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

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

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.

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.

Comments (33)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Barrett on 09/18/2019 - 09:15 am.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/18/2019 - 09:56 am.

      Which has what to do with what, exactly?

      Violation of the “spirit” of a treaty does not mean that the treaty was broken.

      I’m also unclear why a three-year old story about a comment by President Obama has any relevance.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/18/2019 - 02:29 pm.


      • Submitted by Dennis Barrett on 09/18/2019 - 04:20 pm.

        The point being, Iran scammed Obama, got their money, continued on the way with uranium enrichment and left the problem with Trump. Trump had every right to criticize the deal and as Black puts it, “not live up to it”. “It” wasn’t there so pretending it was and faulting Trump for withdrawing is ridicules. MSNBC today said Trump withdrew citing the fact that Iran did not live up to the agreement (while using their favorite term, “without evidence”). Well, there’s your evidence. Your favorite president evidenced it.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/19/2019 - 09:11 am.

          First, nothing Donald Trump says is “evidence” of anything other than his own mendacity.

          Second, Iran was abiding by the terms of the treaty, according to anyone who has evaluated the real evidence ( The fact that President “Art of the Deal” thinks he could have done better does not mean that the treaty was not being obeyed.

          While we’re on the subject, how’s the work on that “better deal” going anyway? I’ll bet the Iranians, just like the North Koreans, have been cowed into submission.

          “Your favorite President evidenced it.” My favorite President? Good Lord, are you still doing the old “liberals think Obama’s the Messiah” riff? And since when has “evidence” been a verb?

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 09/18/2019 - 10:02 am.

    Trying to appease Iran for the past 30 years has not improved our situation with them or helped peace in the Middle East. Giving them 150 BILLION dollars in cash did no good either. I am shocked that folks here at Minnpost want to “go back” to a normal that had Iran sponsoring terrorism throughout the region. They hate America when we are appeasing them and when we are opposing them. Iranian deal was a joke that Iran had no intention of following, going back to that is just plain stupid.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/18/2019 - 10:40 am.

      “Giving them 150 BILLION dollars in cash did no good either.”

      Likewise, explaining that it was the Iranian’s cash does no good.

      “Iranian deal was a joke that Iran had no intention of following, going back to that is just plain stupid.”

      At the time that Trump walked away from the deal, Iran was in full compliance. The Congressional Research Service concluded as much in August of this year. Any non-compliance issues have been resolved, and are significant only for those reaching for some justification for Our Beloved Leader’s rejection of a valid international agreement (something other than “because Obama did it.”).

      • Submitted by Kevin Schumacher on 09/18/2019 - 12:27 pm.

        Amen…sometimes facts win even in the era of bonespurs.

      • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 09/18/2019 - 05:37 pm.

        Excuse me, a couple of points in response are warranted, I think.

        First, I think most people understand that Obama returned $150 billion (in cash!) that the US had seized from them.

        The point is, that wherever it came from, it was $150 billion they didn’t have to build drone bombers, develop ICBM’s, fund terrorists or any of the other fun things they do with their money.

        Second, you say the Iranians were abiding by the treaty. I’m sure they appreciate the support, but in addition to testing long range missiles, they seem to have been producing enough fissile material to exceed the limits just a few months after Trump pulled out.

        In any case, even if they were abiding to the letter, the agreement Obama took out all the stops after just 10 years. Why would they NOT abide?

        Let’s face it; Obama was played, and played well. Trump has a lot of faults, but being played for a sucker isn’t one of them.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/19/2019 - 09:19 am.

          “First, I think most people understand that Obama returned $150 billion (in cash!) that the US had seized from them.”

          No, they don’t, largely because it was $50 billion in “liquid assets.” The “$150 billion” number is yet another fabrication by President Ananias von Munchausen. The money that was returned belonged to Iran in the first place.

          I get that devotion to Donald Trump involves believing lies, and thinking that reneging on valid agreements is a good thing. The rest of the world, however, retains some ethical standards. Lying is unacceptable, even if it’s a big enough that is repeated long enough for people to come to believe it. The international community likewise expects commitments by sovereign states to be honored.

          • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 09/19/2019 - 03:43 pm.

            Let’s go to a source any lefty worth his salt accepts as the gold standard; Politifact.

            “Handel said the Obama administration admitted that nearly $2 billion flown to Iran is being used to fund terrorism and various supporting activities. She is more specific than the record supports. One way or another, the United States transferred $1.7 billion owed to Iran. As for what the administration admitted, Kerry said it was likely that some portion of any money Iran received would go to its top security organization and some of that money would end up advancing terrorism.“

            So there we are. Obama delivered $2 billion in cash Iran likely used to fund terrorists.

            The rest (somewhere between 24 and 150 billion depending on who you’re believing,!was delivered as “liquid assets”…(aka cash as well, but if Politifact doesn’t say so, it never happened).

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/19/2019 - 04:32 pm.

              News flash: $2 billion is not $150 billion. You have been misled by one of the clumsiest, most obvious liars in US history.

