In a new interview with Time magazine, President Trump seems to slow-walk the idea of going to war with Iran. Asked about an attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman that the United States has blamed on Iran, Trump called it “very minor.” He also suggested that it wasn’t worth getting bogged down in another war because the United States isn’t as reliant upon Middle Eastern oil as it was in the past.
But while he has always talked tough about Iran, it’s not the first time he has suggested that U.S. interests aren’t really at play there. Recently, he has taken to arguing that the Iranians aren’t chanting “Death to America” since he came along.
He’s either not paying attention or is deluding himself.
Trump had this to say in the Time interview: “If you look at the rhetoric now compared to the days when they were signing [the 2015 Iran nuclear] agreement, where it was always, ‘Death to America, death to America, we will destroy America, we will kill America’ — I’m not hearing that too much anymore,” Trump said. “And I don’t expect to.”
He said much the same in an interview with Fox News on Friday and also at an Iowa fundraiser last week. “They don’t talk that way anymore,” he said. “They’re not talking that way anymore.”
And yet they are.
Just this month, when the supreme leader of Iran, Ali Khamanei, told Iranians to stand up to U.S. “bullying,” the call was reportedly met with chants of “Death to America” — or “marg bar Amreeka” in Farsi.
Hard-line cleric Ahmad Khatami last week said during Friday prayer sermons broadcast by Radio Tehran that the supreme leader’s words were equivalent to “Death to America.” According to the BBC:
Prior to and during the sermons, worshippers were heard chanting “Death to America,” “Death to Israel,” “Death to England” and “Death to the House of Saud” - the Saudi royal family.
In April, after the Trump administration officially designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, Iranian lawmakers convened by chanting “Death to America.”
In February, crowds gathered in Tehran on the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution and chanted “Death to America.” From the AP:
In Tehran, crowds streamed in the rain from a dozen of the capital’s far-flung neighbourhoods to mass in central Tehran Azadi, or Freedom Square, waving Iranian flags and chanting “Death to America” – a chant that has been standard fare at anti-US rallies across Iran.
And around that same time, Khamenei actually clarified the meaning of “Death to America.” He said it specifically referred to the president, his national security adviser and his secretary of state. “‘Death to America’ means death to Trump and John Bolton and [Mike] Pompeo,” Khamenei said. “It means death to American leaders, who happen to be these people at this time."
Trump’s implication seems to be that Iran is cowed by his actions, including designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization and withdrawing the United States from the Iran nuclear deal. Khamenei’s words and the continued chants seem to paint the opposite picture.
Measuring the popularity of the “Death to America” chant in Iran is a difficult thing to do — it is a slogan that dates back decades — but there is no real sign that it has fallen out of favor. Indeed, the chants continued even as Trump was making this claim over the past week.