Australia, too, is heavily reliant on freedom of navigation in those waters for its oil supplies. Like the EU three, Canberra maintained its support for the Iran nuclear pact after the US withdrawal, until Scott Morrison’s Trumpian wobble at the time of the Wentworth byelection in October. Since then, the federal government’s position has been ambiguous, by turns encouraging Iran to maintain the nuclear deal and at others supporting Washington’s push for some as-yet-unspecified better arrangement.
The risk for Mr Morrison and his Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, in following Mr Trump – beside his tendency to zig and zag on issues of war and peace, from Syria to North Korea – is precisely the absence of a defined objective amid the White House’s talk of “maximum pressure”.
At times the Trump administration has criticised the nuclear pact for failing to restrain Iran’s nuclear program, while at others it has complained about missile launches and even Iran’s political and military involvement in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. The experience of Australian soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan should warn us against any intervention in pursuit of ill-defined outcomes, re-aligning the region in the service of Israeli or Saudi Arabian agendas or Mr Trump’s peculiar ideas about how the Middle East should work.
Above all, Australia needs to approach any confrontation with Iran as a political challenge amenable to negotiated resolution rather than a cultural or ideological crusade. As one academic recently pointed out in these pages: “Five conflicts have broken out in the Middle East in the past two decades … None of these has yet ended.” The people who pay the cruellest price of this ongoing carnage are the inhabitants of the region. A policy that flowed from some consideration for their futures would profit us long after Mr Trump and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have left the scene.