FILE- In this Friday, April 14, 2017 file photo, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani smiles as he attends at the Interior Ministry to register his candidacy for the May 19 presidential elections, in Tehran, Iran. Over 1,600 people registered to run. Under Iranian law, there’s no fee for registering. Hopefuls only must believe in Iran’s form of government and be Shiite Muslims. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)


The first round of snap-back sanctions on Iran are due to be imposed next week and the Iranians aren’t happy. The Iranian rial is beginning to make the Weimar Reichsmark look very sound. The first round of sanctions forbids Iran buying or acquiring U.S. dollars and trading gold and other precious metals; Iran can’t sell or trade metals such as aluminum and steel, as well as graphite, coal and certain software for “integrating industrial processes”; also off limits are “significant” sales or purchases of Iranian rials or the maintenance of significant funds or accounts outside the country using Iranian rials; Iran can no longer sell bonds; and autos manufactured in Iran cannot be exported. This is nothing compared to the second wave of sanctions that will hit in early November. Those sanctions forbid Iranian oil exports and the issuance of insurance or underwriting to Iranian entities and block transactions with Iranian financial institutions. There is civil unrest, fueled by hyperinflation and 30% unemployment and a visible gap between favored members of the regime and everyday Iranians, and, unlike in the past, the US is stoking the discontent.

The Iranians have been making noises about shutting the Straits of Hormuz on the theory that if they can’t export oil then no one can use the Persian Gulf for that purpose. This is obviously bullsh**. The Iranians tried this during the so-called Tanker War and it eventually cost them two surface combatants sunk, a third heavily damaged, and several of their “speedboats” (why do news media persist is thinking small craft are actually a threat to warships?) destroyed. This was by a US Navy that was operating within extremely restrictive rules of engagement that essentially gave the Iranians the first shot. Yesterday, in fact, head mullah Hassan Rouhani offered this direct threat:

Addressing a gathering of Iranian diplomats, Rouhani said: “Mr Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret,” the state new agency IRNA reported.

“America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rouhani said, leaving open the possibility of peace between the two countries, at odds since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

“You are not in a position to incite the Iranian nation against Iran’s security and interests,” Rouhani said, in an apparent reference to reported efforts by Washington to destabilize Iran’s Islamic government.

This morning, President Trump responded in best YouTube comments style:

This threat is either real or it isn’t. I don’t know. I don’t have a great deal of confidence that Donald Trump knows. It all shows an eerie echo of the North Korea confrontation. The military demonstration and the “Rocket Man” gibe produced the Singapore Summit which may or may not produce something concrete. What the whole episode did was confront bluster with bluster and as military confrontation loomed suddenly we had significant progress. North Korea has not launched a missile in nine months. With Iran, we know that Trump has said that he is amenable to a deal but a better one, one that is actually enforceable. All of this leads one reasonably to wonder if Trump is serious or if he’s simply reusing his North Korea gambit. In fact, will Rouhani see this as a warning by Trump or a signal that Trump doesn’t want a confrontation and will accept a summit meeting instead?

Sooner or later, someone is going to take Trump’s tweets as a bluff. I suspect Iran will do just that. And if they do then Trump has, in my view, painted himself into a corner where he is either revealed to the world as someone who relies upon the bluff and backs down when he’s called. Or he has to bomb the snot out of the Iranians.

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