Things are falling into place. Donald Trump really is the president – the man who never held political office before, whose grasp of how our government (or any government) works is a few steps below rudimentary, who has no experience in foreign policy, other than with the intricacies of resort and hotel development in far-off lands, and with the issues involved in staging a beauty pageant in Moscow, and who has no military experience – and 62,984,828 Americans were fine with that. He was rich. He must know things. Yes, 65,853,514 Americans voted for Hillary Clinton, but in the wrong geographic locations. There is the Electoral College. Trump had 304 votes there. Hillary Clinton had 227 – and that was that. That’s our system, for better or worse.
It’s worse. Donald Trump doesn’t know things. Even with a Republican House and Senate he couldn’t organize the repeal of Obamacare, if he even understood what Obamacare did. He did get his one ultraconservative Supreme Court justice – the son of the woman who was Reagan’s EPA Administrator – the first agency director ever to be cited for contempt of Congress and who resigned in disgrace. That must have been sweet, perhaps a kind of revenge, and he did get his massive tax cuts for the rich and for corporations, but those will explode the nations’ deficit by an additional trillion dollars or more, and no one who is not rich or a corporation is seeing any of that doing any of them any good. Republicans have stopped talking about how wonderful that was. It wasn’t. The midterm elections are looking bleak for them.
Things are falling into place. Donald Trump’s presidency is what many thought it might be, a series of empty gestures and “successes” that turn out to be sputtering failures, which must make him angry – but at least he can blow up one thing Obama did. He couldn’t organize the repeal of Obamacare, but he could blow up Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran – so he did. That would be his one unalloyed success.
That may prove to be a disaster, but this had to happen. The Washington Post’s Anne Gearan and Karen DeYoung cover the details:
President Trump on Tuesday said he is pulling the United States out of the international nuclear deal with Iran, announcing that economic sanctions against Tehran will be reinstated and declaring that the 2015 pact was rooted in “fiction.”
Trump’s decision, announced at the White House, makes good on a campaign pledge to undo an accord he has criticized as weak, poorly negotiated and “insane.”
“The Iran deal is defective at its core. If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen,” Trump said in remarks at the White House. “In just a short period of time, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons.”
That period of time isn’t short, and this could be dangerous:
While he cast the U.S. action as essential for national security and a warning to Iran and any other nuclear aspirant that “the United States no longer makes empty threats,” it could also increase tensions with key U.S. allies that heavily lobbied the administration in recent weeks not to abandon the pact and see it as key to keeping peace in the region. They tried to convince Trump that his concerns about “flaws” in the accord could be addressed without violating its terms or ending it altogether.
They know a thing or two about the world and they’re worried:
After Trump’s announcement, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement expressing “regret and concern” and pledging their “continuing commitment” to terms of the agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
“This resolution remains the binding international legal framework for the resolution of the dispute about the Iranian nuclear programme,” British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in their statement. “We urge all sides to remain committed to its full implementation and to act in a spirit of responsibility.”
That was a plea to Iran not to take steps that would break the deal – something Iranian officials have said at times they would do if Trump followed through on his frequent threats to yank the United States out of the agreement.
They’d rather not have a nuclear-armed Iran. Trump just made that more likely:
While the U.S. exit does not render the rest of the deal moot, it is not clear whether there is enough incentive on the part of Iran to sustain the agreement. Relief from U.S. banking sanctions was a main reason for Tehran to come to the table.
“In response to US persistent violations and unlawful withdrawal from the nuclear deal, as instructed by President Rouhani, I’ll spearhead a diplomatic effort to examine whether remaining JCPOA participants can ensure its full benefits for Iran,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. “Outcome will determine our response.”
The United States will re-impose all sanctions and could add new ones, U.S. officials said.
That will make things worse, and Trump can make things worse for our allies:
Although the United States cannot prevent the Europeans or others from having financial relationships with Iran, nearly all global transactions at some point pass through dollar exchanges and U.S. banks, arrangements that are now prohibited…
Trump’s declaration puts a variety of companies in difficult positions. Though the French oil giant Total had hoped the contract it signed would be excluded from the newly re-imposed sanctions that seemed unlikely Tuesday.
We can punish and ruin any country that wants to trade with Iran, even if we’re not part of their arrangements with Iran. We can ruin France and Germany and Japan too – and we will. And we can ruin American companies too:
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration was revoking licenses for Boeing and Airbus, which were among the biggest deals since the nuclear accord. Boeing had planned to sell IranAir about 80 aircraft worth about $17 billion; Airbus had agreed to sell 100 aircraft worth about $19 billion.
“The Boeing and Airbus licenses will be revoked,” Mnuchin said. “The existing licenses will be revoked.”
Boeing can kiss that seventeen billion dollars goodbye – Trump needs this success – but then, but then:
Trump immediately faced questions about whether he has a plan for dealing with Iran beyond scrapping the accord, and the administration will now be under pressure to show that it has a strategy for the Middle East beyond undoing what was put in place under President Barack Obama.
“I don’t see a path,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), stressing that even if Trump had promised during the campaign to rip up and replace the Iran deal, “they don’t have a real plan here.”
