21 Jun 2024
Saturday 23 September 2017 - 11:30
Story Code : 276840

Does Trump even know what he hates about the Iran nuclear deal?

Washington Post | Paul Waldman: President Trump knows that the deal negotiated between the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and Iran to restrain Irans nuclear program is just terrible. As he said at the United Nations on Tuesday, The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I dont think youve heard the last of it believe me.

Nowhe says he has made a decisionon whether to pull out of the deal, but he wont tell us what it is. After all, you always want to leave the audience eager to tune in for next weeks episode.

But ask yourself this: Whatexactlyis it that Trump thinks is so bad about the agreement? Does he even know?

Theres no evidence that he does. During the 2016 campaign, he repeatedly complained about the money we gave Iran (in fact, we agreed to release Iranian funds that had been frozen in Western banks), but these days he cant seem to offer a reason that it was supposedly the worst deal in history. And yet, it now looks entirely possible, if not likely, that he will pull out of the deal, which could lead it to collapse. Which would then leave Iran free to pursue nuclear weapons. Mission accomplished!

At this point, weve stopped expecting that the president himself will have anything resembling well-thought-out reasons for the actions he takes, even those with potentially catastrophic consequences. But what about the less ignorant people who work for him? What do they have to say?

The critical context here is that all of Trumps key advisers seem to disagree with him on the wisdom of abandoning the agreement. I keep coming back to this paragraph froma New York Times storyin July:
At an hourlong meeting last Wednesday, all of the presidents 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.
So what we have is a group of serious, informed national security aides practically begging their unserious, ignorant boss not to do something spectacularly stupid, a herculean effort that only succeeds temporarily. Its important to remember thataccordingto the International Atomic Energy Agency and virtually every informed observer, Iran is in fact complying with the agreement. Its working.

But if Trump is going to pull out of the agreement, those same advisers are going to have to justify his decision in public. So theyve settled on the argument theyll use, should that happen. It goes like this: Sure, the nuclear agreement is working. But Iran doesother bad stuffthats not covered by the agreement, so thats why we need to walk away from it.

As McMastersaidthis morning, Its really about how our approach to this deal fits into our broader Iran strategy to address what Iran is doing, because they take destabilizing actions and support unsavory groups, and have also continued to pursue a ballistic missile program. Both of those things are problematic, but neither one was covered by the nuclear deal, whose goal was to address Irans nuclear program.

Or as Tillersonsaid, Perhaps the technical aspects have [been met], but in the broader context the aspiration has not. Ah yes, the aspiration, thats whats important. Its kind of like when Trump orders $100,000 worth of pianos from you, and you deliver the pianos, but he decides to concern himself more with his aspiration thathe not pay youthe $100,000.

The next person who is fortunate enough to interviewTrump should ask him: If we abandon the nuclear agreement, what happens then? His hope cant be that it would survive without us (a possibility), because if thats the case, then there would be no point to backing out. So he must be hoping that the agreement would collapse. And then what? He cant possibly be so stupid as to believe that Iran would say, Okay, you win! Well give you everything you could ever want and ask nothing in return, but Im not so sure. Much more likely is that Iran would decide that theres no point in making any kind of agreement with this administration, because Trump cant be trusted to keep to his word. Indeed, at this point, why would any government anywhere particularly North Koreas believe that if it made an agreement with the United States and upheld its end of the bargain that wed do the same?

We all know the real reason Trump wants to walk away from the nuclear accord. It isnt because Iran is violating the terms, because it isnt. It isnt because the terms were terribly unfair to the United States, because they werent. It isnt because Iran is doing things outside the agreement that we dont like, because those actions exist outside the agreement. Its because Trump is a petulant man-baby who believes that anything that has Barack Obamas name on it has to be destroyed, no matter the consequences.

Nevertheless, there may be one way out of this crisis that Trump seems determined to create. If he really wants to address Irans ballistic missile program or its support for terrorist groups, he can leave the nuclear deal in place and start negotiations on an entirely new agreement to deal with those problems. Wed have to offer Iran something in return for changing what its doing, though. Given what a great dealmaker Trump believes himself to be, youd think hed jump at the chance to try something like this. But I wouldnt get your hopes up.
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