US President Donald Trump shows the document reinstating sanctions against Iran. Photo:  AFP / Saul Loeb
Then-US president Donald Trump shows the document reinstating sanctions against Iran after pulling out of the JCPOA in 2018, a move applauded by Israel at the time. Photo: AFP / Saul Loeb

US President Donald Trump has set a precedent by using Twitter to convey his messages to Americans, and to the world and its leaders. Gone are the days when a president had to follow strict diplomatic norms and a set code of conduct. Now, all it takes is to set up a Twitter account and “off goes the fireball.”

President Trump’s trump card seemed to work with North Korea. He had called the North Korean leader a “Rocket Man” and threatened the country with “fire and fury.” The most famous tweet was when he threatened that he had a bigger nuclear button than Kim Jong-un did, which worked.

Trump’s way of handling the North Korea issue, although very unconventional, did work, however. Kim made a historic visit to South Korea, which was followed by the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore. Even though Trump has not been able to get the required results from his meeting with Kim, at least there is no talk now of a “nuclear Armageddon” on the Korean Peninsula, which itself is a big achievement.

Trump’s recent Twitter threat to Iran, however, marks a new beginning in the US president’s diplomatic offensive. Recently he tweeted a warning to Iran of “CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED.” Trumplomacy thus has taken Iran by storm, and there is no way anyone can ignore it.

The question is whether this intimidation tactic is going to give Trump the same successes as it did with North Korea. The answer is very likely no.

Unlike North Korea, Iran has a sizable population and economy, both ranked 18th in the world. Iran is blessed with natural resources, energy resources and high-quality human resources. And crucially, it stands at the tip of the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s oil lifeline.

Iran also has some very powerful regional allies. It has good relations with Russia, China, Pakistan, Turkey and India. All of them are regional powers and hold considerable influence on global governance and trade. And all of these countries want a strong, stable and prosperous Iran.

Unfortunately enough for Trump, his European allies are also not in unison with his pulling out of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, better known as the Iran nuclear deal) that his predecessor Barack Obama negotiated. European conglomerates have invested heavily in Iran’s energy and private sectors.

Iran’s military is also a hindrance to Trump’s intimidation tactics. Unlike North Korea, which has a highly centralized military that hasn’t seen action for quite a while, Iran’s military has had quite a share of professional experience. The Iraq-Iran War, the tensions with the United States, and internal counterterrorism operations have all provided Iranian forces with ample experience.

Iran no doubt also has a wide network of proxies in the region, where it is undoubtedly involved in asymmetric warfare. That makes it harder for the US to stay in the region unhindered.

Another military and economic factor is the Strait of Hormuz. Although no country is legally authorized to control the oil-shipping lanes, in the case of conflict Iran could cause havoc in the strait and disrupt oil supplies, which could be disastrous for the world economy even if it’s only for a few weeks. Trump won’t want that – he’s a businessman himself.

Trump is the leader of the US and of course in that capacity a very learned man, but he should have a look at history. The former president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, outspokenly rejected the offer of “carrot and sticks.” The current president, Hassan Rouhani, is a soft-spoken gentleman – does Trump want the likes of Ahmadinejad coming back to power?

We all hope that the world will overcome this period of instability and uncertainty. Let the US Congress and American think-tanks, especially military think-tanks, think rationally and formulate a suitable strategy acceptable to all parties.

The world needs peace and harmony, so that societies may prosper in a peaceful environment. We live in a global village; no country can live in peace in isolation. Any mishap in any corner of the world can have global impacts. We must think wisely and act smartly.

I am afraid any misadventure with Iran may be a disaster for the whole region, especially the neighboring states. However, its impact might also be global. Let’s pray that our leaders guide us to a better and brighter future.

Zamir Awan

Professor Zamir Ahmed Awan is a sinologist at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) Chinese Studies Center of Excellence, Islamabad, Pakistan. Posted to the Pakistani Embassy in Beijing as science counselor (technical affairs) from 2010-16, he was responsible for promoting cooperation between Pakistan and China in science, technology, and higher education.

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