White House spin notwithstanding, it has become increasingly clear in recent days that the Trump administration is divided over the objectives of its Iran policy and the role that military threats or force should play in achieving them. The national security advisor and secretary of state seem to be spoiling for a fight and baiting Tehran into taking an action that would provide a pretext for a military strike. But the president keeps saying he wants to talk to the Iranians and get them back to the negotiating table to cut a better nuclear deal and to force Iranian concessions on its regional behavior and ballistic missile program. The secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meanwhile, seem worried that the United States is on a path toward war with Iran and skeptical that additional U.S. deployments to the Persian Gulf are warranted.

As with most foreign-policy issues, it’s hard to know exactly what the policy is and who’s in charge. It is possible, of course, that all the chest-thumping and force movements within the past week are designed to either deter Iranian provocations or pressure the country into capitulating to U.S. demands.

Whatever the administration actually wants, there is one thing that the war avoiders and the warmongers should be able to agree on: the need to prevent an accidental or unintended conflict between the United States and Iran. But the administration’s actions are increasing rather than lowering the risks that the two countries will stumble into a conflict as a result of a miscalculation, misunderstanding, or miscommunication. And that is extremely dangerous since Iran and the United States have no channels for direct and regular communication or mechanisms to defuse a crisis or control escalation once an incident occurs....

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This article was originally published in Foreign Policy.