              The money that was returned to Iran represented $400 million that had been paid for arms sales that were cancelled, and $1.3 billion in interest since 1979 (the $400 million was, per an agreement with the Iranian government at the time, to be deposited in an interest bearing account). The money was finally paid to Iran to settle a claim before the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal (the US had agreed to set up the Tribunal to resolve claims).

              Yes, a settlement. The US had no defense to the claim, so it was prudent to settle. We agreed. The agreement was honored. I know that honoring agreements, and adherence to the rule of law generally, goes against everything Our Beloved Leader teaches. Nevertheless, there are many of us who hold to the old fashioned notion that the word of the US government is supposed to mean something.

              • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 09/19/2019 - 06:14 pm.

                Yes, sticking to agreements with folks that lust for our blood, strive to produce nuclear weapons to get it, and fund terrorists to carry out their bidding in the mean time is always a good idea. Indeed, how could I conclude otherwise when they have such eloquent supporters? You’ve convinced me completely.

                • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/20/2019 - 10:56 am.

                  You’re welcome.

                  A little more education, and you’ll be ashamed to admit you ever owned a MAGA hat.

                • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/20/2019 - 05:51 pm.

                  You do know that the 19 terrorists who attacked our great nation on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia, don’t you? Did Iran fund them?

    • Submitted by Colin Brownlow on 09/18/2019 - 10:57 am.

      Joe for crying out loud, get your fact’s right. Yes there was a cash transfer to the Iranians. Here is the fact check link from the PBS newshour:
      Inflating the size of the transfer by two orders of magnitude is really playing fast and loose with the facts.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/18/2019 - 11:20 am.

      I don’t care for Iran. But I am far more concerned about our “allies” the Saudis.

      Over the last 30 years, Iran has done some damage to us. They’ve funded extremist groups, some of whom have killed Americans. Compared to the Saudis, it’s not much though.

      The religious fanatics that control religion in SA has been exporting virulent anti-Americanism for decades, with the approval of the government there. Nineteen of them blew up the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon. It is one of the most brutal and repressive governments on the planet. They killed a political opponent in a foreign land, and cut up the body with a bone saw. One shudders to think of what they do to opponents when they are playing on their home field.

      Joe, when you mention “Giving them 150 BILLION dollars in cash…”, are you referring to the Iranian assents that were frozen by liberal Democratic President Jimmy Carter? Because that wasn’t “giving” them anything, it was merely returning cash the previous government of Iran had sent here for fighter jets, which of course Carter never let them have. Of course the reason the 150 BILLION was sent in cash (nearly always referred to as “pallets of cash” by conservatives) is that US law prohibits electronic transfers of funds to Iran.

      (And you gotta love the way conservatives capitalize BILLIONS, except when addressing the exploding Trump deficit.)

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 09/18/2019 - 11:26 am.

      I would be angry at America too if a repressive dictator was installed as the leader of my country, in replacement of a democratically-elected leader.

      You paint with a broad brush here, it’s doubtful you’ve had a conversation with any Iranians. In fact, Iran is riding a youth boom. Most of the people in the country were born after the revolution, and have little interest or regard for the current, despotic regime. They are much more forward looking in many ways. They are much more secular, less insular, and favor improved relations with America.

      The demagoguery espoused here is not conducive for a productive conversation.

    • Submitted by Brian Gandt on 09/18/2019 - 05:03 pm.

      Joe, foreign policy isn’t about who likes us and who doesn’t.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/18/2019 - 11:17 am.

    I can’t help but wonder which one(s) of Mr. Smith’s loved ones he’d be willing to sacrifice to a nuclear war in the Middle East. Once we all have that information, his reference to “appeasement” in the case of Iran will have at least some minimal credibility. Without that information, and the implied warmongering that goes with it, the “appeasement” argument is just blowing nuclear-tinged smoke.

    My recollection is that the 150 billion dollars referred to is / was not our money, so it was not a gift to Iran in any real sense. It was Iranian money in U.S. banks that had been frozen because of Iran’s saber-rattling. Release of the money back to Iran was part of the deal agreed to in the treaty. In negotiations, in order to get something, you often have to give something in return. It’s a common part of diplomacy.

    Iran doesn’t seem to have ceased its sponsorship of the occasional terrorist attack whether the treaty was in place or not. Having the treaty in place at least provided some restrictions, and some consequences for violating the terms of the treaty in the form of economic and technical sanctions by all the signatories, including our allies. By every account I’ve been able to come across from a reputable source, Iran was living up to the terms of the treaty right up to the moment when the President unilaterally decided to end our participation in it, so it was hardly a joke, and the party that had no intention of following the treaty’s terms would appear to be the United States, under Mr. Trump’s direction, not Iran.

    The Iranian government may well hate the United States, but an international agreement with enforcement provisions that were being implemented when necessary was a useful counterbalance to the Jihadi tendencies of Iranian leadership (as well as the jingoistic tendencies of American leadership). Their government’s top people might hate the U.S. with or without a treaty (it’s a theocratic state, after all, while ours is secular), but fewer lives are likely to be lost with the treaty than without it.

