President Donald Trump’s move to decertify the Iranian nuclear Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), entered into a little over two years ago, was applauded by Israel, Saudi Arabia and a couple of Persian Gulf States, but by no one else. Quite the contrary, as the European and Asian co-signatories on the agreement, having failed to dissuade Trump, have clearly indicated that they will continue to abide by it. Also, the decision to kick the can down the road by giving Congress 60 days to increase pressure on Tehran in an attempt to include other issues beyond nuclear development like its ballistic missile program and labeling the country’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group are likely to create confusion as Washington is unable to communicate directly with Iran. That uncertainty could possibly lead to a fraught-with-danger Iranian decision to withdraw completely from the agreement.
The Trump speech could reasonably be described as embracing an “Israel-First” and “Saudi-Second” perspective that might plausibly suggest that it was actually drafted by their respective foreign ministries. Contrary to Trump’s campaign pledges, it might also be characterized as an “America-Last” speech, since it actually encourages nuclear proliferation while rendering it even more difficult for anyone to respect the agreements entered into by the United States government.
Fred Kaplan sums up the speech’s fundamental dishonesty with considerable clarity by observing:
It flagrantly misrepresents what the deal was meant to do, the extent of Iran’s compliance, and the need for corrective measures. If he gets his way, he will blow up one of the most striking diplomatic triumphs of recent years, aggravate tensions in the Middle East, make it even harder to settle the North Korean crisis peacefully, and make it all but impossible for allies and adversaries to trust anything the United States says for as long as Trump is in office.”
Former senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar has also dissected the untruths and false analogies that made up the bulk of the Trump speech. In short, Pillar argues that the president is using faulty analysis to end a program that is working and that employs unprecedented intrusive inspections to guarantee that Iran can make no progress towards having a nuclear weapon for at least eight more years and quite likely for even longer. Against that, Iran could well end its cooperation and, out of fear of U.S. attack, might well turn towards possession of a nuclear arsenal to guarantee its own survival. Pillar calls ending JCPOA now because Iran just might develop a weapon after it expires in 2025 as “committing suicide because of fear of death.”
In a second highly partisan international action last week, the United States led a march out the door of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization due to its alleged “bias against Israel.” UNESCO had enraged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by declaring that the Old City of Hebron and the associated Cave of the Patriarchs on the West Bank is an endangered Palestinian world cultural heritage site. A few hundred Israeli settlers live in Hebron, guarded by the Israeli Army, amidst 200,000 Palestinians who, according to The Guardian, “have long lived under harsh restrictions in the city, which is one of the starkest symbols of the Israeli occupation.” The U.S. is also threatening to pull out of the U.N.’s Human Rights Council “to protect Israel.”
Taken together, the two decisions made by the White House indicate a shift in the foreign policy team advising the president. One must now acknowledge that America’s United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, apparently operating in collusion with former UN Ambassador John Bolton, has become the most influential foreign policy voice whispering in the president’s ear, quite possibly because she is saying exactly what he wants to hear in terms of simplistic but rarely reality-based responses to complex situations. That Haley, an inexperienced and instinctively aggressive ideologue who is closely aligned to Israeli thinking, should occupy such a position with an equally ignorant president ought to concern anyone who seeks to avoid a major conflagration with either Iran and North Korea, or even with both. Haley is also no friend of Russia, having once crudely advised Moscow to “choose to side with the civilized world.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, apparently joined by National Security Council chair H.R. McMaster, urged renewal of the Iran certification based on the fact that Tehran was compliant but were overruled. Even Israel’s former National Security Adviser Uzi Arad had publicly urged both the White House and Congress not to reject the JCPOA. The emergence of Haley advised by Bolton is a shift to the right in an administration that is already leaning towards the military option as its preferred diplomatic tool, also suggesting somewhat ominously that neoconservative foreign policy is again dominant in Washington.
Other commentators including Eli Clifton, have observed that Trump might well have been heavily influenced by major Republican donors including Paul Singer, Bernard Marcus and Sheldon Adelson to step up the pressure on Iran. Adelson has, in fact, called for unilaterally “nuking” the Iranians. Marcus has said that “I think that Iran is the devil.”
The real objective of the Trump White House is not to “fix” the Iran deal, which would be impossible both because Iran and the other signatories would not agree to it and because there is nothing that needs repair. As Paul Pillar and Fred Kaplan note, it is working. The real objective is to blow up the agreement completely as it is an impediment to going to war and bringing about regime change in Tehran by force. That is what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Senators like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton have been intent on doing and they have hardly been shy about expressing themselves. The choice is therefore quite simple. Do we Americans, 60% of whom support keeping the arrangement, want to maintain an inspection regime that deprives Iran of the ability to develop a nuclear weapon for the foreseeable future or do we want to go back to square one without any restrictions on what Tehran will choose to do. It would seem to me that the clear right choice is to stay the course.
Top photo | Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the 2016 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference at the Verizon Center, on Monday, March 21, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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