In a tweet late Sunday, President Donald Trump warned Iran of “consequences the likes of which few throughout history have suffered before,” seemingly raising the odds of military conflict with one of the most powerful armed forces in the Middle East. He was responding to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s remarks to Iranian diplomats that “America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”
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
Trump’s all-caps message may make it seem as if conflict with the Islamic Republic is inevitable. But just as Rouhani held out of the prospect of the “mother of all peace,” Trump’s message is reminiscent of his threats against the “madman” Kim Jong Un. He threatened the North Korean leader with “fire and fury,” and added that the North Korean leader will “be tested like never before.” Just months after making those remarks, Trump was meeting with Kim in Singapore, launching a diplomatic process that, while short on results so far, has been high on optimism. Given the history of U.S.-Iran relations, which were poisoned by the 1979 revolution, such an outcome is highly unlikely with Tehran. But Trump’s unpredictable and independent foreign policy means, as he said last November, he’s the “only one that matters.”
Still, John Bolton, the national-security adviser, said in a statement Monday: “I spoke to the president over the last several days, and President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before.”
In some ways, Rouhani’s comments, and Trump’s response, have been coming since May, when the U.S. withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran; that deal also involved China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the European Union. The Trump administration maintained that the agreement, President Barack Obama’s signature foreign-policy achievement, did not address Iran’s involvement in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon, its ballistic-missile program, or its other problematic actions. The other nations and entities who are still in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the accord is officially known, say the agreement was meant to deal exclusively with Iran’s nuclear program—and, indeed, that it has succeeded in addressing that aspect of Iranian policy. Prior to the U.S. withdrawal, Trump-administration officials also acknowledged that Iran was abiding by the deal, but they contended that it had merely delayed Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons without ending its pursuit of them. Supporters of the agreement call that position a willful misreading of the accord.