In the wee hours of Monday morning, President Donald Trump delivered a forceful Twitter warning to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. While the media and Democrats used this tweet to suggest Trump was unhinged and dangerous, this response was far from unprovoked. Tensions with Iran have been high, in light of the country’s repressed uprising this past winter, new revelations about the Iran deal, and continued pressure over the country’s terrorist funding.
On Sunday, Rouhani addressed the U.S. president at a gathering of Iranian diplomats. “Mr. Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would lead only to regret,” Iran’s president said. “America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”
Reporting on these remarks, Reuters insisted that Rouhani was “leaving open the possibility of peace between the two countries.” That’s not the normal way to characterize such a full-throated threat. “War with Iran is the mother of all wars” doesn’t sound like the kind of statement Rouhani would give if he were offering an olive branch.
The conflict between Iran and the U.S. traces back to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but Obama attempted to paper over the country’s problems with the Iran deal. Not only did Obama lie about the deal to the American public, but last month it came to light that he had offered their government access to U.S. financial markets in a clandestine agreement.
Trump wisely backed out of this deal, and protests broke out across Iran this past winter. The U.S. president supported the protests, saying “the people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime.” He tweeted “TIME FOR CHANGE!” The U.S. has stopped short of regime change, but firmly condemned Iran’s government.
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
In light of this, Rouhani threatening “the mother of all wars” seems more than mere words. Trump shot back with a powerful declaration.
“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,” Trump tweeted. “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
Naturally, the media presented this as Trump’s provocation. CNN’s Joshua Berlinger reported, “Trump tweets explosive threat to Iran.” The New York Times‘s take? “Trump Threatens Iran on Twitter.” (Ironically, the Times also published an article on Monday calling for an end to “Iran’s gender apartheid,” the oppressive laws over women’s actions in public.) The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf attacked Trump’s tweet as “reckless.”
Some attacked Trump for pulling out of the Iran deal. Liberal activist Amy Siskind tweeted, “A reminder — we had an agreement in place with Iran that had de-escalated hostilities. Trump withdrew against the advice of our allies and every sane member of his regime for no good reason. Another mess of his own making!”
A reminder – we had an agreement in place with Iran that had de-escalated hostilities. Trump withdrew against the advice of our allies and every sane member of his regime for no good reason. Another mess of his own making!
— Amy Siskind 🏳️🌈 (@Amy_Siskind) July 23, 2018
George Takei tweeted, “With Trump’s ALL CAPS tweet at Iran, it’s like he is preparing to attack them because he can’t negotiate properly.”
With Trump's ALL CAPS tweet at Iran, it's like he is preparing to attack them because he can't negotiate properly. pic.twitter.com/og8nIIq3JJ
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) July 23, 2018
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) turned Trump’s tweet into a political opportunity. “Are you a tad concerned about this tweet by [Donald Trump] to Iranian President Rouhani? If so, support HR 669 / S 200 by [Sen. Markey] & me,” Lieu tweeted. “This bipartisan legislation prevents [the president] from launching a nuclear first strike without Congressional authorization.”
Are you a tad concerned about this tweet by @realDonaldTrump to Iranian President Rouhani?
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) July 23, 2018
All this fear-mongering should be familiar. Trump’s war of words with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un had many convinced America was headed toward World War III. The Washington Post even ran a hypothetical future report, detailing a future in which a Trump tweet sparked a nuclear strike between the U.S. and North Korea. Kim threatened Guam, and …
Let’s just say the war didn’t happen. After a great deal of posturing, North Korea came to the negotiating table. The rogue regime competed with South Korea in the Winter Olympics, and Trump and Kim met in a historic summit.
On Monday, Trump touted the success of this summit. “A Rocket has not been launched by North Korea in 9 months. Likewise, no Nuclear Tests. Japan is happy, all of Asia is happy,” the president tweeted. “But the Fake News is saying, without ever asking me (always anonymous sources), that I am angry because it is not going fast enough. Wrong, very happy!”
A Rocket has not been launched by North Korea in 9 months. Likewise, no Nuclear Tests. Japan is happy, all of Asia is happy. But the Fake News is saying, without ever asking me (always anonymous sources), that I am angry because it is not going fast enough. Wrong, very happy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2018
Perhaps for this reason, Iranian officials seemed unconvinced about the threat, even while Trump’s remarks sent the Iranian market into a tailspin. The rial, Iran’s national currency, has been rapidly depreciating against the dollar since Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal in May. It hit an all-time low on Monday, as £1 bought 92,000 rials on the black market, the Guardian reported.
Even so, Gholamhossein Gharibpour, the head of the country’s voluntary basij paramilitary force, dismissed Trump’s tweet as “merely psychological warfare. He wouldn’t dare to make the mistake of taking any actions against Iran.”
“Those few who have fallen for this psychological warfare of this crazy president should know that he wishes the destruction of all of us,” Gharibpour added.
Foaz Izadi, a prominent Iranian commentator, suggested Trump’s tweet was more about ginning up American support than addressing Iran. “This is designed to address his base in the U.S. You need to remember that he is facing elections in November and if democrats [sic] gain power in the US congress [sic], they will impeach him,” Izadi told The Guardian.
Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur echoed this argument, showing old Trump tweets suggesting Obama would start a war with Iran for domestic political gain.
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
If Democrats gain the House of Representatives, they could impeach Trump, but they will not be able to remove him. That requires a two-thirds vote in the U.S. Senate. Democrats will not take the Senate this year, and even if they did, impeachment requires too high a threshold.
These Iranians rushing to embrace Democrats certainly suggest something less than savory about which side Iran’s establishment prefers in U.S. politics. Democrats may want to paint Trump as insane, but this whole situation may actually backfire on them.