President Trump should have done what he said he would do. He should have torn up the Iran deal on his first day in office. He should have put Iran on notice and let Congress deal with the consequences. But a few months into his term, he let advisors talk him into certifying Iran’s compliance with the deal.
This time around, Trump was once again convinced to give Iran a pass, The reasons given for the decision was to give the administration more time to work with Congress before pulling the plug. The New York Times reported Monday:
At an hourlong meeting last Wednesday, all of the president’s major security advisers recommended he preserve the Iran deal for now. Among those who spoke out were Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson; Defense Secretary Jim Mattis; Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser; and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to an official who described internal discussions on the condition of anonymity. The official said Mr. Trump had spent 55 minutes of the meeting telling them he did not want to.
Trump should have gone with his gut this time. But that’s the hazard of always shooting from the hip. With the president distracted by his war on the press, the administration went forward with plans to re-certify Iran’s compliance this quarter, until Trump voiced his objections. ABC News reported:
Then, just as the White House was preparing to brief reporters, the announcement was abruptly halted and the talking points temporarily recalled as the president reconsidered the decision, according to officials and others briefed by the administration. Among the options Trump discussed with Tillerson and other aides was to extend the sanctions relief but refuse to certify Iran’s compliance, several officials said.
Nobody in the administration had prepared Congress, talking points, or any kind of strategy to deal with yanking the Iran deal (formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or “JCPOA”). So, ultimately, Trump was forced by his own lack of self-discipline to go ahead with something he didn’t want to do, and in fact should not have done.
John Bolton chided Trump in The Hill for an “unforced error”:
Certification is an unforced error because the applicable statute (the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, or “INARA”) requires neither certifying Iranian compliance nor certifying Iranian noncompliance. Paula DeSutter and I previously explained that INARA requires merely that the Secretary of State (to whom President Obama delegated the task) “determine…whether [he] is able to certify” compliance (emphasis added). The secretary can satisfy the statute simply by “determining” that he is not prepared for now to certify compliance and that U.S. policy is under review.
So the administration made the really stupid and meaningless comment that Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA, but not with “the spirit” of the deal. I suppose that means Iran wants to violate the terms of the agreement but is getting away with it?
Trump’s team, to save face, has come up with some new economic sanctions against Iran for its ballistic missile program. Bloomberg reported Tuesday:
The U.S. Department of Treasury said in a statement it was targeting 16 entities and individuals for supporting what is said was “illicit Iranian actors or transnational criminal activity.”
Those sanctioned had backed Iran’s military or Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) by developing drones and military equipment, producing and maintaining boats, and procuring electronic components, it said. Others had “orchestrated the theft of U.S. and Western software programs” sold to Iran’s government, the Treasury Department said.
This shoot-from-the-hip approach, like with Qatar, Taiwan, Syria, Russia and practically every foreign ally and opponent in the world, presents hazards, along with unintended consequences and departments in chaos.
What is our policy vis Iran? Nobody really knows.
Our foreign opponents take advantage of the chaos. Don’t think for a moment they don’t. Our allies become confused, not knowing what the U.S. will do in any given situation.
Iran wants to expand (and has been expanding) its influence in the Middle-East. Trump’s latest deal with Russia for a Syria cease-fire has Israel very worried–in fact some see that as making war “inevitable.“
“The agreement as it is now is very bad,” an official told Haaretz. “It doesn’t take almost any of Israel’s security interests and it creates a disturbing reality in southern Syria. The agreement doesn’t include a single explicit word about Iran, Hezbollah or the Shi’ite militias in Syria.”
The U.S. re-certifies Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA, but then slaps sanctions on it for its incursions into Syria and Lebanon, as well as missile development. But the Syrian cease-fire gave Iran plenty of maneuver room to do the very things these latest sanctions seek to punish.
I’m reminded of a Rhode Island tax policy I read about, where it costs more to register a tractor-trailer to legally travel through the state than it does to pay the fine for being caught in violation. This is what Trump has done with Iran.
Trump’s total unpreparedness and tendency to shoot from the hip has given Iran the signal that they can continue doing exactly what they’re doing with no more than a slap on the wrist.
Even when the president’s instincts are right, his lack of organization makes the world less safe for America and our allies. Bolton sums up:
In the last six months, Iran has made six more months of progress toward posing a mortal threat to America and its allies, and now totals two years since the JCPOA was agreed. This U.S. approach is both dangerous and unnecessary. Care to bet how close Tehran — and North Korea — now are? Consider the costs of betting wrong.