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foreign policy

Trump Announces a Third Withdrawal from the World

Against all pleadings, he cancels U.S. participation in the Iran deal

On his first day in office, President Trump ended United States participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) — the 12-nation alliance of countries around the Pacific Rim that would have stood as a bulwark against China. He soon thereafter ended America's commitment to the Paris Accord — the pledge by every country
in the world to reduce carbon emissions — which left the United States as the only outlier. And now, because it was a campaign pledge made when he provably knew little about it, he has single-mindedly, ignoring universal outcry from all but the war lovers who now make up his inner circle, withdrawn America from the seven-nation deal that prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Stringent sanctions held back by the deal will go into effect and Iran hard-liners have already said that that makes them free to set their centrifuges spinning once again. Trump has freed Iran to go nuclear just before he will seek the opposite from North Korea, and in the process has made that negotiation more difficult. What added price will Kim Jong-un exact now that Trump has proven that the United States cannot be trusted?

He has aligned American foreign policy with Israel and Saudi Arabia while turning America's back on our European allies — Britain, France and Germany — who are party to the Iran deal. Israel, the country that has occupied another people's land for half a century and has blockaded Gaza in what is called "an open-air prison" for almost four years. Saudi Arabia, the country that provided 15 of the 19 9/11 attackers and is now killing civilians indiscriminately in Yemen bombings.

In announcing the breach, Trump made one of his most bewildered statements: "The United States no longer makes empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them", simultaneously making himself the United States (l'état, c'est moi) while breaking our promises to our allies. Both French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had made pilgrimages to Washington to try to persuade Trump not to throw away a deal that is working. Their message: why not try to work with Iran to eliminate some of the peripheral problems that could not be made part of the original deal? Why not add to what we already have rather than discard it? Steeped in his belief in himself, Trump has brushed them aside.

how wrong can wrong get

Trump has repeatedly called the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) "one of the worst negotiated deals of any kind that I have ever seen”. Just recently he labeled it "insane" and "ridiculous" and an "embarrassment".

"The Iran deal is defective at its core", says the president. This from someone who has a great aversion to reading and has gone nowhere near its core. He has never been specific about what he doesn't like. He has of course not read it. In contrast, his scholarly Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis says he has read it three times and is impressed by the detail and the verification regime that it contains. Said Trump, announcing withdrawal:

"If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen. In just a short period of time, the world's leading sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world's most dangerous weapons".

Stop right there. That's what's expected to happen in a short period of time by canceling, Mr. President. On hearing Trump's decision, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the U.S. has broken the agreement and he may soon restart his country's uranium enrichment program.

We said earlier that Trump provably does not know what's in the deal. His statement says he clearly does not know that both the JCPOA and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty forbid Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons, that he clearly does not know that the only sunsets are to allow nuclear development for other purposes — power, medicine, e.g. — with restrictions loosened in increments 10, 15, 20 and 25 years out. Instead, Trump claims he has proof that Iran is violating the agreement, but like Obama's foreign birth and his wire-tapping Trump tower, these are claims for which we'll see no evidence, there being none. The IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency that inspects Iranian sites, has ever since the pact's inception confirmed that Iran is in compliance. So a president who thinks Iran can't be trusted has just made the United States the country that cannot be trusted by breaking the agreement.

“This disastrous deal gave this regime — and it’s a regime of great terror — many billions of dollars, some of it in actual cash — a great embarrassment to me as a citizen and to all citizens of the United States.”

This compounds his ignorance. We didn't "give" Iran anything. The money was theirs. We had frozen their assets held in foreign banks as part of sanctions of their nuclear program; $400 million in cash had to do with money seized long ago when Iran took Americans hostage at the dawn of their revolution.

Wrong as well was the gambit of justifying canceling because the deal was premised on Iran lying. Sarah Huckabee-Sanders filled us in on that. She seems now to be deciding policy on her own, judging from her first person declarations:

"I think the biggest mistake is the fact that the United States ever entered into the Iran deal in the first place. That to me seems to be the biggest mistake in this process…The problem is that the deal was made on a completely false pretense. Iran lied on the front end, they were dishonest actors, and so the deal that was made was made on things that were not accurate".

