President Trump’s response to Iran’s “mother of all wars” threat certainly got the media’s attention, but it had nothing to do with diplomacy, or even US strategy: Trump’s tweets are mainly aimed at his followers, who eat up the tough talk.
Tehran is happy to play the war-of-words game; after all, that’s the only level where it’s on an equal footing with Washington. Indeed, this spat got started when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani issued the latest in a decades-long line of threats to close the Strait of Hormuz and disrupt world oil supplies.
In fact, Iran’s unlikely to ever try that. Back when it mined the Gulf in the Reagan era, the US Navy responded to damage to USS Samuel B. Roberts by devastating Iran’s fleet. Tehran’s military weakness is why it’s seeking nuclear weapons, and why it devotes so many resources to sponsoring terrorism.
But Washington has its own unconventional means of attack: As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted over the weekend, the United States is still ramping up sanctions in the wake of Trump’s withdrawal from the Obama-era nuclear deal.
Yet even the promise of that pain, and the regime’s failure to spend its multibillion-dollar Obama windfall on domestic needs, has triggered rolling mass protests across Iran.
Not that the fury is all about economics: Some protest the government’s diktats on women’s dress and persecutions over innocent social-media posts.
Indeed, Tehran’s current noise is mostly a bid to distract its citizens from their anger by invoking its favorite foreign menace, the “Great Satan.”
Which is why US diplomacy and strategy now revolve around escalating sanctions and other pressure, not presidential tweets.
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