Say, could this qualify as … diplomatic engagement? After Hassan Rouhani tweeted out that the US should be aware that “war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Donald Trump directly responded on Twitter in kind. And in all caps:

How did the Iranians react to that? Er …

Iran’s state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency replied within hours, dismissing Trump’s tweet and describing it as a “passive reaction” to Rouhani’s remarks. …

Gen. Gholam Hossein Gheibparvar, head of the Revolutionary Guard’s paramilitary Basij force, said the United States “won’t dare” take military action against Iran, whose missiles can hit most of the Middle East. Iran also controls part of the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow passageway for all of the Persian Gulf oil tanker traffic.

That mattered a lot more before the Iran deal opened their access to oil markets again. The Strait of Hormuz made a good potential Iranian target at that point, strategically speaking, as it would allow them to shut down much of the Arabian Peninsula’s output while having little impact on their sanctioned oil production. Now, however, shutting down the Strait of Hormuz would all but end their own oil sales, hammering their economy at a time when popular unrest is already boiling over because of economic woes. Plus, now that the US has vastly increased its own production, it might end up boosting our own fortunes.

Besides, we have our navy in the region, and a battle at sea there would almost certainly end very badly for the Iranians. They are currently supporting Houthis in Yemen, for which they need that passage to remain open, and they also need access to the Indian Ocean for their own import needs. The US would respond to an attempt at shutting down the strait by blockading Iran between Oman and Pakistan. It would be akin to cutting off one’s nose, eyes, and mouth to spite what’s left of the face.

The exchange came shortly after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo compared the Iranian mullahcracy to the Mafia:

“The level of corruption and wealth among regime leaders shows that Iran is run by something that resembles the Mafia more than a government,” he said in speech made to a largely Iranian American audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. Pompeo was introduced by Fred Ryan, publisher of The Washington Post and chairman of the Ronald Reagan Foundation.

Pompeo said the administration has concluded that Tehran has no statesmen willing to moderate its policies, a sharp break from the Obama administration, which negotiated the nuclear deal hoping an improving economy would give relative pragmatists like Rouhani a boost.

But Pompeo said Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are “merely polished frontmen for the Ayatollah’s international con artistry. Their nuclear deal didn’t make them moderates, it made them wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

It’s been clear that the Trump administration wanted to take a hardline approach to Iran since Day 1. Rex Tillerson ended up on the outs because he wanted to keep the JCPOA in place, a not-unreasonable position since the US gave up all its concessions up front in the deal and our former partners in the P5+1 talks didn’t want to reopen the deal. It’s also not unreasonable to take the position that the JCPOA doesn’t actually guarantee anything, not even verifiable delays in nuclear-weapons productions, and therefore isn’t worth keeping.

The hardline approach, as we saw with North Korea (about which more in another article), is to reflect their rhetoric right back at them. That worked to some extent with Kim Jong-un and China, both of whom worried about a potential war brewing on the Korean Peninsula. Will responses in kind get the message to Tehran that the US has grown tired of “Death to America” messaging and rattling sabers works in both directions? It might at least get the message to Iran’s trading partners in Europe and especially private investors there, who might suddenly become skittish at putting their capital into Iran. North Korea didn’t have that particular vulnerability, and it will be interesting to see whether the capital-starved mullahs rethink their rhetorical strategy.

How will it go over at home, though? Lots of media outlets are expressing anxiety over a potential war breaking out, but Sean Spicer might have a better grasp on how people outside the bubble will see this. We’ve been hearing nothing but threats of war and Great Satan noise from Iran’s top leaders for almost forty years. This was nothing more than a response in kind.

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