Trump plays dangerous game with anti-Iran Twitter rant

US threats of regime change resemble ever more closely the buildup to Iraq war

The beat of war drums over Iran has been growing steadily louder in Washington since May, when Donald Trump trashed the UN-backed nuclear pact with Tehran. But the wild threats that Trump tweeted on Sunday evening in reaction to comments by Iran’s president have taken the confrontation to a new and dangerous level.

Trump’s escalation does not appear premeditated or thought through. He faced intense bipartisan criticism after last week’s inept summit with Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin. He is under relentless pressure from the official inquiry into alleged 2016 campaign collusion with Russia. Trump may have been looking for an easy target on which to vent his pent-up frustration.

The remarks by Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, warning the US not to “twist the lion’s tail” provided the spark. Intentionally or not, Trump has distracted attention from his domestic troubles, at least for now.

Trump’s vow to visit consequences on Iran “the like of which few throughout history have ever suffered” recall his scary threat last year to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea. He later switched tack completely, praising Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s dictator, after meeting him in Singapore in June.

But it would be unwise to assume Trump is merely sounding off again or that his Iran sabre-rattling is just noise. Influenced by the Saudis, who are engaged in a Middle East power struggle with Iran, and by the rightwing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, which regards Iran as an existential threat, the US has been putting more pressure on Tehran since Trump took office.

The US president’s intemperate outburst raises questions about whether he discussed a secret deal with Putin on Iran, as rumoured before the Helsinki summit. Little has been publicly disclosed about the talks. But Netanyahu, for example, has been pushing for both leaders to up the ante and force an Iranian withdrawal from Syria.

Iran’s leaders will certainly not dismiss Trump’s words lightly. They look at the US’s reimposition of sweeping sanctions next month, its plans to impose a worldwide embargo on vital oil exports and its incitement of Iranians to rise up in revolt, and they see an alarming pattern: made-in-America regime change.

In his eagerness to pick a fight, Trump appears to have over-interpreted Rouhani’s remarks, which were not obviously provocative. “America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rouhani said.

That was a reference to Saddam Hussein’s famous 1991 vow to fight “the mother of all battles” against the US. But Rouhani, known as a cautious moderate, was not threatening to attack America. His comment could be read as an offer to talk. It was also a timely reminder of what happened in 2003, when the US sought forcible regime change in Iraq. Trump’s Iran war dance is resembling ever more closely the buildup to that disaster.

Potentially even more serious were remarks on Sunday by Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state. He reiterated familiar US-Saudi-Israeli complaints that Iran was undermining regional stability and was “committed to spreading the Islamic revolution to other countries, by force if necessary”. But Pompeo went further.

He accused senior ayatollahs, including the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, of corruption, he offered support for an anti-regime uprising, and, most surprisingly, he attacked Rouhani and his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, personally. They were “polished frontmen for the ayatollahs’ international con artistry. Their nuclear deal didn’t make them moderates,” he said.

Pompeo’s claim that mild-mannered Rouhani and Zarif are “violent Islamic revolutionaries” starkly illustrates how deeply ignorant US officials are about Iran after nearly 40 years of estrangement. It’s true there is much high-level corruption and human rights abuses; it’s true the country is in dire economic straits. Iran’s actions in Syria are anti-democratic and destructive.

But by undercutting moderate leaders who offer the best hope of reform and by threatening regime change, Trump and Pompeo risk entrenching the hardline mullahs and Revolutionary Guards they most revile – and bringing closer the prospect of violent confrontation.


Simon Tisdall

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
US war against Iran is impossible, claims Iranian general
Revolutionary Guards chief says presence of US aircraft carrier in Gulf poses no threat

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

12, May, 2019 @5:49 PM

Article image
Don't scrap Iran deal, MPs from UK, France and Germany urge US
Joint statement published in Guardian calls for rethink before 12 May deadline set by Trump

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

19, Apr, 2018 @4:51 PM

Article image
Donald Trump expected to abandon Iran nuclear deal next week
US president says Tehran is breaking spirit of landmark Obama-era agreement and will reportedly refuse to certify it

Julian Borger in Washington

06, Oct, 2017 @4:16 PM

Article image
Trump says he stopped airstrike on Iran because 150 would have died
US president tweets that he intervened 10 minutes before planned retaliatory attack

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor and Julian Borger in Washington

21, Jun, 2019 @1:41 PM

Article image
Trump tweets threat: 'If Iran wants to fight, that will be the end of Iran'
Incendiary message follows disavowals of intent from both sides, fuelling confusion and concern over possible Gulf conflict

Ed Pilkington and Martin Pengelly in New York

19, May, 2019 @9:46 PM

Article image
What is the Iran deal and why does Trump want to scrap it?
Donald Trump said Tuesday that the US will ‘exit’ the Iran nuclear agreement in violation of the landmark deal

Saeed Kamali Dehghan Iran correspondent

09, May, 2018 @7:54 AM

Article image
Donald Trump tells Iran ‘call me’ over lifting sanctions
President suggests US could help revive Iran’s economy in return for no-nuclear weapons pledge

Julian Borger in Washington and Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

09, May, 2019 @7:27 PM

Article image
Mike Pompeo urges UK to help rein in 'lawless' Iran over nuclear deal
UK told ‘not to soothe the Ayatollahs angry’ at Trump decision to abandon nuclear deal

Patrick Wintour and Julian Borger

08, May, 2019 @7:03 PM

Article image
Trump says 'absolutely broken' Iran will face major new sanctions
US president says move will be made on Monday as Iran warns it may step up nuclear activities

Patrick Wintour and Julian Borger

23, Jun, 2019 @6:59 PM

Article image
UK will not follow Trump in ditching Iran deal, Boris Johnson vows
Foreign secretary says government will do utmost to protect UK firms from any extra sanctions imposed by the US

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

09, May, 2018 @2:28 PM