That’s where the two Mikes come in — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence. Both men are passionately, unwaveringly hostile to Iran. They despise its government with all the intensity of a lonely and loveless recluse still smarting from being dumped by his girlfriend 40 years in the past. They consider the Iran deal a catastrophe and any effort to normalize relations with the country an insult and potentially fatal demonstration of weakness. Iran is the Soviet Union and Al Qaeda rolled into one — the focal point of evil in the region and the world.
This is a cartoon version of Iran, though admittedly one that the Iranian leadership itself plays into with its lunatic rhetorical threats toward Israel and the United States. Yet these are also threats Iran hasn’t acted on since the Carter administration. It’s bluster, mainly for domestic consumption. Just as American anti-Iran hawks like Pompeo and Pence latch onto and hype that rhetoric for consumption at home, specifically within the Republican electoral coalition, while downplaying evidence of much greater caution and restraint.
These are the people Trump has chosen to surround himself with — in an administration that has displayed outright contempt for diplomacy from the very start. (The contempt is so thoroughgoing that the nation’s secretary of state speaks and acts more like a trigger-happy defense secretary than its top diplomat.) How much does Pompeo crave confrontation with Iran? So much so that in the months following Trump’s decision to call off a retaliatory strike against Iran last June, Pompeo sulked and made noises about departing the administration to run for the Senate in Kansas. But not anymore. Having finally talked the president into acting on his (potentially fleeting) impulse to kill Qassem Soleimani, the bounce is now back in his step, with the Senate race no longer much of a temptation.