Tillerson took the microphone and began again, his voice unwavering. The real problem, he said, was that Iran had been attacking Americans since 1979, when Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held fifty-two diplomats for more than a year. “The modern-day U.S.-Iran relationship is now almost forty years old,” he went on, still looking at Zarif. “It was born out of a revolution, with our Embassy under siege—and we were very badly treated.” He enumerated Iranian-sponsored attacks in Lebanon in the nineteen-eighties and in Iraq more recently, which together killed hundreds of American citizens. “The relationship has been defined by violence—against us,” he said.[emphasis mine]
Tillerson wondered aloud whether the entire effort to improve relations with Iran wasn’t doomed by history. “We have more pounds, and our hair is gray,” he said. “Maybe we don’t have it in our capacity to change the nature of this relationship, because we are bound by it—maybe we leave it to the next generation to try.” He thought for a moment. “I don’t know. I’m not a diplomat.”
As Lavrov, muttering loudly in Russian, stood and led his assistants out of the room, the meeting broke up, with the officials talking in hushed tones about what had happened. For proponents of the nuclear deal, it was an unacceptably risky bit of brinkmanship. For the [Snowflake] Administration, it was an ideal expression of a bellicose new foreign policy, based on the campaign promise of America First. An aide to Tillerson later told me, “It was one of the finest moments in American diplomacy in the last fifty years.”
Consider that for a second: the top American diplomat conducts a sensitive negotiation that directly affects the national security strategy by asserting that he is not a diplomat.
Even if you give Drillerson some benefit of the doubt and assume that the comment was his way of framing the supposed intractability of the US-Iran impasse, this is an amazingly stupid and unproductive strategy, assuming your goal is to avoid a completely unnecessary war. Maybe we shouldn't assume that.
The larger strategic implications are even more counterproductive. We've clearly signaled the Iranians that there is no upside to making any concessions to enter into a non-proliferation treaty with us, since we've done everything possible to undermine it. The signal is equally clear to North Koreans that they shouldn't even bother to negotiate with us, since our word is no good.
Perhaps most dangerous of all is the signal being sent to our most important allies and friends (and, you know, Russia). This is yet another instance in which they have to decide whether to go on without us, since we have shown the world that no one else matters, and that we are more than willing to shoot ourselves in the foot if it gives us an excuse to tell everyone else to go fuck themselves.
This is poker of the highest stakes, being played by middling checkers players who don't really care about the outcome. It's a dangerous game, and we're all going to get burned. But hey, Big Daddy Cheeto gets to pretend to be a tough guy again, right? The scariest part is imagining who this toxic dipshit will select to replace Drillerson in the coming days when he decides he's had enough.