Trump 'playing a high-stakes game with Iran,' says Baker Institute expert

America and Iran as chess peices

HOUSTON – (Jan. 2, 2020) – The United States could take preemptive military action if it gets sufficient warning that Iran or its proxy forces are planning further strikes on American interests in the Middle East, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said today.

America and Iran as chess peices
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Joe Barnes, a foreign policy expert and the Bonner Means Baker Fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, is available to discuss this development and the state of U.S.-Iranian relations with the media.

President Donald Trump threatened Iran in recent days after blaming it for an attack on the U.S. embassy in Iraq. The compound in Baghdad was besieged by demonstrators furious over the deaths of militia members killed during U.S. air strikes.

"Trump is playing a high-stakes game with Iran in Iraq," Barnes said. "The possibility of miscalculation is dangerously high."

In March 2018, Barnes published an issue brief, “Trump Policy in the Middle East: Iran,” that he co-authored with Robert Barron, the former policy assistant to the Baker Institute director. The brief explores the Trump administration’s policy toward Iran and analyzes the ways in which it differs from that of the Obama administration. It lists core U.S. interests as they relate to Iran and to limiting Iran's influence in the region. The brief also analyzes the difficulties associated with formulating policies that advance these goals at an acceptable cost.

The authors concluded, “Mistrust between Washington and Tehran has shaped U.S.-Iranian relations for decades. That mistrust is surely at a higher level under (President Donald) Trump than under (Barack) Obama. This raises the risk of miscalculation on both sides and the chances of escalation when and where an incident occurs, whether in Syria, the Strait of Hormuz or between Israel and Hezbollah. It will require goodwill and deft diplomacy to avoid such conflict; both are in notoriously short supply in the Middle East.”

The Baker Institute has a radio and television studio available for media outlets that want to schedule an interview with Barnes. For more information, contact Jeff Falk, director of national media relations at Rice, at or 713-348-6775.


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Founded in 1993, Rice University’s Baker Institute ranks among the top three university-affiliated think tanks in the world. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows, Rice University faculty scholars and staff, coupled with its outreach to the Rice student body through fellow-taught classes — including a public policy course — and student leadership and internship programs. Learn more about the institute at or on the institute’s blog,