President Trump spent most of Sunday tweeting about the Witch Hunt from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey – nothing out of the ordinary. But just before midnight, Trump smashed the caps lock key and fired off a strongly worded warning to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE,” the president wrote. “WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!”
To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2018
The tweet was a response to a speech given by Rouhani warning the United States not to “play with the lion’s tail,” while threatening retaliation if America seeks to escalate tensions between the two nations. “Peace with Iran would be the mother of all peace, and war with Iran would be the mother of all wars,” he said. Though it may seem brazen to hurl a such a suggestion toward the United States, Rouhani is considered to be the more level-headed of Iran’s two heads of state. In May, after Trump pulled the United States out of the Obama-era deal preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the nation’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, assured supporters that the Islamic Republic will still be standing after “Trump is dead” and “his corpse is fed on by snakes and insects.”
In the two and a half months between Khamenei invoking Trump’s rotting corpse and Rouhani’s new comments, Iran’s economic prospects have become increasingly dire. The United States plans to ramp up the sanctions that had been alleviated when the Iran deal was agreed upon in 2015, and Trump has threatened to prevent other countries from buying Iranian oil, the nation’s chief export. Rouhani and Khamenei have responded to a potential freeze out by suggesting Iran will block oil exports from neighboring countries in the Persian Gulf. On Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech that was fiercely critical of Iran’s leadership, which has steadfastly refused to negotiate a new deal with the United States. On Saturday, Khamenei reiterated that doing so would be an “obvious” mistake. “The word and even the signature of the Americans cannot be relied upon, so negotiations with America are of no avail,” he said.
Trump’s all-caps tweet Sunday night bears a striking resemblance to a similar threat levied against Kim Jong-un in August 2017. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump told reporters from – guess where – his golf club in Bedminster. “They will be met with fire and the fury like the world has never seen.”
In June, Trump met with Kim in Singapore to discuss nuclear disarmament. The president came away from the summit praising the dictator breathlessly while proclaiming that there “is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” Reports have indicated otherwise, and American efforts to hammer out a denuclearization timetable have largely fizzled out. Meanwhile, Trump legitimized Kim on an international stage and promised to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea. Some have joked that Trump’s threatening tweet on Sunday could mean a summit with Rouhani and Khemenei is imminent. It may not be so far-fetched. The Art of the Deal knows no bounds.
Takeaway from #Pompeo meeting #Iranians:
1. US vocal of #Iran regime evils & human rights abuses.
2. US not seeking regime change but grand deal.
3. #Trump "would love to" meet w/ Iran leaders a la #NorthKorea.
4. Sanctions & isolation tools to bring #Iran to table not topple.
— Farnaz Fassihi (@farnazfassihi) July 23, 2018
Military action against Iran has been a preoccupation of Trump’s since before he took office. In September 2016, after an Iranian ship came within 100 yards of a U.S. patrol ship in the Persian Gulf, Trump let his supporters know how he might handle the situation should he be elected president. “And by the way, with Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats and they make gestures that our people, that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water,” he said at a campaign rally.
Starting a war with Iran was also a fixture of Trump’s criticism of Barack Obama. As early as 2012, Trump suggested that military aggression against Iran could be a way for Obama “save face” politically and “show how tough he is.”
Trump has repeatedly depicted war with Iran an something a president would do for domestic political gain.
Here are four examples 👇 pic.twitter.com/JdR1qM0BM8
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) July 23, 2018
Rather than go to war, Obama brokered the Iran deal. Trump defied America’s allies and ripped the deal up for no logical reason, clearing the way for the United States to pursue military action against an obstinate regime that has hinted it will resume its nuclear program. Trump’s old tweets wondering if Obama would use an attack to distract from bad poll numbers are especially alarming considering the timing of his all-caps threat to obliterate Iran, which came at the tail-end of one of the most fraught weeks of his presidency. If his Twitter account is any indication – which, sadly, it usually is – Trump has in recent months grown more and more frustrated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. His response to criticism over his disastrous press conference with Vladimir Putin last week was breathtakingly erratic. On Sunday and Monday alone, Trump tweeted about Crooked Hillary, the Corrupt Media and the Witch Hunt over a dozen times while suggesting that Russian election interference is nothing more than an Obama-fueled “hoax.”
The president finds himself in a tighter and tighter defensive crouch, and as the world continues to close in around him, he could consider a drastic action like attacking Iran his only way out of political trouble. As his tweets about Obama show, this is how Trump’s mind works. Thankfully, the president appointed a relatively sensible national security adviser who can caution him against going to war in the Middle East. Oh, wait… He did, but that guy left. The new guy supported the Iraq War and in 2015 wrote an op-ed titled, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.”