Back in August of 2015, Donald Trump told Chuck Todd of "Meet the Press" that Iran is "going to be such a wealthy, such a powerful nation. They are going to have nuclear weapons. They are going to take over parts of the world that you wouldn't believe. And I think it's going to lead to nuclear holocaust.” However, he also said that as president he would not violate the nonproliferation agreement because “it's very hard to say, ‘We're ripping it up.’”
Trump went on to explain that had he been asked to use his masterful negotiating skills, the whole thing would have turned out differently. He would have never allowed Iran access to its money that had been frozen in Western banks for decades, he would have demanded the return off all prisoners before even agreeing to talk and he would have "doubled up" on the sanctions to really make them hurt. The logic seems to be that once the Iranians felt the lash of the mighty Trump, they would come crawling to him and beg for mercy. Only then would he "negotiate" and America would win and they would lose, which is how it must be.
He was asked who he turns to for foreign policy advice and he famously replied, "Well, I watch the shows. You know, when you watch your show and all of the other shows and you have the generals.” When pressed to name someone specific, the first person he mentioned was Fox News analyst and former UN ambassador John Bolton.
We all laughed at his silliness back then. We aren't laughing now. President Trump announced on Tuesday that he was instructing the government to violate the Iran deal and reinstitute the economic sanctions (and add some more). He issued one of his patented bellicose threats, saying that despite the U.S. imposing renewed sanctions and tearing up the agreement, Iran is still expected to comply with its terms. He said that if the Iranian regime "continues its nuclear aspirations, it will have bigger problems than it has ever had before.” He didn't say he would rain down fire and fury, but it was certainly implied.
Trump seems to believe that his angry tweets at "little Rocket Man" have brought Kim Jong-un to his knees, and it is a foregone conclusion that the North Korean dictator will surrender his nuclear weapons. Indeed, in Trump's mind this has already happened. He's been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, after all. So naturally, the Iranian government is terrified and will scurry to ingratiate itself with him too.
Despite his feeble protestations early on of not "just tearing up" the Iran deal, it's obvious that he's been dying to do it for quite some time, if only to complete his primary task: Erasing Barack Obama's legacy. This deal was Obama's biggest foreign policy achievement, so naturally it had to go. Furthermore, Trump had managed to fire virtually everyone who had argued in favor of America keeping its word and is back to being advised by Bolton, the man he always liked on "the shows." Mind you, Bolton doesn't just want to tear up the Iran deal, he wants to set it aflame with a hellfire missile.
Maybe Trump really is the colossus astride the globe who will bring world peace through bombastic tweeting and crude personal insults. But if that doesn't work, nobody is really sure what comes next. The president certainly can't articulate it. He couldn't even explain why he believes this will make America safer:
Back in April of 2003, soon after the statues came down in Baghdad, David Remnick of The New Yorker wrote this:
There is little doubt that some of the most hawkish ideologues in and around the Bush Administration entertain dreams of a kind of endless war. James Woolsey, a former director of Central Intelligence who has been proposed as a Minister of Information in Iraq by Donald Rumsfeld, forecasts a Fourth World War (the third, of course, having been the Cold War), which will last “considerably longer” than either of the first two. One senior British official dryly told Newsweek before the invasion, “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.” And then, presumably, to Damascus, Beirut, Khartoum, Sanaa, Pyongyang. Richard Perle, one of the most influential advisers to the Pentagon, told an audience not long ago that, with a successful invasion of Iraq, “we could deliver a short message, a two-word message: ‘You’re next.’"
That's even better than "You're fired."
John Bolton was a true believer in that idea, and there's little reason to believe he has changed. He's certainly for regime change in Iran. According to this article by Robert Mackey of The Intercept, a few months ago Bolton gave a big speech before the Iranian exile group known as the Mujahedeen Khalq, MEK or People’s Mujahedeen:
“The outcome of the president’s policy review should be to determine that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 revolution will not last until its 40th birthday,” Bolton said. (The 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution will be on February 11, 2019.) “The declared policy of the United States should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran,” Bolton added. “The behavior and the objectives of the regime are not going to change and, therefore, the only solution is to change the regime itself.”'
As the Iranian expatriate journalist Bahman Kalbasi noted, Bolton concluded his address to the exiles with a rousing promise: “And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!”
Trump didn't mention regime change in his speech announcing that the U.S. planned to violate the terms of the JCPOA (as the Iran deal is officially known). But his legal adviser and unofficial foreign policy spokesman, Rudy Giuliani, recently appeared before the same group and assured it that the president is committed to overthrow as well, even leading the crowd to chant, "Regime change! Regime change!" He repeated that commitment just this past weekend:
“We have a president who is tough,” Giuliani said Saturday at a conference organized in Washington by the Organization of Iranian-American Communities. “We have a president who is as committed to regime change as we are."
Trump is often understood as an old-time isolationist who just wants the U.S. to withdraw from the world so he can concentrate on mass deportations and graft. But that does not describe Bolton or Giuliani or anti-Muslim zealot Mike Pompeo, now the secretary of state, or any of the other hawks Trump has surrounded himself with. They are looking for a war. They are always looking for a war.
Really, Trump is too. He's a bully. It's his nature.