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Trump's threat to Iranian culture rekindles the 'madman' theory of international relations

Posted January 6, 2020 10:06 p.m. EST
Updated January 6, 2020 10:36 p.m. EST

— Surely a truly stable genius would not destroy priceless shrines, mosques or architectural gems. Probably not. But then again, maybe he would.

In some extreme attempt to rekindle the madman theory of international relations, the US President's recent threat to bomb Iranian cultural sites might make sense: As the Iranian regime plots its revenge for the killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, it suits Trump to seem like he might react in a disproportionate way. Plus his supporters love a tough rule breaker.

But as with many of Trump's knee jerk proclamations, his threats satisfy short-term political goals but appear to contradict long-term concepts of US interests.

For 40 years, the clerical regime in Iran has anchored its legitimacy on the idea it faces an existential threat from the United States. Not much that Trump could say would substantiate that claim more perfectly than a vow to desecrate ancient treasures of the Persian civilization.

To the rest of the world — and to critics inside the US -- his rhetoric is abhorrent. Even Trump's own defense secretary has disavowed the threat. And the President might change his tune once he learns that any attack on cultural sites could expose him and US soldiers to war crimes charges.

America has generally sought to save civilization rather than acting to destroy it like the Taliban or ISIS. But the President's insistence that he would target sites of Iranian cultural heritage is just one more sign of how Trump turned the US from a bulwark of stability to one of the most disorienting forces in a vulnerable world order.

"Do you still want to listen to the clowns advising you?"

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif asked Trump: "Do you still want to listen to the clowns advising you on our region?" in a tweet storm Monday emphasizing the massive turnout of mourners in Tehran for slain general Soleimani

"Have you EVER seen such a sea of humanity in your life @realdonaldtrump?" he added.

What the rest of the world is saying

As Iran mulls its response to the killing of its top commander, the fallout deepens. US military chiefs were aflutter on Monday after a letter hinting at a potential troop withdrawal from Iraq was mistakenly released. Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency assured followers on Twitter that despite Iran's threat to ignore JCPOA limits, international nuclear inspectors remain at work in the country.

Here's how the rest of the world is responding to these uncertain times:

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said states have a "right to take action in self defense," referencing the US drone strike, which the Trump administration has justified as pre-empting an "imminent" threat.

China's UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said the US violated basic norms of international relations by killing Soleimani. "We urge the United States not to abuse any further use of force," he said.

Trump "threatens with chaos, but we will respond with legal action," Iraqi Shite lawmaker Anaam al-Khizaee said in response to Trump's Sunday threat to impose sanctions on Iraq, a US ally, if US troops are expelled from the country.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adeil Abdul-Mahdi met with the US ambassador and stressed the need for joint action to implement the withdrawal of foreign forces, according to a statement from his office, CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq reports from Baghdad.

Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah threatened to cut the Gulf oil flow to America after Trump threatened sanctions on Iraq.

Israel is not "the main story," said Israel Defense Forces Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi in Tel Aviv, no doubt with some relief. Nevertheless, Israeli leaders should "watch closely" developments in Iran, he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry blamed the US for the "crisis" of the nuclear deal and said that attempts to "shift responsibility on Iran" will not "succeed". Russian and Iranian military leaders also spoke on the phone to "prevent escalation," per Russian state news agency TASS.

A Saudi prince, the kingdom's Deputy Defense Minister Khaled bin Salman, met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in DC to urge "restraint" and "de-escalation," a Saudi government source told CNN's Nic Robertson in Riyadh. "We don't want chaos in the region. We have been a target before. We could be a target again," the source said.

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