While “official end” doesn’t quite soar to the hyperbolic heights of President Donald Trump’s now infamous “fire and fury” threat to North Korea in 2017, its import is much the same. And earlier this month, the US had suddenly (and somewhat surprisingly) deployed bombers and an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf to meet as yet unnamed threats from Iran. The government in Tehran, for its part, is using US aggression to ratchet up patriotic sentiment: “@realdonaldTrump hopes to achieve what Alexander, Genghis & other aggressors failed to do. Iranians have stood tall for millennia while aggressors all gone. #EconomicTerrorism & genocidal taunts won’t ‘end Iran’,” tweeted Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Zarif, though, ended his tweet with some sage advice — “try respect, it works”.
“Muscular” diplomacy, a term often used by those appreciative of Trump’s foreign policy stances, is in essence a contradiction in terms. And it is this crude, short-term approach that has defined the Trump Administration’s approach to Iran, beginning with pulling out of the carefully negotiated nuclear settlement last year and more recently by strict sanctions. The act of talking, of cajoling and compromising, is one of subtlety and understanding, backed by erudition. The villainising of entire countries and civilisations is hardly likely to achieve an amicable solution to the seemingly intractable geopolitical quagmire in West Asia. In fact, the insults and threats are only likely to strengthen the hold of the more regressive elements within Iran’s polity, a muscular response to muscular threats.
Perhaps the root of the problem, the festering source of the invective that laces diplomatic parlance, is domestic politics. Trump faces an election next year, and ill-planned adventures and imaginary enemies abroad have often helped political fortunes in the US. On the other hand, there are political gains in making peace, as Trump himself has no doubt learnt from the partially successful overtures between Washington and Pyongyang. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to try respect with Iran too and see if that works.