Should we never mind that it is her understanding of how that went in 2015 that is not accurate? The United States entered the deal in the belief that Iran was right on the edge of developing a nuclear weapon. Iran's denials were paid no attention. The West knew they were lying. That's why the U.S. and partners pursued the deal with some urgency; halting bomb development was paramount. The reason the deal did not include all that was desired was that Iran was unyielding. The other problems — missile development, adventuring in other Middle East countries — would have to be dealt with separately.

It is easy to cite what's missing from the JCPOA .
  It doesn't prevent Iran from nuclear weapons forever.
  Inspectors may not go on Iran military bases (where they could be cheating).
 Iran is allowed to continue developing high-tech centrifuges for that nuclear future.
  Nothing stops them from missile development.
  Nothing forbids their adventuring throughout the Middle East, where Iran has inserted itself as a power in Iraq, in Syria, and funds Hezbollah in Lebanon.

As said, that was easy to list, but it was hard to prevent. Let's remember why:

the way it was

The JCPOA was signed only three years ago yet it is remarkable how those days have already been forgotten, but then early onset amnesia is an American trait.

This publication followed the negotiations closely. The moment the accord with Iran was announced, it was denounced. Even-handed circumspection was not the tenor of the day. What was most bewildering was to listen to those who found the deal disastrous but who were unperturbed by what would result were there no deal.

The defects emphasized by the detractors were and are real and increasingly problematic, but a better deal was a fantasy. Negotiations had taken 20 months, with repeated deadline extensions as negotiators grappled with final terms and language. At a press conference President Obama said "the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through negotiation or it's resolved through force, through war".

In an astonishing breach of protocol, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had bypassed President Obama and spoken directly to a joint session of Congress against the deal. He just did it again, from Israel, in a talk in English meant for an audience of one, Donald Trump. Netanyahu had said in 2015, "I think a better deal is possible". Tougher sanctions would force "Iran to choose between lifting the sanctions and rolling back, truly rolling back, their nuclear capability" was his argument.

Here, the opposite was assumed. With no carrot of relief from sanctions already in force, Iran would build its bomb. Lindsey Graham offered magical thinking: "I'd enforce the U.N. resolutions, saying remove all the highly enriched uranium". Enforced by what army? Ours?

There was a hurry to get the deal done because there were indications that the existing sanctions would fall apart. Britain's ambassador to the U.S. said the sanctions had already reached the high water mark and would probably erode if the pact were rejected. Germany's ambassador said, "If diplomacy fails, the sanctions regime might unravel". There were nations such as Japan, South Korea, and India that had honored the sanctions, out of deference to the six nations arrayed against Iran. They were not in Iran's crosshairs yet were paying a price by foregoing trade with Iran. Former CIA director James Woolsey thought "the sanctions regime is slipping; the world is tired of these sanctions".


The deal's restrictions were designed to extend the "breakout" time — the time Iran would need to create enough enriched uranium for a single bomb should they cheat or should the deal fall apart anywhere along the line — to a year. At the time, 19,000 centrifuges were spinning and an enriched stockpile was already on hand. The breakout time then was estimated at a mere 2-3 months. Yet those opposed were outraged at a deal that would allow Iran to emerge a decade from then with the full capacity to create a nuclear bomb that they could produce right now in three months. How to explain their alarm for the future greater than alarm for the immediate present?

"They were months away from it in 2013", said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va), referring to bomb development as assessed by the intelligence agencies. "Could you imagine a point at year 15 or 25 where they might do something bad? Yes, you could...but remember that we were at that point two years ago", before the interim accord froze Iran's activities so that talks could proceed.

obama revenge

Of course, what's really driving Trump is the malevolence at his core: The JCPOA must be destroyed because every accomplishment of the first black president of the United States must be destroyed. Trump's entire presidency has been defined by this perverted revenge. So he has chosen to poison relations with key European allies, lifting a middle finger to those we persuaded to join us against Iran's nuclear ambitions. He has taken another step to withdraw behind our borders to make the U.S. increasingly irrelevant in the world.

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