On October 13, President Trump declared that the only way to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons was to abrogate the multilateral treaty which has been provenly effective in preventing Iran from developing such weapons. This is potentially the most serious mistake of his foreign policymaking thus far.
According to Trump, “the longer we ignore a threat, the more dangerous that threat becomes.” This is true in principle, but not applicable to Iran today. Other parties to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—Russia, China, Great Britain, France, Germany and the European Union—all beg to differ. He keeps saying the treaty is terrible but does not outline which specific provisions are so objectionable. In his UN General Assembly speech on September 19. Trump called the JCPOA “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into” and “an embarrassment to the U.S.” but he offered no specifics beyond saying, “I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it. Believe me.”
On Sunday several senior Trump administration officials tried to calm the waters by saying that the United States would stick to the Iran nuclear accord for now: Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that Tehran was complying with the accord. This is not the first time, however, that the right hand of the executive branch does not know what the left hand is up to. On the very day President Trump declared that it was “time to move forward in working constructively with Russia” (July 10), Ms. Haley flatly contradicted him by declaring, “We can’t trust Russia and we won’t ever trust Russia.”
As it happens, in return for sanctions relief from the signatories of the treaty and the international community as a whole, Iran accepted rigorous constraints and monitoring. Its current stockpile of modestly enriched uranium, useless for military purposes but essential for medicine, is a mere one percent of what it had been before the deal. Trump’s remark last Friday that Iran had “failed to meet our expectations in its operation of advanced centrifuges” apparently referred to a peripheral ambiguity in the JCPOA which has since been resolved, and was deucedly not declared to be a violation.
The claim that Iran’s overall behavior in the Middle East—notably Tehran’s support for the Bashar regime in Syria and for the embattled Shi’ites in Yemen—is destabilizing and contrary to the alleged “spirit” of the nuclear agreement is spurious. The United States has supported some of the most ghastly Sunni jihadist groups for years, most notably in Syria. Our Saudi “allies” and Turkey have groomed the Islamic State from its early days, with Washington’s tacit approval. Abrogating a binding multilateral treaty because of the alleged violation of its “spirit” would be ruinous to Washington’s credibility.
A small but influential cabal of pro-Trump neocons are enthusiastically advocating a new Middle Eastern adventure. “Iran must be free,” Newt Gingrich declared last summer. “The dictatorship must be destroyed. Containment is appeasement and appeasement is surrender.” This is nonsensethe U.S. defeated the Soviet Union in the Cold War by following the strategy of containment—but in today’s Washington the drumbeat of belligerent oratory is creating a sense of near-inevitability. Ex-UN Ambassador John Bolton assured us two months ago that, “before 2019, we will celebrate in Tehran.” This is reminiscent of the propaganda blitz before the 2003 attack on Iraq: An exaggerated threat is coupled with the false assertion that nonviolent options are not viable, and the assurance that invasion will be a cakewalk.
Today (Monday, October 16) Bolton asserted that it is “neither dishonorable nor unusual for countries to withdraw from international agreements that contravene their vital interests.” His article fails utterly to validate the claim that this country’s “vital interests” are contravened by the Iran treaty. As for Bolton’s other claim, it is in fact both dishonorable and unusual for a great power to withdraw from international agreements. Japan did so in 1931, after the Manchurian aggression. Italy followed suit in 1935 with Ethiopia. Germany abrogated the Ribbentrop-Molotov non-aggression treaty in June 1941, with fatal consequences.
It is now up to Congress to decide whether to reimpose sanctions. It has 60 days to decide whether to reinstate U.S. sanctions. Trump warned that if “we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.” So far, none of the other signatories to the deal have cited any serious concerns, leaving the United States isolated.
Reinstatement of sanctions would provoke Iran to restart its nuclear program—and that would duly provide casus belli to a morbidly Persophobic administration, to the delight of noone but the globalist Duopoly, Israel, and the Jihad-friendly royal cleptocrats in the Gulf. A war against Iran would not serve any rationally defined American interest. In addition, nixing the Iran deal would prompt North Korea to give up on any chance of negotiations on its nuclear program.
Getting America into yet another Middle Eastern imbroglio—with an adversary far more powerful than Iraq—would be idiotic and evil. It would mark the final twilight of the American empire. That in itself could be a good thing, but the price would be prohibitive and long-term consequences incalculable.
Dr. Srdja Trifkovic, Foreign Affairs Editor of Chronicles, is the author of The Sword of the Prophet and Defeating Jihad.