President Donald Trump is not shy when it comes to threats. Ally and adversary alike have been the targets of explicit presidential ultimatums, and the president tends to get what he wants. But when it comes to Iran, Trump appears to have met his match. Over the last two months, Iran has engaged in an escalating series of violent provocations. All of them seem calibrated to gauge America’s resolve to defend its interests and guarantee the freedom of maritime commercial navigation. If these are tests, they have found Trump wanting.
What has now become a full-fledged crisis in the Middle East began in early May, when American officials indicated that credible intelligence suggested Iran or its proxies in the region were preparing strikes on U.S.-affiliated targets. Reluctantly, the White House dispatched aircraft carriers, B-52 bombers, amphibious landing vessels, and Patriot anti-missile batteries to the region. Those assets were followed by the deployment of a few thousand soldiers—a deterrent force sufficient to respond to and potentially prevent aggression, but not to preemptively neutralize a military threat.