White House

U.S.-Iran confrontation escalates as Trump threatens ‘obliteration’ after Rouhani’s insult

Schumer: ‘The danger of bumbling into war is acute‘

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., conduct a news conference in the Capitol after a briefing with senators on the Iran nuclear deal in September 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Responding to Iranian officials calling his White House “mentally retarded,” President Donald Trump called their latest statement “ignorant and insulting” before warning them he is prepared to use “great and overwhelming force” against their country.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani used the same televised Tuesday address that included an insult for Trump and his staff to say new sanctions the Trump administration slapped on some of their top leaders “useless.” He sharply criticized Trump’s hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, as “a source of belligerence and aggression” in the region. (Bolton for years has advocated a U.S. policy of seeking regime change in Tehran.)

Trump and Rouhani are engaged in a lukewarm conflict that features a war of words, a downed American military spy drone, and a slew of U.S. sanctions on Iranian individuals and entities that have hobbled the country’s economy. The U.S. leader last week first approved a retaliatory military strike on Iranian radar and missile batteries before calling it off and urging the country’s leaders to return to the negotiating table. Rouhani has dismissed that call.

[Trump’s 2020 re-election rally signals 2016 strategy may be used again]

Trump issued a response via Twitter Tuesday morning that signaled talks are, at best, a long way off. He continued his use of sharp words and rhetorical brinksmanship to deal with hardline governments in places like Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and others. Democrats and some foreign policy experts warn his style eventually could trigger a war.

“Iran’s very ignorant and insulting statement, put out today, only shows that they do not understand reality. Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force,” Trump tweeted.

“In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration. No more John Kerry & Obama!” he added, referring to the former secretary of state and former President Barack Obama.

That duo led a Western coalition that struck a deal with Iran over its nuclear arms ambitions. Trump withdrew the United States from that pact, saying he wants a new deal that also puts clamps on Iran’s other actions in the Middle East, such as its support of proxy groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

“The wonderful Iranian people are suffering, and for no reason at all. Their leadership spends all of its money on Terror, and little on anything else,” Trump wrote in a Twitter thread that posted at 10:42 a.m., also featuring a reminder about Iran’s support for anti-American groups during the George W. Bush administration’s Iraq war: “The U.S. has not forgotten Iran’s use of IED’s & EFP’s (bombs), which killed 2000 Americans, and wounded many more..”

The U.S. president has attempted since giving the stand-down order Thursday around 7:30 p.m. (ET) to argue that his decision against military strikes showed him to be a compassionate commander-in-chief.

“Iran leadership doesn’t understand the words ‘nice’ or ‘compassion,’ they never have,” he wrote. “Sadly, the thing they do understand is Strength and Power, and the USA is by far the most powerful Military Force in the world, with 1.5 Trillion Dollars invested over the last two years alone..”

[With Iran reversal, did Trump break pledge to never ‘telegraph’ military ops?]

A day earlier, Trump explained to reporters why his administration’s newest sanctions included economic penalties for Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei

“The supreme leader of Iran is one who ultimately is responsible for the hostile conduct of the regime. He's respected within his country. His office oversees the regime’s most brutal instruments, including the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps,” Trump said.

Many congressional Democrats are worried Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure campaign” against Khamenei’s government has caused Iran to become economically hobbled and desperate — and willing to take increasingly aggressive actions.

“Ever since President Trump unilaterally decided to abandon the Iran nuclear agreement, our two countries have been on a path to greater conflict. In the past month, Iran has heightened its aggressive action in the region,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday morning.

“Escalation happens quickly in the Middle East,” he added. “Without a steady hand at the helm, without a coherent plan or strategy, thing this president has lacked since the moment he took office, the danger of bumbling into war is acute.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.