"When President Trump announced last month that he had called off military strikes against Iran, he said it was because he learned that an estimated 150 Iranians would have died in those attacks. Instead he has further tightened economic sanctions against Iran," Zakaria wrote in The Washington Post Thursday.
The widely-respected journalist was referring to Trump's recent claims after Iran shot down a sophisticated US spy drone near the Strait of Hormuz for intruding into the Iranian airspace, Press TV reported.
Zakaria cited Jeffrey Sachs, an economist who has studied the effects of sanctions, as saying that the measures are having a “massive and crippling” effect on Iran.
“Sanctions like these are known to cause a significant rise in mortality. Given the size of Iran’s population, around 81 million, this is sure to be far larger than 150 deaths,” Zakaria quoted him as saying.
"And keep in mind, the people who would have died in the military strikes probably would have been Iranian soldiers. Those who are now dying because of sanctions are newborn babies, mothers, the elderly and sick," he added.
The CNN anchor also cited an academic study pointing out that "sanctions produce widespread drug shortages, and that those who suffer most are “patients struggling with cancer, multiple sclerosis, blood disorders, and other serious conditions."
Zakaria hit out at Trump's withdrawal from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran even though Tehran was adhering to its commitments, saying by leaving the pact, the US has allowed Tehran to start moving away from its obligations.
"The Trump administration has created a humanitarian crisis in Iran and a geopolitical crisis in the Middle East with no strategy for resolving either," he wrote.
Zakaria said a White House news release last week claiming that Iran was violating the nuclear deal even before its existence was "the best illustration of the incoherence of the Trump administration’s strategy toward Iran."
"The White House has not subsequently explained how a country can violate the terms of a deal before that deal existed," he wrote.
US 'lacking' understanding of Iran
According to Zakaria, the Trump administration "is hoping for capitulation from the Iranians, in which they will return to the negotiating table and accept a deal far more onerous than the one they signed in 2015."
"The Trump administration seems to forget that the Iranian civilization has been a major player in the Middle East for thousands of years. It has a population more than double the size of Iraq’s and is more strategically located. It has a strong tradition of nationalism and statecraft and a history of resisting foreign domination," he wrote.
Zakaria said the path to stability in the Middle East does not lie in strangling Iran.
"That will only sow the seeds of resentment and revanchism, creating a more unstable region and one in which the United States will find itself mired for decades."
Trump's policies, Zakaria said, have bolstered Israel and Saudi Arabia who seek to take advantage of the increased pressure against Tehran.
"In other words, Trump has sharply ratcheted up regional tensions with no good plan for resolving them."