Trump’s Iran Fantasy Risks American Power

This piece was originally published in the Kentucky Standard at the following link:

“Diplomacy takes place in reality,” wrote Roger Cohen in a recent column for the New York Times. He was writing about President Trump’s Fantasy Land diplomatic approach with Iran.

On Friday, Trump pledged to not certify Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed by the Obama administration with five other global powers (P5+1). Congress passed legislation following the agreement which obliged the President to certify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA every 90 days. Congress will have 60 days to decide whether to impose new sanctions. If they do, the US will be in violation of the JCPOA and the other parties could back out in response.

If reports are true, congress seems unlikely to impose more sanctions. Even those who were hesitant to support the Iran Deal, view it as functioning.

Trump, operating in his own fantasy world, suggests that he’ll unilaterally back out of the deal if congress fails to enact any new sanctions.

At issue is Trump’s characterization of Iran’s lack of compliance. The President claims that Iran’s ballistic missile program, support for Hezbollah, and actions in the region (Iraq, Syria, Yemen) go against ‘the spirit’ of the JCPOA. While Iran’s actions are certainly problematic, they aren’t apart of the nuclear accord. The deal focused solely on the nuclear program and nothing else. I should note here that all of the issues listed above were offered up by the Iranians as part of a grand bargain in 2003. The George W. Bush Administration refused to acknowledge the offer’s existence, but curiously enough they did castigate the Swiss diplomats who passed along Iran’s offer. (In the absence of US Diplomats, the Swiss represent US interests in Iran).

We should also be aware, despite Trump’s statements to the contrary, Iran is in full compliance with their obligations under the JCPOA. At each interval, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the other members of the P5+1 have certified Iranian compliance. Even members of Trump’s cabinet say Iran has complied.

The deal, which came after nearly 13 years of negotiations and only picked up steam after American negotiators (at the urging of our allies) were willing to concede on acknowledging Iran’s right to enrich uranium and exploring ways to allow it to do so, gives Iran nuclear based sanctions relief in exchange for invasive and stringent inspections of all enrichment and production facilities, as well as prohibitions on the number of centrifuges in use, the level of enrichment, the amount being held in stock piles, and pledge to never seek nuclear weapons. Experts, nearly unanimously, suggest this is the best shot at preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Trump, remaining in Never-Never Land, thinks he can somehow get a better deal. Both our allies and the Iranians have said there will be no renegotiating the terms of the JCPOA. Our allies have, as always, pledged support for addressing the other outstanding issues. But backing out of the JCPOA risks fraying an already tense alliance.

It’s unfathomable for any clear-eyed American to suggest backing out of the Iran Deal is in our interests, both in the region and abroad. Regionally speaking, scuttling the JCPOA means Iran accelerating toward a nuclear weapon, our gulf allies likely seeking their own nuclear bombs, and continued destabilization of the world most important region for exporting oil.

Abroad, any talk of abrogating the Iran deal will pour cold water on any talks to settle Trump’s battle with Kim Jong Un. Could the North Koreans trust American assurances, whenever we just backed out of a hard earned JCPOA for no good reason? Going further, why would any country, for that matter, trust an American-led initiative after Trump’s statements on Friday?

Additionally, America will without a doubt jettison its position at the apex of global leadership. That position only exists in an environment in which America’s word is its bond and our partners abroad can feel comfortable knowing we’ll uphold our end of the bargain. The international community is safer with the US at the helm. Marching down Trump’s Rabbit Hole runs the risk of handing over leadership to Russia or China. That’s not a world I want to leave future generations.

But, we also must realize that Trump’s bombast also hurts chances at reform in Iran. Anytime the West, specifically the US, takes a hardline against the Islamic Republic, Iranians respond by rallying around the flag. Trump’s actions have been the biggest gift to the hardliners and will undoubtedly damaging efforts at reform by the moderates.

The bottom line is President Trump seem hell-bent on scuttling the Iran Deal. Rather than pursue diplomacy in the real world, he’s embarking on some quixotic journey with no objectives based in reality. And in doing so he risks further entanglements in the region and halts reform in Iran.

The globe deserves better. America deserves better.

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