American patience comes with limits

Some wars are ignited not because they were planned, but because what could have been contained confrontations blew up in everyone’s faces. That should not — cannot — be permitted to happen between the United States and Iran.

Since President Donald Trump pulled this country out of the so-called “nuclear deal” with Iran, that nation’s fanatic leaders have vowed to retaliate. Already, Tehran has armed presences in several areas of the Middle East and supports terrorism against Israel.

The Navy’s aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and a bomber wing were deployed to the Persian Gulf. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the action was in response to “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran. He did not elaborate.

In reality, the deployment does not represent an escalation by the United States. The Navy has stationed a carrier in the Persian Gulf for many years, though some reduction in force has occurred since U.S. air attacks on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria were scaled back.

Still, Tehran will view the U.S. action as, at least, a public relations challenge requiring some Iranian response. What that will be cannot be predicted.

There are numerous possibilities, including harassment of the Lincoln’s battle group by Iranian patrol boats. That has been a common tactic in the past. It has led to some tense moments and, occasionally, firing of warning shots by U.S. vessels.

But a false step by Iran in this situation could lead to a military escalation. Both sides should guard against that — though the fact of the matter is that if restraint is called for, it may have to be exercised by U.S. forces. Tehran is not known for that quality.

A fine line exists between restraint and allowing another nation to bully U.S. forces. American sailors and leaders should not do all in their power to avoid an unwanted war — but should make it clear there is a limit to our nation’s patience.


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