Fox claims increased tensions between US and Iran mean Trump's “maximum pressure” campaign is working

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

President Donald Trump exited the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions on the country, creating a campaign of “maximum pressure” ostensibly meant to encourage Iran to curb aggressive behavior and negotiate a new deal. Even though there has been no progress on negotiating a new agreement, and tensions between the United States and Iran have recently increased, numerous hosts and guests on Fox News have sworn that his approach is “working beautifully.”

On June 20, CNN reported that Iran admitted to shooting down a United States surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz; Iran claimed the drone entered its airspace, and the U.S. denied that accusation. The incident comes amid days of increasing tensions between Iran and the United States: On June 17, The New York Times reported that Trump “ordered another 1,000 troops to the Middle East” in response to both attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and a recent Iranian statement claiming the country’s low-grade uranium enrichment will soon exceed the 2015 deal’s limits.

Numerous Fox personalities and guests have claimed that Trump's campaign is working:

Fox contributor Newt Gingrich: “The Iranians are desperate. I think the various sanctions are really working. … [Iran is] trying to say, you know, if you keep doing this, we're going to do more and more bad things.” Later in his appearance, Gingrich also predicted that Trump’s maximum pressure campaign -- which Gingrich claims is “really working” -- will result in Iran launching “terrorist bombings” against the United States, Europe, and Latin America.

CHARLES PAYNE (GUEST HOST): Newt, the question, though, is with these increase of provocative acts, and now, of course, a direct attack on a U.S. drone, what do they gain by a military confrontation with America?

NEWT GINGRICH (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): Well, I think that the Iranians are desperate. I think the various sanctions are really working. They've dropped from about 2 million barrels of oil a day down to 400,000, and it's going further lower. We've been very effective cutting them off in various businesses by just imposing sanctions so steep that a lot of other countries now are not doing business with them. And I think that the dictatorship is floundering. I think it's trying to create a sense of crisis in the hope that China and Russia and the Europeans will step in and try to push us back. And I think they're literally floundering, trying to say, you know, if you keep doing this, we're going to do more and more bad things. And, of course, we have, I think, basically two options. One is to back down, which I think is very unlikely with Trump, and the other is to say we're going keep squeezing you until you give up your nuclear program. And I think it's very clear from what Secretary Pompeo has said, bringing it -- because he's brought the other -- every Iranian-sponsored violent act in the region and really made clear it's not just the tankers that have been hit, but that there are a whole series of missiles fired at Saudi Arabian airports, various actions in Syria, actions in Yemen, and actions in Iraq. And so I think now the Iranians are beginning to be in a sense trapped and what you're seeing is desperation. [Fox Business, Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, 6/20/19]

Outnumbered co-host Harris Faulkner: “The sanctions are working. I mean, that’s the bottom line in all of this. And they are going to get desperate. And this, what we’re seeing is desperation.”

HARRIS FAULKNER (CO-HOST): So the sanctions are working. I mean, that's the bottom line in all of this. And they are going to get desperate. And this, what we’re seeing is desperation. My question is, what is the tipping point for us to start doing those things that are more than signals? For instance, you can send a signal by sending more troops, or you can start escorting those ships to make sure they reach where they need to go. You can start to actually do things that are not, you know, the beginnings of war but the beginnings of what kind of settles things a little bit in this instance. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 6/19/19]

Fox News chief national correspondent Ed Henry: “I have heard a lot of analysts … saying [Trump’s] maximum pressure campaign on Tehran with the sanctions is working.”

ED HENRY (FOX NEWS, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT): On one hand I’ve heard a lot of analysts, even some who don't normally support the president, saying his maximum pressure campaign on Tehran with the sanctions is working. And that that may prevent war. But on the other hand there are concerns tonight about more U.S. troops being sent to the Mideast and the possibility of war. How concerned are you that we could be headed for a hot war?

WILLIAM MCRAVEN (RET. ADMIRAL, U.S. NAVY): Yeah. I'm not that concerned. The fact of the matter is, as Sec. Pompeo said, and frankly as the president has said a number of times, he does not want to go to war in Iran. And the Iranians certainly don't want to go to war with us. But these attacks on the tankers and the attacks in the green zone and some of the other attacks that the Iranians or the Iranian proxies have executed here in the last six months, I think are the Iranians sending us a signal that they still have some influence in the area. But I'm not overly concerned that we’re going to go into a hot war. Now, as acting Sec. Shanahan had said earlier, the biggest concern we have is about a miscalculation. If a Republican Guard officer miscalculates and comes a little too close to an aircraft carrier, if somebody shoots a round into the green zone and it hits the embassy, these are miscalculations that will not go well for Iran. [Fox News, The Story, 6/18/19]

Henry: “The president’s allies believe ... the president’s maximum pressure campaign of tough sanctions against Tehran is really throttling them.”

ED HENRY (FOX NEWS, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT): We’ve got to remember also the context of why is Iran lashing out with these incidents. The president’s allies believe it’s because the president’s maximum pressure campaign of tough sanctions against Tehran is really throttling them, and their economy is in shambles. And so they’re doing these incidents, which are dangerous but are not massive -- right? -- in order to sort of rattle the cage and get our attention because they are in desperate straits. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/20/16]

Fox Business anchor Dagen McDowell: “This action by Iran, this is evidence that the sanctions and the financial pressure that we have put on that nation is working.”

DAGEN MCDOWELL (GUEST ANCHOR): But this is evidence, this action by Iran, this is evidence that the sanctions and the financial pressure that we have put on that nation is working, because this -- again, aggressive and desperate.

