The Foreign-Policy Parallels Between Trump and the Ayatollahs Are Uncanny

Neither the U.S. president nor Iran's leaders are as willing to go toe-to-toe as they might seem.

It’s hard to imagine two parties more at loggerheads than President Trump and the Iranian leadership. They seem to look for every opportunity to undermine each other and attack each other. The strange thing, though, is they seem to have very similar instincts when it comes to foreign policy. That tendency makes them more combative to each other, but it also has a silver lining. Neither one is nearly as willing to go toe-to-toe as it might otherwise seem.

The parallels are uncanny. To start with the obvious, each side sees surprise as an instrument of leverage, and each actively searches for ways to be unpredictable. In this worldview, slow and deliberate policy processes are for losers—they merely cede advantage to the adversary. Both seek to seize the news cycle, and each seems determined to zig when everyone expects them to zag. Each time one side stuns the world, it is not by accident; it is by design. And it happens over and over again.

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Jon Alterman
Senior Vice President, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and Director, Middle East Program