White House national Security Advisor John Bolton listens as U.S. President Donald Trump holds a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 16, 2018.
(photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump created a moment in August 2017 with North Korea threatening the country “with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Many are saying that he is now for the first time trying to recreate that “fire and fury” moment with Iran: the Farsi version, so to speak.
He will likely have less success – and that is if one considers the developing situation with Pyongyang a success.
Some think that Trump’s fire-and-fury North Korea moment mistakenly brought the world to the edge of nuclear war, but that he got lucky.
Others think that it was Trump at his best, using unparalleled audacity and boldness to shock and flip a difficult adversary into playing his game and halting its nuclear weapons tests.
Like with North Korea, supporters of Trump can argue that neither engagement and the nuclear deal nor sanctions alone have succeeded in ending Tehran’s nuclear weapons potential as well as some of its destabilizing activities in the Middle East.
If so, why not try something new?
Bolstering their argument could be that one important area where the Islamic republic and the North are different is that North Korea already has nuclear weapons and Iran still does not.
That means that even if brinkmanship with Tehran could be risky for falling accidentally into a conventional conflict, a North Korean-style nuclear world war is not on the table.
But critics note an area where Pyongyang and the Islamic republic are similar: Both can cause chaos and wide ranging military conflict even without resorting to nuclear weapons.
Even without nuclear weapons, North Korea’s artillery and conventional missiles could risk millions of South Korean and Japanese lives, as well as hundreds of thousands of US servicemen and civilians abroad.
Iran has a massive and powerful advanced rocket arsenal, which could threaten US forces throughout the Middle East and Israel.
It also has proxy forces in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria, which could make trouble for the US and Israel.
To these critics, Trump’s brinkmanship is inexcusably irresponsible and dangerous.
BUT MAYBE both sides are overreacting, and a hint that this may be the case is that multiple Iranian officials are brushing Trump off as “crazy.”
Presuming they are not posturing with calm for the cameras to cover up their fears, why are they so calm?
Maybe because they have seen this movie before.
In fact, this is not Trump’s first “fire and fury” moment with Iran, but his second. His first was in July 2018.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had warned Trump that while “peace with Iran is the mother of all peace... war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”
Not to be outdone, Trump tweeted in all capital letters to Rouhani that if he ever threatened the US again “you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.”
Hard to say whether his threat this week that Iran would face its “official end” is more threatening than when he threatened unprecedented suffering in July.
Back in July, many asked the same questions as now: Would his threat get Iran to back down and show a greater readiness to compromise in Trump’s direction?
Would his threat exacerbate already existing tensions, eliminate space for negotiation and make military confrontation more likely?
If military confrontation became more likely, might the US be more likely to attack Iran itself instead of outsourcing any attack to Israel?
Ten months later, none of this has occurred.
The Islamic republic’s leaders like to wait and play the long game. That means not getting excited by sudden threats or developments.
They have signaled mid-July as a potential deadline for them to leave the nuclear deal, but that seems more connected to whether China, Russia and the European Union help them improve their economic situation.
Iran may still cave in the face of Trump’s threats. Or the situation may quickly deteriorate into war.
But it is more likely that Trump has already used this trick one too many times, such that the economic pressure campaign on Iran will be decisive in where the US-Iran nuclear standoff is leading.
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