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What do Trump’s Obama-era tweets on Iran tell us about his thinking?

On Oct. 22, 2012, two weeks pre-election, Trump’s thumbs said: “Don’t let Obama play the Iran card in order to start a war in order to get elected – be careful Republicans!”

President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump disembarks from Air Force One at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday.
REUTERS/Tom Brenner

During the Obama years, when most of us were paying little attention to the tweeted thoughts of civilian reality TV character Donald Trump, President Barack Obama engaged in a tense standoff with the government of Iran over Iran’s project that U.S. intelligence agencies believed was designed to acquire a nuclear weapons capability.

You probably recall this. It ended with Iran accepting limitations on its nuclear program, and pledges to cooperate with an inspections regime designed to assure compliance, in exchange for which the Obama administration and a large coalition of U.S. allies agreed to lift some sanctions on Iran to secure the deal. In my view, it was a triumph of wisdom over nationalism and ego, and a tribute to the importance of the longstanding U.S.-led coalition of allies.

Donald Trump hated and criticized the deal, and when he took over the tenancy of the Oval Office he decided not to live up to it. The other signatories have tried to keep it together. But if it falls apart, and if Iran decides to resume its pursuit of a nuclear arsenal, and if there is a war over that, it will be (in my view) because self-proclaimed master dealmaker Donald Trump doesn’t understand that, at least in this realm, a deal has to be win-win in order to work and to last. Trump is not good at win-win. He specializes in I-win-you-lose.

Trump is presumably pretty worried at present about his poll numbers heading into an election year. Although I am not predicting this, I worry that if he gets worried enough he might start a small war or two to see if that might cause the electorate to rally around him. But that’s pure conjecture, from someone who dislikes and distrusts him.

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A bit of Twitter evidence

Well, maybe not pure conjecture. There’s one bit of evidence that recently came to my notice from the bowels of the historical twitterverse, suggesting that this is exactly how Donald Trump thinks about things. He assumes that any smart politician, worried about his re-election chances, would be cynical enough to start a war to rally the electorate behind him, maybe even a war with Iran over the same nuclear deal that he has done so much to undermine.

I refer to a series of tweets that most of us didn’t notice because Trump tweeted them before most of us were paying attention to what his thumbs were trying to tell us about how cynical he is. Here are four of the Trumpian tweets that inspired this piece, from the years 2011-2013. That was before, during and after the year Obama, much to Trump’s disappointment, was re-elected by a solid margin in both the popular and electoral vote, over Republican nominee (and now Trump-skeptical U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah).

I suspect there were more tweets along these lines. But here are the four upon which I happened, which set off this brief worry about what Trump might be capable of, based on what he erroneously thought Obama would be capable of).

Tweet 1: Nov. 29, 2011, a year before Obama’s re-election, Donald Trump tweeted: “In order to get elected, Barack Obama will start a war with Iran.” (He meant re-elected.)

‘Watch for him to launch a strike’

Tweet 2: Oct. 6, 2012, just a month before Election Day, Donald Trump tweeted: “Now that Obama’s numbers are in a tailspin [obviously wishful Trumpian thinking] watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.” 

Tweet 3: Oct. 22, 2012, two weeks pre-election, Trump’s thumbs said: “Don’t let Obama play the Iran card in order to start a war in order to get elected – be careful Republicans!”

(In fact, as this New York Times piece details, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considered an attack on Iran, inspired in part by a desire to hurt Obama’s re-election chances. But, under pressure from Washington, the Israeli strike plan was dropped.)

Tweet 4: Nov. 12, 2012, with Obama re-elected but Trump the negotiating expert now predicting that Obama will do it even without any political benefit: “Remember that I predicted a long time ago that President Obama will attack Iran because of his inability to negotiate properly – not skilled!”

Remember, Trump considers himself the master negotiator/dealmaker. So far, his Iran/nukes deal making has resulted mostly in uniting America’s traditional allies against him to try to keep the Iran deal alive.