America Should Uphold the Nuclear Deal with Iran: Part III
President Donald Trump’s stance on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the motives behind his opposition are a bit harder to pin down than most politicians. The president is no ideologue, and takes practical conservatism to a level unseen in recent American politics.
But while the virtues of homespun, practical conservatism are many, it can just as easily produce dangerous, homespun ignorance.
In a televised speech at the Rose Garden with the Lebanese prime minister, Trump praised Lebanon’s government for fighting Hezbollah—a militia with representation in the Lebanese parliament. A former U.S. official, in fact, has told Reuters that Hezbollah and Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq have been “very helpful” in recapturing vast swaths of the caliphate that ISIS declared in 2014.
Then on Sept. 26 Trump tweeted,
The tweet was in response to a video of the test firing of a Khoramshahr missile that aired on Iranian state television. The only problem is that the video footage was from a failed Iranian missile test last year.
But bombastic gaffes and seeking out advice from militaristic ideologues don’t automatically make the president and his administration militaristic.
In Bannon’s ‘60 Minutes’ interview, he said, “President Trump wants to get out of the deal and either go make a better deal or just view it from the outside.”
This doesn’t imply that Trump or his economic nationalist support base are interested in pursuing a costly, covert, or overt crusade to topple the Iranian regime.
Trump views his image above all else. If he thinks it will help his image to remain in the deal, he will. If he feels it would make him look like a strong leader to tell the rest of the world to take a hike, like he did with the Paris Climate Accord, he will do that instead.
Government officials recently told the Associated Press that “the future of the Iran nuclear deal may hinge on a face-saving fix for President Donald Trump so he doesn’t have to recertify the Islamic republic’s compliance every 90 days.” Likewise, White House sources have confirmed that Trump feels the periodic reviews mandated by Congress are a “source of embarrassment.”
The fact that Trump hates being forced to recertify a law he railed against fits his broader persona. Trump dislikes the nuclear deal with Iran for much the same reason he dislikes the Affordable Care Act—they’re not his deals.
Trump’s tirades against the JCPOA could be his way of railing against the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), which requires his personal stamp of approval every three months on his predecessor’s legacy.
The objections, however, of the deal’s normal critics (no one ever accused Trump of being normal) don’t make sense without any grand vision of forced regime change in Iran. Although the IAEA inspections are not as intrusive as people like Nikki Haley would prefer, at least the West gets to monitor Iran’s nuclear program—a luxury we don’t have with North Korea.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said recently, “if the U.S. leaves the treaty and Europe follows, then this deal will certainly collapse and Iran will go back to what it was before and, technically speaking, to a much higher level.”
The U.S. will never force Iran to give up its nuclear program, a program more than 80 percent of the Iranian population supports, without declaring war on the country and launching a full invasion. But if one believes General Wesley Clark, such a plan would not fall beneath many in the foreign policy establishment.
Furthermore, if Trump decertifies the deal and Congress reimposes sanctions, U.S. allies will likely not do the same. This would set the stage for a potential trade war between the U.S. and the rest of the developed world if the U.S. government tries to impose secondary sanctions on its allies’ financial institutions.
“This could be the calm before the storm,” said Trump at the White House on Friday.
"On Iran? On ISIS? On what?" asked a reporter.
“You’ll see,” came the subtle reply, with a wink, as the president and first lady posed with military leaders and their wives for a photo-op.
If Trump is as swayable on Iran as he was on Afghanistan, then Americans have already seen.
They saw for eight long years as thousands of lives and millions of dollars sank in the Levant. They saw as the most left-wing administration in the nation’s history rose from the frustration Americans felt toward a senseless, so-called “conservative” foreign policy. Then they saw as ISIS rose from the ashes they left behind, to become a greater menace than the original evil they sought to depose.
Barack Obama nailed it in 2012.
“The 1980s called and they want their foreign policy back,” he said, mocking Mitt Romney’s boorish, Cold War-lite statements.
Apparently, they’re still on the phone.