Editor’s Note: We are pleased to bring you this comprehensive and authoritative two-part analysis of Donald Trump and Iran, written by Reuel Marc Gerecht. Gerecht is a widely published author, with regular contributions to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, The Atlantic and The Weekly Standard. He’s a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and one of the country’s leading experts on Iran and its Islamic revolution. The first part, below, examines the incentives the Iranian regime has to continue its confrontational approach to the United States and President Donald Trump. In the second installment, “The Fallout,” Gerecht looks at the death of Qassem Suleimani, the regime’s internal challenges, the consequences of the Obama nuclear deal, and what we might expect from the coming collision with the Islamic Republic.
Part I: The Coming Collision
The Islamic revolution recently celebrated its 41st birthday. The upheaval, especially the hostage-taking and the failed attempt to rescue American diplomats, may have cost Jimmy Carter the election in 1980. In 2020 the Islamic Republic may already be trying to enter the presidential campaign by challenging Donald Trump in Iraq and through its nuclear ambitions. After slowly pushing forward the atomic program beyond the confines of Barack Obama’s now defunct nuclear deal, the clerical regime is advancing more vigorously; another murderous assault upon Americans, via Iran’s Iraqi proxies, just happened. Given the president’s determination to keep maximum economic pressure on Iran, more attacks are surely coming.
If Ayatollah Khamenei wants to try to bring the Democrats to power, and he believes that challenging Donald Trump is the best way to weaken his chances of victory, then it’s a near certainty that the supreme leader is going to attack something more significant than what he has before November. President Hassan Rouhani’s and foreign minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif’s extraordinary effort to engage and bend U.S. and European officials to their goals ultimately failed because of the unexpected election of Trump, but the Iranian political elite became much more attuned to U.S. politics because of the nuclear negotiations. Where once Khamenei was an inattentive, bipartisan hater of America, he became more nuanced in his contempt for Democrats and Republicans. The Iranian regime’s understanding of how American politics function has improved a lot.
Also, the coronavirus has hit Iran hard. If the regime senses that its deceit and ineptitude in handling the malady could cause civil unrest once people can again safely gather, it’s not unlikely that the regime will strike Americans in the hope of recapturing the ardent emotions vented during the massive funeral processions for Qassem Suleimani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard commander killed in Baghdad in January by a U.S. drone. Khamenei’s druthers are to go bold. Numerous factors are coming together to superheat the 41-year-old struggle between the Islamic Republic and the United States over the next eight months. But the most important factor by far is the supreme leader—his unrelenting conspiratorial hatred of the United States, his particular distaste for Trump, and his determination to preserve his impressive accomplishments.