Trump rolls the dice on Iran
President Trump announced this week that he was pulling the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, a long-expected but deeply controversial move that dismantles his predecessor’s signature foreign policy achievement and may isolate Washington from its Western allies. Denouncing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as “horrible” and “one-sided,” Trump said the U.S. would reimpose oil sanctions that were lifted from Tehran as part of the accord and introduce additional economic penalties on the regime. Under the 2015 deal, which was also signed by the U.K., France, Germany, Russia, and China, Iran agreed to stringent restrictions on its nuclear program and international inspections in exchange for sanctions relief. Trump said the agreement was “defective” because it didn’t stop Tehran from testing ballistic missiles and supporting terrorists, and because some of the agreement’s restrictions will expire in 2025. Saying he wanted to negotiate a “new and lasting deal,” the president warned the Iranians that if they restarted their nuclear program there would be “very severe” consequences.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his government would continue to abide by the deal with the other nations for the time being, but warned that the regime would resume uranium enrichment if the accord no longer provided enough economic benefits. The leaders of Germany, France, and the U.K.—who all heavily lobbied Trump not to withdraw from the deal—said they were still committed to the agreement. Former President Barack Obama sharply criticized Trump’s decision, saying it risked “another war in the Middle East.” But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the president for his “courageous leadership.” Gas prices, already climbing in anticipation of Trump’s announcement, were expected to rise further as a result of sanctions on Iranian oil.
What the editorials said
The president “just brought us closer to war,” said The Washington Post. The deal “was far from perfect,” but it was working: International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have confirmed that Iran was complying with the restrictions, thus preventing it from developing nuclear weapons. By unilaterally pulling out, Trump is giving Tehran’s hard-liners the excuse they need to “resume uranium enrichment, restrict inspections, [and] perhaps even race for a bomb.” If nuclear activities resume, what can the U.S. do other than take military action?
The deal’s cheerleaders always overlook its “fatal flaw,” said the Washington Examiner—it imposes no restrictions on Iran’s “other malignant activities.” As a result, the mullahs are spending the tens of billions of dollars they received in sanctions relief on testing ballistic missiles and aggressively meddling in Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon. Far from moderating the murderous regime in Tehran, Obama’s “disastrous” deal has “made it a more aggressive destabilizing force.”
Trump is convinced the pressure of renewed sanctions will force Iran to accept a “better deal,” said The New York Times. But Trump has shown no talent for forging deals—only for tearing them up. If the other signatories refuse to reimpose their own sanctions, Tehran won’t feel a need to renegotiate. If that happens, there is “no obvious plan B.” The withdrawal also complicates the president’s forthcoming nuclear talks with Kim Jong Un. “Why should the North Koreans now believe [that] the Americans, over the long haul, will honor a deal?”
What the columnists said
By wrecking “one of the most successful arms-control deals in modern history,” said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com, Trump has made his “most irresponsible” foreign policy decision yet. Iran’s leaders would never have agreed to a deal restricting all of its actions—and they’re even less likely to do so now, when the alliance against them has splintered. And while some of the agreement’s terms expire, it requires Iran to allow intrusive inspections until 2040 and never seek nuclear weapons. Either Trump doesn’t understand this or he was blinded by his obsession with destroying “yet another one of President Obama’s accomplishments.”
Obama, and not the U.S., made this “lousy” deal with Iran, said Bret Stephens in The New York Times. He “refused to submit the deal to Congress as a treaty” because he knew it wouldn’t pass. Trump’s “courageous decision” gives the mullahs a simple choice: They can have a “functioning economy, free of sanctions and open to investment,” or they can continue supporting terrorists and resume their nuclear program. “Trump’s reimposition of sanctions is coming at an ideal time,” said Philip Klein in the Washington Examiner. With high unemployment, inflation, and a currency crisis, Iran has been racked in recent months by protests and labor unrest. The regime may well be “losing its grip” on power—and reintroducing sanctions could accelerate its collapse.
This is nonetheless a “giant gamble” for Trump—“the biggest of his presidency so far,” said Gerald Seib in The Wall Street Journal. He’s hoping renewed sanctions will force Tehran back to the table or precipitate regime change—but in a conflict with the Great Satan, Iranians could instead “rally around their government.” In a worst-case scenario, the Iranians turn their centrifuges back on, provoking an attack from Israel and the U.S. and leading to a catastrophic regional war. It’s always possible the Iranians will back down in response to Trump’s pressure and threats. But the president is definitely “rolling the dice.”
“Iran is in the catbird seat,” said Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com. The regime can “either choose to remain in the deal with the Europeans or proceed again with its nuclear program.” Germany, France, and the U.K. must decide whether to join the U.S. in imposing sanctions on Tehran for “non-nuclear matters,” in particular its ballistic missile program and support for terrorists. If they don’t, will Trump punish them with sanctions—causing a “serious breach” in the Western alliance? The decision to withdraw from this agreement was Trump’s and Trump’s alone, and whatever happens from now on, he will “own the results.”
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
On the cover: Rudy Giuliani.
Cover photos from AP, Getty (2)