The U.S. and Iran came unacceptably close to an avoidable war in the last two weeks. Now that things appear to be calming down a little, the president naturally feels the need to make another unhinged threat about annihilating the entire country:
If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 19, 2019
The president reportedly does not want war with Iran, but it is hard to take that seriously when he makes cavalier threats about “ending” a nation of 80 million people. This latest threat recalls the president’s previous deranged statement made in response to some unremarkable comments that Rouhani made about Iran’s readiness to defend itself. Trump seems incapable of learning from this recent scare that it was excessive U.S. hostility towards Iran that put our governments on a collision course. If he doesn’t recognize that it is his own Iran policy and his own advisers that nearly took the U.S. and Iran over the cliff’s edge, that suggests that he isn’t going to make any of the necessary policy or personnel changes to prevent similar standoffs from happening in the future.
There is very good reason to think that the Iranian government doesn’t want to fight unless it is backed into a corner and given no other choice, so it is dangerous and irresponsible to threaten them with annihilation for any reason. Even if Trump imagines that he is “warning” Iran, his words taken together with the administration’s behavior over the last year are likely to be received very differently in Tehran. The idea that the U.S. would “end” Iran in the event of a conflict is crazy and appalling, and it reflects the president’s poorly-concealed contempt for the country and its people.
Trump’s rhetoric is aimed at appealing to his domestic supporters, so he doesn’t think about or care how it sounds to the targeted regime, but my guess is that the Iranian government will take this as additional proof that there is no point in talking to the U.S. while Trump is in charge. Over-the-top threats of destroying the entire country give the Iranian government another incentive to reject all U.S. demands, and they obviously do nothing to deescalate tensions between our governments when they are already very high. As usual, Trump’s public displays of “toughness” only make him seem like an overcompensating bully and give hard-liners in both countries another boost.