A possible Trump strategy if Iran closes the Strait of Hormuz
Since May, six oil tankers have been attacked in or near the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian fingerprints are all over these maritime attacks. Many think that this could be a prelude to Iran carrying out its often-made threat to close the Strait through which flows some 30 percent of the world's seaborne oil traffic. Closing this waterway -- at least for a time -- would not be difficult. The strait is only 21-one miles wide at its narrowest point and it abuts southern Iran.
Image credit: Satellites.pro
It's doubtful, however, that Iran would be foolish enough to try this. Nevertheless, the Iranians might due to either a miscalculation or out of desperation as the sanctions bite harder and hadrer. Such an act would be devastating to Iran's military and economy. For then, the U.S. Navy could be taken off the leash and do what it was built to do. There's no sense in going over the various tactical ways of militarily punishing the Iranian regime. There's ample written about it elsewhere. Instead, the focus here is on a surprise strategic move the Trump administration might take instead: wait and see, with no overt act of retaliation.
As the Nikkei Asian Review writes:
U.S. President Donald Trump says he might take military action against Iran to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. but he has indicated he won't necessarily jump in to protect international oil supplies from the Middle East if they are under threat from the Islamic Republic.
The position, articulated by Trump in an interview with Time magazine on June 17, should not come as a surprise, even if it appears to be at odds with the Pentagon beefing up aircraft carriers and troops in the middle East in recent weeks, citing a threat from Iran.
As Trump spelt out in the interview, the U.S. is no longer dependent on oil from the Middle East as it was, thanks to burgeoning domestic production.
That's not true for others, however. China, India, Japan, and South Korea are Asia's for largest oil importers. Up to half of their crude oil imports come from the Middle East oil fields. If this flow through the Strait of Hormuz were disrupted or shut off, it would be disastrous for these Asia countries.
It is conceivable that in contrast to the knee-jerk predictions in the U.S. media and advice from the likes of John Bolton, Trump might not immediately initiate a military response if Iran were to try to seriously shutdown the flow of Persian Gulf. Of course, if Iran were to double-down on such a foolish undertaking and attack a U.S. flag vessel or inflict American causalities, then the mullahs would immediately feel the wrath of the U.S. Navy. After all, Donald Trump is president, not Barack Hussein Obama who allowed U.S. sailors to be captured and humiliated in 2016.
Such a wait-and-see strategy has several advantages. First, it would underline to friend and foe alike how dependent others are on the U.S. to guarantee free passage of commerce in international waters. This is good as that fact seems to be taken so much for granted that it seems like a law of nature to many. It isn't.
Second, it would drive home to the Europeans that Iran really is a rogue state, and they should give up their reluctance to support Washington-imposed sanctions.
And finally, a delay in a military response would give Trump time to demand burden sharing from those most directly affected by the oil cut off, get them to put some skin in the game. As things stand now, the world is content to have the U.S. to carry the sole responsibility of keeping the Strait of Hormuz open while at the same time letting America bear the full burden of the consequences for its actions. That was necessary when the U.S. needed Middle Eastern oil but now it doesn't.
To reiterate, it seems unlikely that Iran would close the Strait of Hormuz or if it did that the U.S. would stand by idly for long. But by his Time magazine interview, the president has given the leaders of other countries sometime to think about.