Trump’s detonation of the Iran Deal is a monumental disaster.
On the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran Deal), dozens of retired generals and admirals, in an open letter, said:
“There is no better option to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon … Military action would be less effective than the deal, assuming it is fully implemented. If the Iranians cheat, our advanced technology, intelligence and the inspections will reveal it, and U.S. military options remain on the table … And if the deal is rejected by America, the Iranians could have a nuclear weapon within a year. The choice is that stark.”
Trump called it “a disaster,” and asked: “who would make that deal?”
It was the July 14, 2015 agreement reached as the result of two years of intense negotiations between the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia to limit — cap and contain — Iran’s nuclear program. Leaving the deal in place is one of the few areas where I’ve given the “I would bomb the [expletive] out of them” President credit on foreign policy. But there is a relationship between this and other deals, and why honoring commitments that should be examined.
First, Iran has been compliant. This was on the top of the list of things Trump disagreed with his former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Tillerson admitted Iran was honoring the deal, he called it “technical compliance.”
Second, Trump lies a lot, on Iran the abundance of lies and misstatements is prolific and harmful. On April 30, at a press conference, he said: “In seven years that (nuclear) deal will have expired, and Iran is free to go ahead and create nuclear weapons.” The truth, however, is that the Iran Deal puts a cap on enriched uranium until 2030, or 12 years from now. After that, other agreements limit nuclear weapons development in Iran. If we are “only” guaranteed Iran won’t have a nuke until 2030, why break the word of the U.S.?
In announcing the withdrawal, he said that Iran is currently working on weapons. There is no assessment, Trump did not provide one, that makes such a case. He is going against global consensus here.
Third, Iran agreed that it would never build a nuclear weapon. Without the deal Iran is free — and likely incentivized — to develop nuclear weapons. Iran had agreed to the most crucial element of regional stability. Trump has provided a gift to Iranian hardliners, this will immediately escalate tensions, and increase U.S. isolation.
Fourth, backing out of this deal signals to its allies that the U.S. does not honor its agreements. At best our friends will see this as just being about Trump, but at worst the alienation will extend to future Presidents. Agreements can only be made — at best — on a term by term basis.
Fifth, for the damage this does to the U.S.’s credibility with allies, it is significantly worse with non-allies. Backing out of the brilliant diplomacy with Iran immediately changes the context of every other piece of statecraft the U.S. is working on. What motivation, for example, will North Korea have to work with the U.S. to end proliferation on the Korean peninsula?
The fundamentals in these five points are basics to negotiation and conflict resolution. It cannot be repeated too many times: trust is necessary but cannot be guaranteed. You build trust by making and keeping agreements. Trump has not achieved any foreign policy victories; he has not made any agreements. But, pulling out clearly showcases his failure to keep agreements.
He says North Korea has “agreed to denuclearization,” but they haven’t yet, and the withdrawal doesn’t help. He says, “we’ve signed more legislation than anybody,” but the truth is that he ranks last. He says whatever he wants, and he has no binding to the truth, with this action he has increase the safety of no one and instead will place billions of lives at increased risk.
Trump has followed through on his pure incompetence. He (and humanity as whole) would greatly benefit if he developed problem solving temperaments in accommodation, compromise, and collaboration. His coercive strategy is too high-risk and his gamble creates immediate insecurity. If there is even a slight silver lining it is that he has only described reinstating sanctions, but everyone else (except Israel) has opposed him. Maybe in the age of increasing U.S. isolation and lack of leadership the world will see that the U.S. is simply not a player anymore, perhaps it is time for the bully to sit alone in his sandbox.
Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a doctoral candidate in International Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University. He teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution, and is on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association.