There is no plan, but there was consternation:
The reaction to the president’s decision did not split neatly along party lines. While some GOP leaders applauded his decision, heralding it as an opportunity to strike a new and better arrangement, several other senior Republicans – including those who voted against the Iran deal – said the decision to withdraw was “foolhardy” and “a mistake.”
“The Iran Deal is a deeply flawed agreement. However, without proof that Iran is in violation of the agreement, it is a mistake to fully withdraw from this deal,” Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio), a senior member of the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees, said in a statement.
Even House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement that it was “unfortunate” that the United States could not come up with a way of fixing the Iran deal instead of withdrawing, and he thanked the European parties to the pact for trying to work with Washington “toward that goal.”
He expressed hope that they might be able to find a new way of addressing Iranian aggression before new sanctions are implemented.
These are Republicans siding with the Europeans, against Trump, their guy, but there’s even more:
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that his government remains committed to a nuclear deal with world powers, despite the U.S. decision to withdraw, but is also ready to resume uranium enrichment should the accord no longer offer benefits.
Rouhani, who had made the deal his signature achievement, spoke following President Trump’s announcement that the United States would re-impose wide-ranging sanctions on Iran. The removal of those sanctions, including on the Iranian oil and banking sectors, had been the key to persuading Iran to accept limits on its nuclear program.
The Iranian leader said he had directed his diplomats to negotiate with the remaining signatories – including European countries, Russia and China – and that the nuclear agreement could survive without the United States.
He directed his diplomats to drive a wedge between America and its allies:
“If the Europeans are willing to give us sufficient guarantees, it makes sense for us to stay in the deal,” the deputy speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Motahari, said in remarks carried by the Iranian Students’ News Agency.
Motahari said Iran should wait several months to see whether Europe plans to resist U.S. pressure to disengage from the Iranian economy, where European companies have invested in sectors ranging from auto manufacturing to oil exploration and tourism.
If Europe succeeds, “this is a victory for Iran, because it will have created a gap between the United States and Europe,” he said.
Trump just made a big victory for Iran possible, but it’s more complicated than that:
Rouhani staked much of his political credibility on the nuclear deal with world powers. But even as oil exports picked up in the wake of the agreement, ordinary Iranians have said they felt few tangible benefits from the accord.
Widespread economic unrest, currency fluctuations and a recent judicial ban on the popular messaging app Telegram have weakened the president, analysts said. A collapse of the nuclear pact could weaken Rouhani further, giving room for hardline opponents of the accord to exert more influence.
Trump just made a big victory for Iran’s nasty hardliners quite possible too. Iran could become much more troublesome. Trump just made things worse:
Jennifer Rubin breaks that down:
First, Iran is in the catbird’s seat. It negotiated with the Obama administration the release of billions of dollars in funds that had been frozen under the sanctions regimen and disabled the international alliance on sanctions. It has successfully split that alliance and now can do what it pleases with its nuclear program – either choose to remain in the deal with the Europeans or proceed again with its nuclear weapons program. Many will see this as a huge diplomatic win for the embattled regime faced with street protests. If the fear of Israeli or U.S. military action will, the theory goes, act as a deterrent to a race for the bomb, then that same restraint existed before and during the term of the JCPOA. What the West has jeopardized is an inspection system, far from ideal but better than we have ever had, and a unified front on confronting Iran.
Second, whether our allies will now cooperate with this on nonnuclear matters including sanctions for Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support for terrorism is an open question. The European Union has every reason to be wary of U.S. promises. In making it harder to deal with issues that were outside of the JCPOA, Trump makes our overall policy to Iran weaker and less coherent.
Third, the administration’s total inability to plan ahead is on full display. Will we exempt allies from newly imposed sanctions? Do we have a military plan if Iran does make a race for the bomb – and if so, will allies join with us after we have backed out of the deal? How will we enforce sanctions?
But wait, there’s more:
It’s far from clear what Israel gains from all this. If its intention all along has been to substitute a military solution for the JCPOA, it will find itself isolated internationally and, fairly or not, be blamed for the outbreak of hostilities. In some respects it has far less room to maneuver than it did before, in part because conflict with Iran over its deployment of forces in Syria may now trigger a far wider conflict. Moreover, the Israeli prime minister’s role in provoking the end of the JCPOA and any military encounter that follows would severely strain U.S.-Israel relations.
And there’s this:
Trump and the faction of the vast majority of GOP lawmakers who supported this move now own the results. If Iran moves closer to a bomb, if it makes a quick dash for a bomb, if military action ensues, if there is a serious breach with allies or if other non-proliferation efforts are hindered, they will own the results. The impact on discussions with North Korean talks will unfold, but China may very well give us less assistance and be more skittish about U.S. commitments. Trump won’t have the Iran deal to kick around anymore.
Alex Ward picks up on that last point about Korea:
What does Donald Trump’s stance on the Iran deal have to do with his relationship with North Korea? It turns out, quite a lot.
