The Trump Administration’s 10 Most Dangerous Actions Concerning Iran

National Security Adviser John Bolton listens to U.S. President Donald Trump, February 2019.

President Donald Trump’s erratic Iran policy has left America more isolated and less safe. In his first week in office, he alienated Iranians by banning them from America. Then he ignored the warnings of the world, nuclear experts, and his own national security team to shred a functioning nuclear agreement. For all Iran’s continued destabilizing behavior, President Trump’s actions have made America the instigator of the current crisis in the eyes of the world. He has ratcheted up tensions with no plan for success.

Even now, there remains a serious risk that Trump and his team will blunder into a preventable and unnecessary war. Trump’s clumsy attempts at diplomacy with Iran are likely to fail—just as they have with North Korea. The chaos is obvious, and productive results are nowhere to be seen.

Below is a list of President Trump’s 10 worst moments regarding Iran.

  1. As part of his broader travel ban against residents of predominantly Muslim nations, President Trump barred Iranians from entering America. Twenty-eight months—and countless proclamations of false concern for “the Iranian people” later—they’re still banned from American soil.
  2. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn put Iran “on notice,” but the Trump administration took no meaningful action. It turns it was one of Flynn’s last actions as national security adviser, as he was fired 12 days later.
  3. Against the warnings of his secretaries of state and defense, President Trump withdrew from the Iran deal, isolating the United States. Breaking from the U.S. position, the International Energy Agency declared Iran in full compliance. Russia, China, and U.S. allies in Europe stayed in the deal.
  4. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued 12 unrealistic demands for a new agreement with Iran, with no credible explanation for how to achieve them without war.
  5. President Trump fired off a bellicose tweet and threatened Iran’s leaders with “CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE” if Iran speaks to the United States with “DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH.”
  6. After top U.S. intelligence officials testified before Congress that Iran was not actively pursuing a nuclear weapon, President Trump willfully ignored them. Implicitly rejecting their conclusions, he accused the U.S. intelligence community and its leadership of being “extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran.”
  7. In December 2018, Trump declared mission accomplished against ISIS and announced a hasty pullout of Americans from Syria by tweet. His abrupt decision surprised and confused his own team; European allies fighting on the ground alongside U.S. forces; and Kurds who fought ISIS on the ground. Reversing his administration’s early warning that Iran was “on notice,” Trump suddenly declared Iran “can do what they want” in Syria.
  8. The Trump administration hastily organized an anti-Iran summit in Poland that drew embarrassingly few high-level attendees—illustrating how Trump’s Iran policy has alienated key European allies.
  9. President Trump designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. In response, Iran designated all U.S. troops in the Middle East as terrorists, causing tensions to rise.
  10. With no warning and little public justification, National Security Adviser John Bolton announced the deployment of an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf to “send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force”—and dramatically increased the risk of conflict with Iran.

The Trump administration’s Iran moves have put the United States in a dangerous position. It scrapped a working nuclear agreement and pursued a campaign of maximum pressure against Tehran with no clear plan for success. Now, President Trump and his national security team have dramatically raised tensions with Iran and, with them, the risk that a mercurial U.S. president and his bellicose advisers could blunder into another war in the Middle East.

Kelly Magsamen is vice president of the National Security and International Policy team at the Center for American Progress. Brian Katulis is a senior fellow at the Center. Peter Juul is a senior policy analyst at the Center. Dan Benaim is a senior fellow at the Center.