Trump in new war of words with Iran
The United States and Iran embarked on a new round of threats, as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that a U.S.-Iran conflict would be the “mother of all wars” and President Trump responded with a late-night, all-caps tweet warning that Iran could provoke “consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered.” The Trump administration has maintained a uniformly aggressive stance on Iran since withdrawing from the nuclear deal in May. Addressing a group of Iranian-Americans in California just hours before Trump’s tweet, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran is led by “hypocritical holy men” who behave more like “the Mafia” than like a legitimate government.
Trump is reinstating the sanctions on Iran that were lifted as part of the deal, and the United States could begin imposing punishments on countries that import Iranian oil as early as November. The U.S. plans to target Iran’s auto, energy, and banking sectors as well. Trump believes the earlier nuclear deal with Iran was too lenient. The administration says it wants to negotiate a tougher one, as well as rein in Iran’s regional ambitions and support for terrorist groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Following Trump’s tweet, however, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he supported Rouhani’s comments, while the Iranian foreign minister replied to Trump, “Color us unimpressed.”
What the columnists said
Trump’s Iran strategy is already succeeding, said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. When the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal, critics said it would “leave the U.S. isolated and unable to effectively sanction Iran.” Instead, Iran now faces an economic crisis, with its currency, the rial, losing half its value—even though the U.S. hasn’t even “truly ratcheted up the pressure.” When sanctions “snap back” in August, Iranian oil exports could drop by 1 million barrels per day. In this “financial warfare” Trump has “the upper hand.” The mullahs shouldn’t fear “presidential tweets as much as the economic clampdown to come.”
Not if Trump sticks to his North Korea playbook, said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. The president believes hardball with Kim Jong Un sent the dictator “dashing to the negotiating table.” Yet Kim continued firing missiles after Trump threatened “fire and fury,” and there’s no reason to think Iran will be intimidated, either. Kim can shift his stance and “execute anyone who protests,” but Rouhani faces “hard-line factions” that would never tolerate him buckling before Trump. Trump’s “wild rhetoric” offers no paths to a better deal with Iran, and he’s just “taking a problem and turning it into a crisis,” said Jarrett Blanc in Politico.com.
“A year from now,” said Uri Friedman in TheAtlantic.com, “Trump could be holding a summit with Ayatollah Khamenei, chuckling about that time he threatened him on Twitter with unprecedented destruction.” Stranger twists have happened during this presidency. It’s not wise, however, to build a reputation as a “bluffer.” Threats of war might provide negotiating leverage, yet it could well turn out that the Iranians, believing Trump won’t follow through, will put him to the test, with unpredictable consequences for everyone.