On July 22, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed a crowd of Iranian-Americans, giving voice to a new American policy on Iran that seeks to undermine the legitimacy of the Iranian government. It would also strangle Iran's economy through the reimposition of economic sanctions that had been set aside when Iran and five other Western nations, including the United States, came to an agreement in 2015 over Iran's nuclear program.
According to this agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, Iran accepted sanctions on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. When President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in May, he promised to reimpose sanctions that had been approved by Congress, including those targeting Iran's sale of oil. The goal of the Trump administration, Pompeo told the crowd, was to "get [Iranian oil] imports as close to zero as possible" by this November.
Pompeo's address did not go over well in Tehran. Addressing a gathering of Iranian diplomats, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani asked, "Is it possible that everyone in the region sells their oil and we stand idly by and watch? Do not forget that we have maintained the security of this waterway [Strait of Hormuz] throughout history. We have historically secured the route of oil transit. Do not forget it."
Approximately 18.5 million barrels of oil a day transit through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow channel of water separating Iran from Oman. The loss of this oil to the global economy would be devastating. On July 5, Rouhani commented on the American plan to shut down Iran's oil imports, saying, "The Americans say they want to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero. ... It shows they have not thought about its consequences." While Rouhani had remained silent about what those consequences would be, Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, made it clear that Iran would close the Strait of Hormuz to all oil traffic.
"America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars," Rouhani said, warning the American president not to "play with the lion's tail, this would only lead to regret."
President Trump's response, delivered via Twitter the next day, caught the attention of the world.
NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!
On July 24, the Iranian Armed Forces chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, responded to Trump's threats. "As the dominant power in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, [Iran] has been the guarantor of the security of shipping and the global economy in this vital waterway and has the strength to take action against any scheme in this region," Bagheri said.
"As our president correctly pointed out, the enemies, particularly America, whose centers of interest are within reach of the visible and hidden defense forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, should not play with the lion's tail," the Iranian general said, "because they will receive a strong, unimaginable and regrettable response of great magnitude in the region and the world."
That same day, President Trump addressed a gathering of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, seemingly a perfect venue for offering a bellicose response to the Iranian threats of action. Instead, the president offered up a fig leaf of sorts. "We'll see what happens," Trump said, "but we're ready to make a real deal, not the deal that was done by the previous administration, which was a disaster."
The seesawing rhetorical game of threat and counterthreat being played by Trump seems reminiscent of a similar approach taken late last year and early this year with North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Last August, responding to North Korean threats to test missiles capable of reaching the United States, Trump had declared that North Korea "best not make any more threats to the United States," saying that if North Korea disregarded him, "They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." Trump later went on to famously belittle North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, as "little rocket man," while Kim in turn responded by calling Trump a "dotard" and a "warmonger" whose true nature was that of a "destroyer of the world peace and stability."
In June, Trump and Kim held a summit in Singapore, where they discussed the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Many observers believe that Trump is reaching back to his North Korean playbook in engaging in the current hostile exchange with Iran. Iran, however, is not North Korea.
What follows are major reasons why Trump is wrong if he thinks Iran will accede to his demands that it renegotiate a nuclear agreement with the United States to replace the JCPOA.