  4. Submitted by Misty Martin on 09/18/2019 - 12:26 pm.


    Good research (as always). I don’t think that President Trump is the dealmaker he credits himself to be either, but he is both a huge liar and a hypocrite. If that makes folks want to re-elect him for another four (4) years, it saddens me greatly.

  5. Submitted by Brian Simon on 09/18/2019 - 12:54 pm.

    It’s worth noting another pattern in Trump thinking: that it is strictly tactical, short-term thinking; not strategic long-term thinking.

    For example, he’s proposing that the Fed reduces interest rates, while also claiming the economy is booming & ignoring the ballooning national debt (thanks to his reckless deficits). But if the feds lower interest rates now, they’ll have less room to maneuver if/when the economy actually tanks. Trump wants a short term economic boost to prop up his (underwater) approval ratings, regardless of the risk to the longer term economy.

    His Iran thinking is similar. Looking tough in the short term is more important to him than the long term ramifications of US actions in the middle east.

  6. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 09/18/2019 - 01:35 pm.

    I think the article title gives Trump way too much credit. It assumes he thinks about what he does. I think it is strictly reactionary what he does, no thinking involved. He believes the world revolves around him and if it isn’t about him or it’s negative news about him he reacts. It saves him a lot of time not having to think. After all he does have a pressing schedule of TV watching, no time for thinking.

  7. Submitted by Bob Petersen on 09/18/2019 - 03:25 pm.

    This is just the same old thing that people are tired of…no matter what Trump says or does, it has to be negative.
    Bicker all you want on if Iran has broke or not broke the previous, and weak, agreement that was there. Iran was breaking their end of the deal and we had allies that wanted to keep parts of it alive. Iran knew it could break it because they knew Obama was weak. After all, Obama basically said America needs to take a back seat to everyone else in the world and our lives are not going to be as good as they used to be. He called ISIS the B team, which formed and grew to it’s biggest size under his watch.
    Yes, the money may have belonged to people of the leadership of Iran. But their regime was hurting without that money and Obama let them off the hook. What does the regime in Iran do with money? They supply terrorist organizations to kill people, many times civilians as targets. The deal sucked but Obama went with it anyway.
    So now you have Trump come in and see what’s going on. He sees that this (among many other agreements) are bad, pure and simple. But no one ever talks about the details of these agreements, just that they are done. The US was always put at a disadvantage and has to pay more for everything. Why is that okay?
    To have a deal just to have a deal is ludicrous. Especially when you are dealing with a regime that has proven time and time again to break every agreement they’ve ever had.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 09/19/2019 - 09:38 am.

      This is just the same old thing that people are tired of…no matter what Trump says or does it matters nothing to his legions of red hatted followers.

      Lie 70% of the time, well they all lie.
      Pay off strippers, well Bill Clinton would have done it if he had the money
      Hire the best people and have 80% of them turnover: No big deal.
      Putin Yes, Nato No: Hey it’s a new world out there.
      Saudi leader carves up US resident: Maybe, maybe not…

      And now we have him shutting down whistle blowers on his own behavior. And the red hatted legions? Eyes closed, hands over their ears shouting NAH NAH NAH.

      And Trump opponents are the deranged ones????

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/19/2019 - 09:47 am.

      The world according to Trump:
      foreign policy by theft.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/19/2019 - 10:45 am.

      “So now you have Trump come in and see what’s going on. He sees that this (among many other agreements) are bad, pure and simple.”

      He saw nothing of the kind. He saw – or, more likely, was told – that the name of the President who signed the agreement was Barack Obama. That was all he needed to know to conclude that the agreement should be abandoned. Yes, his thought processes are that shallow and simplistic. I doubt that he has the first clue what the agreement provided.

      “To have a deal just to have a deal is ludicrous. Especially when you are dealing with a regime that has proven time and time again to break every agreement they’ve ever had.”

      I’ll just pause to let the irony of a Trump supporter making that statement sink in.

  8. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 09/18/2019 - 04:33 pm.

    For 60 years we have sold the Saudi’s every weapon they desire short of nukes. We have trained them on their soil with our best training resources to insure they know how to use these weapons.

    The Iranians are probably still using some of the stuff we sold them pre 1980…

    If Iran strikes Saudi Arabia that is between two nations perfectly capable of settling this between them, peaceably or not.

    Why would we have any need to get involved?

  9. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/18/2019 - 08:53 pm.

    Erik, at first I thought this was a joke “What do Trump’s Obama-era tweets on Iran tell us about his thinking?” His thinking is like trying to follow a grain of sand in a sand storm! Your publish date missed this great piece by a few hours “Pompeo inadvertently admitted the Iran crisis is a ‘direct result’ of Trump’s actions” Folks, lets admit at the end of the day there is no thinking to follow, we have an impulsive dictator want to be with some dictator loving followers that don’t believe in constitutions or governments, only in their own personal gains, they are like Trump the pirate “Take what you can, give nothing back” !

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