He sees it as a good way to save face amidst a heap of bad news.
Donald Trump’s all-caps harangue yesterday addressed at Iranian president Hassan Rouhani was unusually strident, even for him. It appeared at first to be a response to a speech by Rouhani, who warned against a US attack on Iran during remarks of his own in Tehran.
But it’s worth remembering how Trump sees Iran: Past statements reveal that the US president considers America’s relationship to the country as a useful tool for political misdirection. In 2012, for instance, Trump appeared convinced that Barack Obama would strike Iran in order to boost his popularity ahead of that year’s presidential election.
Despite Trump’s predictions, Obama did not attack Iran. Instead, he led world powers to ink a deal with Iran that restricted its ability to produce weapons of mass destruction while lifting harsh economic sanctions.
In May, Trump pulled the US out of that agreement. Iran has since begun laying the groundwork to resume production of the radioactive fuel needed to create nuclear weapons. Though European nations are trying to keep the deal’s framework in place, they face difficulties doing so in because of resumed US sanctions. And with Iran’s economy slumping, Rouhani now has incentives to focus his constituents on an abstract foreign enemy.
So does Trump.
Days before Trump’s Iran tweet, the Department of Justice released to the public a old redacted request to wiretap one of his presidential campaign advisers. National security law experts say the legal documents show compelling probable cause to suspect his advisor, Carter Page, was working for a foreign country. This undermines Trump’s argument that investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election are frivolous or partisan.
The day after Trump’s tweet, even more information become public: Twelve audio recordings made by Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, became available to prosecutors investigating allegations of financial wrong-doing. And five witnesses were granted immunity to testify against Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who is facing charges of bank fraud and conspiracy.
The same day as Trump’s tweet, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also delivered a harsh public indictment of Iran’s leadership, accusing them of using government power to enrich themselves. “The level of corruption and wealth among Iranian leaders shows that Iran is run by something that resembles the mafia more than a government,” Pompeo said.
But it’s hard to see how much credence this message will be given on the international stage. Multiple members of Trump’s own cabinet face ethics investigations. The special counsel inquiry into Trump’s election has so far has led to eight guilty pleas, two convictions and multiple indictments. And the president himself has not released his tax returns or divested himself from his private company, which continues to profit from government business.