President Trump, in a tweet in all block capitals today, threatened Iran with “consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered” if it “threatened the United States again.” This is not the behavior of the rational leader of a superpower; it is both dangerous and irresponsible.
The president was apparently responding to a speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Sunday in which he warned, “America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”
An adversary making such gratuitous jabs does not justify President Trump’s response.
Over the 18 months of the Trump presidency, we have become accustomed, and perhaps inured, to his unstable, bellicose, undiplomatic, demeaning, crude, wild and untruthful way of conducting foreign policy. There is a tendency to dismiss each new outburst as, “it’s just Trump being Trump.”
This is a mistake. Trump is commander-in-chief and his policies have already done immense damage to our nation’s international standing and to its longstanding alliances. Trump has encouraged and bolstered authoritarian and anti-democratic leaders around the world and dismayed our democratic allies.
On Iran, Trump’s policies are particularly dangerous. By pulling the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal, he has placed the nation on a path that could well lead to a new military confrontation in the Middle East. Moreover, Trump has surrounded himself with aides like National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who are more likely to encourage than restrain his more bellicose tendencies.
We cannot rule out the possibility of Trump instigating such a confrontation partly to distract attention from the ongoing Mueller investigation or even to rally right-wing voters before an election.
The president’s behavior highlights once again the need for Congress to step forward and speak forcefully, making it clear that Trump’s words, and the way they were delivered, do not represent the will of the American people. It has become clearer than ever that electing a more responsible Congress in November’s mid-term elections –- one where a majority is committed to diplomacy and other non-violent means to tackle tough international problems –- is vital. Such a Congress could act as a brake on this president and perform its oversight role with a rigor that the current majority is unwilling to do.
Successive leaders of the United States have always said that our nation is not against the Iranian people, merely the Islamic regime. Threatening the entire Iranian nation in the way that President Trump did undercuts that argument.
We sadly conclude that Trump will continue to be Trump. The question is, will America continue to be America?