President Donald Trump’s tweets in support of the protests in Iran marked a rhetorical departure from President Barack Obama, but arguably an even sharper break from previous administrations. There is a longstanding history of U.S. presidents using the bully pulpit as a critical component of American leadership in the world. President George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda” became a central feature of his foreign policy legacy. His actions gave credibility to those who sought freedom, while authoritarian leaders were forced to listen. From his many successes, such as the color revolutions along Russia’s borders, to his shortcomings in the Middle East, America unapologetically promoted its values.
Trump has approached the bully pulpit as a vehicle to settle personal scores, with his support for the Iranian protesters standing as an outlier. His dark inaugural address avoided any trappings of Bush’s expansive second inaugural address and unveiled an America more focused on its interests than influencing the world with its values.
Given the tendency for the president’s tweets to be improvisational, it is less sure that his use of the bully pulpit will elicit a positive response from those in Iran who are seeking a better future. The real impact will come from the decisions regarding the nuclear deal with Iran in the coming weeks, beyond the bully pulpit of Twitter. One possibility is that Trump will settle for containment of the Islamic Republic, disappointing those who are demanding change in the streets and allowing Iran’s clerics to write off the U.S. president’s tweets.
You can find more reactions to this question over at the Carnegie Endowment’s Diwan blog here