranian attempt to build and deploy accurate missiles in Syria that it could use, in conjunction with the comparable forces it has installed in Lebanon through its proxy, the terrorist organization Hizballah, to overwhelm Israeli air-defense systems. Israel’s policy demonstrates that Iranian aggression can be checked, and at acceptable cost, without putting American troops on the ground and exposing them to attacks, as in Afghanistan and Iran.
What, then, should the United States do in response to the recent act of aggression? . . . It is not in the American interest for the conflict to escalate sharply, but failing to make any military response risks encouraging the mullahs to mount further, larger attacks, which could lead to a full-scale Middle Eastern war. One possible course of action is to do to Iran what Iran did to Saudi Arabia by conducting a limited aerial attack on Iranian oil facilities.
Such an attack would signal to the mullahs, and the world, that the United States will match Iranian attacks but not go beyond them. It would send the message that America will respond to provocations but will not be the party to start a wider war.