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The quality gap between Iran and America’s leaders

Trump and Netanyahu have misread and misunderstood the ability of their Iranian opposite number

    Donald Trump was mocked on Iranian front pages this week
    Donald Trump was mocked on Iranian front pages this week Getty Images

    Donald Trump is the gift that keeps on giving to the world’s autocratic regimes. Not only is he a one-man argument against the pitfalls of America’s open democracy – “democracy” being a word he rarely uses in his big set speeches – but his administration’s bark-but-don’t-bite administration has granted free to autocratic regimes around the world.

    Example one is Iran. Last week, Mr Trump deployed his favoured gesture politics by “decertifying” the Iran nuclear deal, or JCPOA.  It does not take the US out of the agreement and it will be up to Congress to vote on whether to back out of it.

    But Mr Trump got to do what he loves:  perform for cameras, no questions asked.

    “The Iranian regime continues to fuel conflict, terror, and turmoil throughout the Middle East and beyond,” he said, adding: “The regime’s two favourite chants are ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel’.”

    The statement played well with his unswayable supporters, including mega donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the 25 percent of American Jews who voted for him, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    “President Trump has just created an opportunity to fix this bad deal, to roll back Iran's aggression and to confront its criminal support of terrorism,” Mr Netanyahu said.

    Saudi Arabia also expressed its pleasure.

    But Donald Trump’s action didn’t have much immediate effect on Iran.

    America’s co-signatories of the deal, the other permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, all re-affirmed their support for it.  So the regime is not being further isolated – quite the contrary, in fact.

    Iran continued its activities in Syria, where the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps fights on behalf of the Assad regime. It also maintained its public presence in Iraq. Revolutionary Guards commander Major General Qassem Soleimani visited Kurdistan as fighting flared up between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Baghdad over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, in tension provoked by the recent Kurdish independence vote.

    Gen Soleimani was in Kurdistan to pay respects at the grave of Jalal Talabani, the first president of post-Saddam Iraq and towering figure in regional politics, who died earlier this month.

    The visit was more than just a diplomatic courtesy.  The general is involved with Shia forces in Iraq and has a relationship with the Kurds.  His very public graveside visit was an assertion that Iran is the key power broker in its unstable neighbour.

    As for Israel and its never cordial relations with Iran, the week was marked by that signifier of 21st century life:  a Twitter spat. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, after Trump slapped new sanctions on the IRGC, tweeted out support for the Revolutionary Guards.

    In a video response, Mr Netanyahu told Zarif to delete his account and mocked him for using a platform that remains banned for most Iranians.

    If anything, the week has demonstrated the quality gap in political leadership between the US and Iran. Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu have misread and misunderstood the ability of their opposite number.

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a successful revolutionary and has been dealing with US presidents since the days of Ronald Reagan and the Iran-Contra scandal (Israel was an intermediary in the sales of arms to the Iranian regime in that ridiculously complex affair).

    America and Israel must elect better leaders if the goal is to curb Iran’s regional influence. Given the state of politics in the US and Israel, keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon will be an easier task.

    Michael Goldfarb is the host of the FRDH podcast.

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