Key point: Iran knows how to make America hurt.
That chronic pain gnawing at officialdom’s guts is bipartisan. Presidential administrations, Republican and Democratic alike, keep trying to draw down the U.S. military presence in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf region in particular, to attend to more pressing priorities. Back in 2012 the Obama administration vowed to “pivot” or “rebalance,” from the Middle East to the Pacific theater to counterbalance China. President Donald Trump and his lieutenants proclaim that an age of great-power competition is upon us. Like their Democratic forerunners, they have signaled their desire to reapportion finite U.S. diplomatic and military resources elsewhere around the Eurasian perimeter—say, to the South China Sea or Baltic Sea.
This is sound strategy. Strategy is about setting and enforcing priorities. Lesser priorities must yield to greater lest a competitor exhaust itself trying to do everything, everywhere. Not even superpowers are exempt from this iron law of world politics.