He can’t count on Congress or our “allies” to do the right thing. Is acting alone his only option?
President Trump’s Friday speech outlining his “new” strategy for Iran punted the decision of whether to remain a party to Obama’s nuclear weapons deal with Iran to Congress and our “allies” — France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China — which co-signed the “Joint Cooperative Plan of Action” (JCPOA).
The president said that he wouldn’t certify that Iran is compliant with the deal and that remaining in the deal is in our national interests, which he is required to do under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), Sen. Bob Corker’s unconstitutional bastard child that paved the way for Obama to claim Senate approval of the JCPOA.
As the president said, Iran has refused to permit international inspectors access to its “military” sites including those suspected of being central locations of its nuclear weapons programs. We haven’t a clue about Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons.
The president said that his policy was to deny Iran “all paths to a nuclear weapon.” The problem is that the means he is pursuing this policy are bound to fail.
Trump’s refusal to certify Iran’s compliance triggers a sixty-day period in which Congress can reimpose sanctions on Iran. The president said that he wanted Congress to use that time to enact amendments to the INARA that should: (1) strengthen enforcement; (2) prevent Iran from developing ICBMs; and (3) make all the deal’s restrictions permanent.
Trump also said, “However, in the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated… our participation can be cancelled by me, as president, at any time.”
On Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson predicted that our allies would be very supportive of Trump’s new policy. How well is that working out?
Before Trump even delivered his remarks, long before our politically constipated Congress could react to it, our “allies” were already telling Iran that they would stick with Obama’s deal even if we didn’t. French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly called Iranian President Rouhani to tell him that France would continue the deal regardless of what America did. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, told reporters that the Iran agreement was a multinational agreement and that one nation — meaning America — can’t make changes to it.
Right after Trump’s speech, the leaders of Britain, France, and Germany issued a statement that reads, in part, “We stand committed to the JCPOA and its full implementation by all sides. Preserving the JCPOA is in our shared national security interest.”
Can anyone doubt that Russia and China will oppose any changes to the agreement?
Tillerson must not have performed his principal task before Trump’s speech, that of calling our allies’ leaders to tell them what the president would do to gauge their reaction. How could he possibly have predicted their support if he had done so?
Of our allies, only Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu praised Trump’s action.
The president said that his staff was working with Sen. Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and others on the amendments he wants to INARA. But sixty days from Friday — 13 December — will come and go without legislation being passed. There’s precisely zero chance that Republicans can get sixty Senate votes for any such legislation.
Which, in truth, won’t matter because nothing Congress passes is going to change the terms of the deal.
Congress is already bogged down with tax reform, which also must be passed this year if the economy can be stimulated before the 2018 election. Then there’s the little matter of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which will expire if not renewed before 31 December.
The president will quickly face the dilemma of choosing among FISA, tax reform, and his (ineffectual) desired changes to INARA. It’s entirely possible he won’t get any of the three.
Our “allies” will oppose any changes to the agreement. Federica Mogherini is correct in saying that we cannot unilaterally change the Obama agreement with Iran. Iran — as well as the rest of the signatories — won’t agree to any changes. The president will, in mid-December, have to choose between revoking the deal and again merely refusing to certify Iran’s compliance.
The other signatories to the deal — Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany — won’t reimpose the sanctions that were strangling Iran’s economy before the Obama deal lifted them.
If the president revokes the Obama agreement in December — which he should do — that will bring us no closer to preventing Iran from obtaining — by development or purchase — the nuclear weapons it so fervently desires.
Macron wants to negotiate a follow-on agreement with Iran to ensure its further “compliance” with the deal. Another deal along those lines will only ensure Iran’s covert development of nuclear weapons and overt development of ICBMs, both in partnership with North Korea.
The president was correct in saying that history proves that the longer we ignore a threat, the more dangerous that threat becomes. President Clinton spread oil on the North Korean waters in 1994 with his agreement that was supposed to prevent the Norks from developing nuclear weapons, thereby ensuring that they would. Both Messrs. Bush and Obama failed to deal with the Iran threat.
For twenty-three years we have taken no effective action to prevent the North Korean and Iranian nuclear threats from arising. Our diplomatic options are so limited that none can be considered seriously.
President Trump is the third American president to vow that Iran will not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. President Bush could have acted to prevent them from doing so but didn’t. President Obama chose to make it easier for Iran to do so. All of those chickens have come home to roost.
In his book World Order, Henry Kissinger characterized Iran perfectly as a revolutionary regime bent on toppling the world’s order of nation-states that has existed since the 1648 Treaties of Westphalia. North Korea’s regime is of the same ilk. Our choices are to either let them do so — and try to contain their dangers — or to topple those regimes by military means at the risk of millions of people being killed in the ensuing wars.
Is containment of either regime possible? That’s highly doubtful. Over the next few years, we’ll find out.