Trump’s Iran policy: The mother of all confusion

Contradictory statements by Trump and his senior aides create serious doubts about this administration’s policy towards Iran.
Sunday 29/07/2018
US President Donald Trump (R) talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a cabinet meeting, on July 18. (AP)
Mixed messages. US President Donald Trump (R) talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a cabinet meeting, on July 18. (AP)

The symbolism was obvious. US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo chose to deliver his second major policy speech on Iran to an audience of Iranian-Americans at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California on July 22. The choice of venue was clearly symbolic. Reagan is recognised as the president who brought down “the evil empire” of the Soviet Union.

Pompeo praised Reagan for urging “other Western governments to support those around the world trying to break free of tyranny and injustice.” In Reagan’s spirit, Pompeo called “on all governments to end their flirtations with a revolutionary regime and come quickly to the aid of the Iranian people.”

Pompeo’s punchline was answered with applause from the audience but those old enough to remember the Reagan presidency may recall a less flattering episode that cast a shadow over the Republican president’s second term in office — the Iran-Contra affair.

Senior Reagan administration officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to Tehran, which was the subject of an arms embargo. Reagan took full responsibility. In a nationally televised speech on March 4, 1987, he admitted: “What began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages.”

Reagan, champion of freedom, engaged in an enterprise that prolonged the life of a revolutionary regime, which he denounced as terrorist. It is not known if President Donald Trump is engaged in an effort like Reagan’s. In any case, contradictory statements by Trump and his senior aides create serious doubts about this administration’s policy towards Iran.

Around the time that Pompeo was delivering his spirited speech in California, Iranian President Hassan Rohani addressed a group of Iran’s ambassadors. They had been summoned to Tehran for consultation and Rohani used the opportunity to warn Washington.

Rohani said: “The Americans think we want to close the Strait of Hormuz when we say ‘no one can export oil, if Iran is prevented from exporting its oil.’ However, there are many different ways. Closing the Strait of Hormuz is the easy option but we have plenty of other options at our disposal.”

Interestingly, Rohani also warned Trump: “War with Iran will be the mother of all wars and peace with Iran will be the mother of peace.” The statement was curious because it paraphrased Saddam Hussein’s description of the Kuwait war, which he called “the mother of all battles.” That war, of course, did not end particularly well for Saddam.

Rohani’s words caught the attention of Trump, who used Twitter to fire a salvo against the regime in Tehran: “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE,” Trump warned his counterpart in Tehran, in capital letters.

Then again on July 24 Trump mentioned Iran to war veterans: “We’ll see what happens but we’re ready to make a real deal, not the deal that was done by the previous administration, which was a disaster.”

What then, is the Trump administration’s Iran policy?

Is Washington pursuing a regime-change policy?

Or a policy that seeks to change the behaviour of the regime?

Does Trump pursue one or several mutually exclusive policies simultaneously?

To what extent do senior administration officials speak on the president’s behalf?

For now, Trump’s Iran policy can best be described as the mother of all confusion.

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