That’s because the president’s desire to pull out of a historic nuclear deal with Iran could likely hurt his chances of reaching a significant weapons agreement with Pyongyang. There’s a simple reason why, experts tell me: If Trump backtracks on America’s promises to Tehran, then North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has no reason to trust Trump during negotiations about Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
Kevin Drum says Ward has this backwards:
This assumes that Kim will conclude that Trump can’t be trusted to keep his word. But if Kim is smart, that’s not at all what he’ll assume.
What is it that motivates Trump? We’ve all said it a million times – taking revenge on Barack Obama. And more generally, taking revenge on the political and cultural elites that have mocked him his entire life. Trump isn’t especially notorious for breaking his word, but he is notorious for nursing eternal dreams of vengeance against his enemies.
Drum argues that’s how Trump defines success:
It hardly takes three-dimensional-chess analogies to figure out what this means. Obama couldn’t make a deal with Kim, which means Trump desperately wants to. Foreign policy elites have long declared North Korea a rogue state, so Trump wants to show that they were just too stupid to figure out how to handle the Kim family. And if Trump does make a deal, it will be HIS deal. He’ll defend it loudly and passionately no matter what. A nuclear missile could be in the air a minute from the White House and Trump would still be claiming that he made a great deal with Kim.
That’s a bit harsh, but probably true. He is who he is, but Slate’s Fred Kaplan says that is unacceptable:
With his decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, President Trump has committed his most irresponsible act in foreign policy to date.
The move – which Trump took against the urgings of European heads of state, Israeli security officials, dozens of current and former diplomats, his own secretary of defense, and even the conservative chairman of the House Armed Services Committee – can only be attributed to one or more of three motives: a misunderstanding of the deal’s terms, a need to torpedo yet another one of President Obama’s accomplishments, or a desire to weaken or destroy the government of Iran.
Kaplan gets specific about that:
From early on in his presidential campaign, Trump promised to kill the accord, which he has repeatedly called “the worst deal” ever “drawn up by anybody.” Here is where ignorance enters the picture. As evidence of his charge, Trump used to claim that the deal required us to pay Iran $100 billion – when, in fact, it merely required us to return Iranian assets that we’d frozen. Far from a bad deal, this seemed like a fair trade: We had frozen their assets as punishment for their illegal nuclear program; therefore, in exchange for dismantling the program, we would unfreeze the assets…
Trump has also complained that the deal has not stopped Iran from testing ballistic missiles or supporting terrorists. In fact, the deal’s negotiators made no claims that it would – any more than U.S.–Soviet arms-control treaties during the Cold War blocked Moscow from various activities that threatened U.S. interests. Besides, several existing sanctions related to Iran’s ballistic missiles and support for terrorist movements remained active after the deal went into effect.
As with Obamacare, Trump didn’t even understand what this was all about, and details matter:
Trump complained, as have many other critics, that the deal – which was signed in 2015 by Iran, the United States, and five other countries (France, Britain, Russia, China, and Germany) – expires in a mere 10 years after the deal’s signing, at which point Iran could simply resume its nuclear ambitions. It’s true that some of the deal’s aspects expire in 2025 – the ban on production of advanced centrifuges, the monitoring of Iran’s civil nuclear procurement, the automatic U.N. “snapback” of sanctions if Iran cheats. But many other restrictions hold until 2030. These include the 3.67 percent cap on enriched uranium (far below the level of enrichment necessary for bomb-grade material), the stockpile gap on that level of low-enriched uranium (meaning that even if they enriched it to weapons-grade levels, they wouldn’t have enough to turn it into a bomb), and the ban on heavy-water reactors (which would be needed to turn the uranium into a bomb). More important still, international inspectors are allowed to keep intrusively monitoring centrifuge production until 2040. And other pledges that Iran made in the agreement – to permit other sorts of inspection, to reprocess spent fuel (rather than turn it into weapons), and to continue abiding by the Non-Proliferation Treaty – have no expiration date.
In short, no one was on the “cusp” of anything, and Kaplan sums up the situation:
Trump has wrecked one of the most successful arms-control deals in modern history, destroyed any possible leverage to negotiate a new one, further disrupted unity with our allies, further damaged U.S. credibility, strengthened hardline factions in Iran, exacerbated instability in the Middle East, and possibly boosted the chance of war – which some of Trump’s abettors desire.
Kaplan is not impressed, nor is Martin Longman:
This represents the complete collapse of American leadership on the global stage. Based on nothing but fantasies and conspiracies, America has now blown up the whole anti-proliferation mechanism of the international community. This is a mechanism we had the lead role in creating and maintaining, and also the most important role in enforcing.
Our Western partners will attempt to maintain what Trump has left in tatters, but this is more out of reflex than plausibility. Future deals will be impossible to construct without American participation, and our word is now mud.
It’s not possible to firmly define the scope of this catastrophe because we don’t know if it will lead to war, to nuclear war, to nuclear terrorism, or just to chaos and a new world with America sidelined as a pariah state in need of containment.
Hart Williams simplifies that:
We don’t keep our word. We don’t keep promises we’ve guaranteed under international law. The USA is now a rogue state. Thanks, doofus.
Of course nearly two-thirds of Americans wanted Trump to stick with the Iran deal – for what that’s worth. That’s not worth much – not now. Donald Trump really is the president. And that’s that.