Pulling Out Of Iran Nuclear Deal Is Just Another Trump Own Goal
So it’s official. Trump has decided to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and is now prepared to restore all the sanctions that were in place before the deal was reached. Of course, this puts the US at odds with our European allies who still support the deal and complicates our relations with both China and Russia who are also party to the deal. I think it’s pretty safe to say that the expectation within certain parts of the Trump administration is that Iran will now restart its nuclear weapons program, providing Trump with the excuse to push for regime change, potentially making that an issue for the midterm elections.
It appears, however, that Iran may not be taking the bait. Last October, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif indicated that the Iranians would stick by the nuclear agreement if the European signatories to the agreement also remain committed. Today, there is a report that Iranian President Rouhani has spoken to the Europeans about exactly that and there is every indication that the Europeans will agree to that deal.
Assuming that the Iranians do stay in the deal, then the US sanctions will have far less impact on Iran than they did before when the EU also imposed their own sanctions. And European and Chinese companies will continue to have access to the Iranian markets that will now be denied to American companies. In fact, the reality is that the US will now actually be the ones violating the agreement, although it is unlikely that the remaining signatories to the deal would actually impose sanctions on the US.
In addition, with Europe, China, and Russia still abiding by the deal, it will be next to impossible for the US to put together a broad coalition to push for regime change in Iran. It seems unlikely, but unfortunately not improbable, that the US and Israel would go it alone. Trump’s withdrawal will further isolate the US and widen the distance between the US and its European allies, something the Iranians, as well as the Chinese and the Russians, will encourage. As Foreign Minister Zarif said last fall, remaining in the agreement would show that the Europeans “could play its own role independent of the US in the world.”
Now, many remain skeptical that the Europeans will be able to defy the US for long on this issue. Because of the integration of the global financial system, it may be hard for European companies to avoid US sanctions if they do business with Iran. On the other hand, the EU could create a legal framework to shield its companies and banks from the effect of those US sanctions. It certainly leaves the Iranian market wide open to the Chinese.
I’m a little more sanguine about the ability and willingness of the Europeans to endure and/or defy US sanctions. It is becoming clear that a potentially effective strategy for both allies and enemies of the US is to essentially suck it up and prepare to outlast the Trump presidency. We see the Chinese adopting this attitude in their trade negotiations with the US. Assuming Iran stays in the nuclear deal, that also seems like the path the Iranians are taking as well. I’m certain a similar feeling exists within the EU, making it more likely that the Europeans will work hard to actually stay in the agreement. The alternative is likely to be a nuclear arms race in the Middle East as well as the potential for a US-Iranian war whose blowback will most likely result in increased terrorism in Europe.
There are certainly hardliners in Iran who will want to restart their nuclear program and it remains to be seen what the ruling clerics and Ayatollah Khamenei will decide to do. And the answer to that may largely depend on how negatively the American sanctions effect Iranians and their economy.
Some will say that this is Trump just making good on another campaign promise but, as Benjy Sarlin points out, that is not entirely true. Just like Trump’s positions on protecting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security and taxing the rich, which he has clearly rejected once in power, Trump’s original stance during the campaign was to continue to enforce the Iran agreement while attempting to renegotiate it.
Of course, pulling out the deal will further reduce US credibility with both our enemies and allies. It will certainly allow the North Koreans to demand even more from the US in the upcoming negotiations. It makes it more difficult for the US to put together broad and lasting coalitions with our allies as well as making new trade and economic agreements with those very same allies. And, as I mentioned earlier, increases the likelihood of a nuclear arms race in the Mideast.
As with his trade and economic policies, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal looks like it will be another Trump own-goal. American businesses will get locked out of another market that our competitors have access to while our standing with our own allies takes another hit. It erodes US credibility in the world and hampers our ability to not only make new agreements with our enemies but also create lasting coalitions with our allies. So much winning!
Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on May 8, 2018.