KIRK LIPPOLD (FORMER COMMANDER, USS COLE): Absolutely. When you're looking at it, we use those instruments of national power, clearly using this economic instrument in coordination with other nations by having these sanctions in place is damaging to the Iranian economy. It is forcing them to rethink how they're doing it. Nothing's going to stir up national fervor quickly than getting into a fight with the great Satan. So that is an option that I think the mullahs are trying to create the conditions for and do. The United States should not rise to that bait, but we should continue to work with the world because clearly, people are seeing after we pulled out of the bad nuclear agreement, the JCPOA, put the sanctions back into place, other nations are now complying with it. They're seeing what's happened and the ramifications from Iran in doing that. Clearly, taking this type of military action on behalf of Iran, that is not the way to go and we need to send a strong signal, this will not be tolerated and there will be consequences, but let's get that proof and then hold Iran accountable for these actions. [Fox Business, Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, 6/14/19]

Fox contributor Lisa Boothe: “We know that the maximum pressure campaign, the sanctions have been working.”

ED HENRY (FOX NEWS, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT): When the president says they were chanting “Death to America” -- they still are.

HARRIS FAULKNER (CO-HOST): They still are.

HENRY: So we should point that out factually. But again, because of the sanctions he’s instituted, it is different than the Obama administration in terms of on the point of Iran being on defense.


LISA BOOTHE (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): One thing I was thinking about is, what a dumb move for Iran, right? Because just this week, Japanese Prime Minister Abe was in Tehran, where the president of Iran, Rouhani, was trying to solicit his help to break with the United States on the sanctions. Because as Ed pointed out, the maximum pressure campaign has just sent oil prices -- oil sales -- plummeting for Iran. So we know that the maximum pressure campaign, the sanctions have been working. They are feeling the pain, their proxies, the money’s dried up for them as well. I found it interesting and what a dumb move because one of the oil tankers was a Japanese oil tanker. So they do this the same week that they've been trying to solicit Japan’s help.

DAGEN MCDOWELL (CO-HOST): Less dumb, more desperate, with inflation at 40% and the economy conracting maybe 6% this year because of those sanctions. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 6/14/19]

Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro: Trump’s approach to Iran is “certainly working. It’s working beautifully.”

SANDRA SMITH (CO-ANCHOR): Front and center this morning is rising tensions with Iran. I know that you have played a part in the construction of the sanctions, the aggressive sanctioning that we have imposed on Iran. Do we have anything left in the tool box to further pressure Iran, Peter?

PETER NAVARRO (TRUMP TRADE ADVISER): So of course I'm not going to comment on the events of the day, but here’s what I can tell you is the big picture. Iran is a rogue nation, it’s seeking to export nuclear weapons technology, radical Islam, and terrorism not just to the Middle East but to Europe and the rest of the world. The approach of the Obiden administration was basically to give them billions of dollars -- I don't know to what end, I guess they were trying to pay them off in some sense. Our approach is economic sanctions. And what we're trying to do here and which is succeeding is to cut off their export revenues. They sell oil, they sell petrochemicals, they sell iron and steel. If we cut those revenues off, they can't finance their war and terrorism. Key --

SMITH: So that’s working?

NAVARRO: That’s the approach. It’s certainly working. It’s working beautifully, and we got to trust this president, President Trump, to carry this policy-- [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 6/20/19]

Former Bush National Security Council member Michael Allen: “We have a maximum pressure economic campaign going on against them. We have our boots to their throats, and so they are trying to press our buttons.”

DANA PERINO (ANCHOR): That Iranian diplomat is trying to suggest that we need to be concerned about Iran? But shouldn't it be the other way around?

MICHAEL ALLEN (FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBER): They should definitely be concerned about U.S. power in the region, of course. Look, we have a maximum pressure economic campaign going on against them. We have our boots to their throats, and so they are trying to press our buttons around the region. You are right in the sense that they can't go against us head to head, plane to plane, or ship to ship, so what they’re trying to do is show that they have asymmetric power, the ability to perhaps put mines on ships and who knows what else to kind of flex their muscles and let us know that they are there. [Fox News, The Daily Briefing, 6/18/19]

Fox guest Nile Gardiner: “The U.S. pressure on Iran is clearly working.”

BILL HEMMER (ANCHOR): Interesting story, Washington Post, Mike Pompeo went to Iraq in May and made sure that a message was delivered to Tehran essentially saying if you harm one single American, you will pay a price for that. Where are we now in this particular standoff, sir?

NILE GARDINIER (HERITAGE FOUNDATION): Yeah, it’s a very clear message from the secretary of state to the Iranian regime that they are playing with fire if they in any way threaten U.S. military personnel or the United States itself or its allies. And so this is the right message to be sending to Tehran; this is a brutal, barbaric dictatorship. And the U.S. approach right now of maximum pressure is absolutely the right approach.

HEMMER: You agree with that?

GARDINIER: Absolutely.

HEMMER: With a thousand troops heading to the region, what does that suggest to you? Because you're of the mind that the Trump administration does not want to escalate this matter with Iran.

GARDINER: I don't think the Trump administration has any intention of going to war, but the administration clearly is making all preparations for any kind of contingency here, and it’s important I think that the Iranians back off right now because they are playing a very, very dangerous game. The U.S. pressure on Iran is clearly working. This regime is being brought to its knees economically and the whole U.S. approach is designed to force the Iranians to back away from the nuclear program, to back away from backing terrorism, and also to end their ballistic missile prgram as well. And so the U.S. pressure certainly, I think in the long term, is going to be very successful, it’s going to work, and we have to maintain this pressure on Iran at every single opportunity [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 6/19/19]