Ending Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement gives the insecure child president psychological satisfaction. The rest of world will pay the price.by Mark Fitzpatrick / May 9, 2018 / Leave a comment
US President Donald Trump’s violation of the Iran nuclear accord, by re-imposing nuclear sanctions, is the most disastrous decision of his troubled presidency to date. Taken for no good reason, his careless act undermines US leadership and credibility, alienates allies, invites retaliation, undermines the nuclear order in the Middle East and makes reaching a denuclearisation deal with North Korea all the more difficult.
The Iran accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was working well. Iran was holding faithfully to the limits imposed by the deal, and allowing inspectors to carry out whatever verification they deemed necessary. Eleven quarterly reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency documented this compliance.
Why conservative Americans were unhappy
The main complaint raised against the deal by conservative Americans was not that the limits were inadequate, but that their duration was too short. Addressing this demerit, British, French and German diplomats worked out a plan with State Department counterparts to de facto extend the limits without renegotiating the deal.
They also found a way to meet Trump’s demand for constraining Iran’s missile program and for confirming inspectors’ rights to visit military sites.
Trump would have none of it, however—no matter the entreaties from bon amie Emmanuel backed by the other European leaders. It is now clear that no improvements would have satisfied Trump. He wanted the deal dead.
A transatlantic rift
The most immediate damage is to transatlantic relations. Alliance discord will be worse than during the rift over the Iraq War because this time not a single European state is lining up with the US president. In fact, other than Iran’s arch enemies in the Middle East, no state anywhere supports Trump’s decision.
The Europeans will now seek to adopt and improve legal and financial measures to protect their firms from US extraterritorial sanctions. But out of business prudence, most of these enterprises will not want to engage with Iran anyway. Europe’s efforts to save the deal until the day when America returns to its senses thus will likely go for naught.
The mood in Iran
Iran would have reason to stay in the deal absent the United States if it could retain sufficient economic benefits. The political mood in Iran, however, is turning sour, as hardliners turn on President Hassan Rouhani for trusting American promises. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) never liked the lifting of sanctions, because under them it was able to profit from black market trade.
Flushed with pride from their success in expanding Iran’s influence in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, the IRGC will be ready to harm American interests when and where opportunities present themselves. Iran will also respond in the nuclear realm, by ramping up enrichment and ratcheting down cooperation with inspectors.
The clock will not immediately turn back to the pre-2013 period of war drums, when Iran’s enrichment pace put it within a few months of being able to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon, with only rudimentary IAEA inspections. But movement in that direction will again spark talk of military action, particularly if Iran’s hardliners have their way and pull the country out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Saudi Arabia’s interests
Unfettered enrichment without the scrutiny provided for in the JCPOA will fan Saudi Arabia’s interest in acquiring its own nuclear weapons capability. As long as Iran was constrained and closely inspected, the Saudis could afford to put off their nuclear ambitions.
Now, their calculations will change. Although it will not be easy for the Saudis to acquire enrichment technology (Pakistan does not want to get ensnarled by selling it), they will spare no effort in trying.
The NPT will thus become vulnerable. Trump’s rejection of a painstakingly constructed diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear issue undermines multilateral diplomacy and the very underpinnings of the nuclear order. It gives a new writ to nuclear lawlessness, since Iran’s having abided by the agreed rules will be proven to have been in vain.
A global cost
Why did Trump do it? For purely political and personal reasons. Netanyahu-linked benefactors like Shelden Adelson and militarists like John Bolton egged him on.
Ripping up the deal was a campaign promise Trump could finally meet—unlike his unfulfilled pledges to build a wall on the southern border, at Mexican expense, and to dismantle Obama’s health care programme.
Ending Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement gives the insecure child president psychological satisfaction. The rest of world will pay the price.