As the president considers how the United States should respond to a series of aggressive acts by Iran and its proxies in the Middle East, one fact should be clear: There are no good options.

Inaction is unacceptable. A passive posture would invite more aggression, and the pattern of escalating Iranian provocations suggests the Islamic Republic could miscalibrate its attacks in a way that would require a broad and conclusive response from the West. But even a measured military response to Iranian attacks entails risk. While neither the Western world nor Iran and its roguish allies want to see a full-scale military confrontation, the mechanisms for de-escalating such a conflict once the shooting starts are untested and unreliable. Iran would retaliate, potentially against American military and diplomatic targets, compelling the United States to respond in kind. That’s how cycles of violence spiral out of control. The choice before President Trump is an unenviable one, but this is the job he wanted.

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