The Iranian regime believes it prevented a U.S. president’s reelection in 1980 and likely assesses that it can do so again. The consequences of such an attempt in 2020 are unpredictable and dangerous, as political considerations might preclude a sober assessment of interests.
An Iranian October surprise could take several forms. Even without killing more Americans, Iran could take Americans hostage, renew its attacks against energy shipments and infrastructure across the Gulf, attempt to force an embarrassing U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, provoke Israel into a wider conflict, or declare a nuclear breakout capability and withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Any of these efforts would likely return the United States and Iran to a path toward escalation and military conflict.