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(Andrew Harnik/AP)

If there’s one unifying theme to President Trump’s oft-discordant foreign policy, it’s the concept of “maximum pressure.” On myriad geopolitical fronts, Trump and his allies have touted the administration’s uniquely tough approach, styling themselves as clear-eyed champions of the American interest.

“Maximum pressure” — primarily through muscular sanctions but also, of course, incendiary presidential tweets — was brought to bear against the pariah regime of North Korea, compelling the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, to enter talks with Trump. It underlies Trump’s squeezing of the Palestinians in a bid to force them to make further concessions to Israel. So, too, the White House’s approach to the crisis in Venezuela, where it loudly denounced the regime of President Nicolás Maduro, slapped sanctions on top officials and continues to attempt to unseat Maduro in favor of the political opposition. And it’s on display in the White House’s campaign against the Islamic Republic, as it seeks to strangle the Iranian economy by cutting off its oil exports.

In these cases (not to mention Trump’s separate trade spats with China, Europe and now also India), the president insists he’s compensating for the leniency of his predecessors. In Trump’s view, his domestic opponents were and are still too naive, too gullible, too soft; thorny geopolitical challenges confronting the United States require his distinct brand of forceful, unilateral action. Although that may not mean war — something Trump insists he doesn’t want — it does mean a set of aggressive actions that impose Washington’s will on the world.

But it’s becoming clear that, whatever Trump’s bluster, his “maximum pressure” efforts aren’t producing the results he says he wants — and, in some instances, are actually backfiring and complicating matters for the United States and its exasperated allies.

Iran provides the most glaring illustration of the risks of Trumpist strategy. Tehran and Washington are locked in a dangerous standoff in the Persian Gulf. Tensions spiked following explosive attacks on tankers, which the United States and several other governments believe were carried out by Iranian forces. The Trump administration sent 1,000 additional troops to the region, while some hawks in Washington called for retaliatory strikes against the Iranian navy.

Things got even hotter on Thursday after Iran acknowledged shooting down a U.S. naval surveillance drone near the Strait of Hormuz. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said in a statement that it targeted the drone once it entered Iranian airspace, but U.S. Central Command said the drone was hit over international waters.

In a tweet, Trump declared, “Iran made a very big mistake!” Sitting alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the White House, he described the incident as a “new wrinkle” and said his nation “will not stand for it.” But he also seemed to want to calm things down, suggesting that the attack was not the direct responsibility of the Iranian leadership and, instead, possibly the actions of a general or “somebody that was loose and stupid.”

This was a conspicuous backtrack from his customary bellicosity. The situation showed “that Trump’s assumptions about maximum pressure are wrong,” tweeted Vali Nasr, an expert on U.S. foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University. “Trump has to think [the Iranians] made a mistake otherwise he has to admit that his great achievement is not Iranian surrender but putting [the U.S.] on path to war.”

The two countries may still be on that perilous path. The Trump administration reneged on the nuclear deal forged between Iran and world powers and reimposed sweeping sanctions on the Iranian economy to force the regime in Tehran to curb its activities across the Middle East. But all the evidence at present points to only an increase in Iran’s provocative behavior, with a coterie of hawks on both sides — including White House national security adviser John Bolton — spoiling for a fight.

“What we are experiencing right now is an escalatory cycle between the hard-hard-liners in each of our countries,” Wendy Sherman, a former State Department official and key participant in the nuclear deal talks, told the New Yorker. “They are spinning each other up on a path that could lead us to a war that is unnecessary, in my view, and will be horribly destructive.”

Trump’s stated desire not to be enmeshed in new Middle East conflicts is now running up against the course his administration has taken. “President Trump’s preference for staying out of war with Iran is not a good enough insurance policy given how aggressively his advisers are trying to make one inevitable,” Stephen Pomper, U.S. project lead for the International Crisis Group, said in an email.

And, as readers of Today’s WorldView know, the United States finds itself with few friends willing to engage in the hostilities. Some senior European officials view the imbroglio as a U.S.-manufactured crisis that has goaded a cornered Iranian regime into taking violent action.

“There is no capital in the bank” in terms of trust with major European and Asian allies, a former senior defense official told Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. “We’ve managed to isolate ourselves, rather than Iran. This is a strategy-free zone.”

The “strategy-free zone” extends beyond the Persian Gulf. Maximum pressure tactics against the Palestinians — including the closing of certain diplomatic channels and cutting of aid — has only doomed any chance of their cooperation with a Trump-led peace initiative. After talking tough on Venezuela, Trump is believed to be losing patience and interest with the U.S. pressure campaign against the Maduro regime.

According to my colleagues, Trump recently lashed out at Bolton and other administration officials for getting “played” by the Venezuelan opposition. “Trump has clearly been frustrated about a foreign policy issue he ‘always thought of . . . as low-hanging fruit’ on which he 'could get a win and tout it as a major foreign policy victory,’" a former administration official told The Post. Instead, Maduro remains ensconced in Caracas and can keep fuming to supporters about the Yankee plots against his rule.

Trump’s eagerness for a win underscored his approach to North Korea — a nuclear-armed power whose dictator rattled the saber, sparked Trump’s ire and then, once engaged in unprecedented bilateral talks, swiftly became a cuddly friend of the American president. The “maximum pressure” campaign against Pyongyang has eased, with Kim hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday. The prospect of actual North Korean denuclearization — the stated goal of Trump’s strategy — is, of course, nowhere in sight.

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