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.
In addition, each side is deliberately disruptive. Each is dismissive of the concept of a rules-based international order, which it sees as a conspiracy to deny their country its due. They come to their skepticism from different places: Trump often views foreign countries as freeloaders, benefitting from U.S. protection while contributing little to the common good. Iranians view much of the world as co-conspirators in an U.S.-led effort to weaken, subjugate, and humiliate Iran. Still, they come out in the same place.