Iran hawks have never let little things like logic or evidence get in the way of their desire to destroy the nuclear deal. Richard Goldberg and Mark Dubowitz aren’t about to start now:
The path to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula thus runs through Tehran. If Mr. Trump fixes the fatal flaws of the Iran deal, or even if he scraps it because the Europeans balk, his high-stakes North Korean gamble may yet succeed. Even if it doesn’t, he’ll have stopped Iran from following North Korea’s path to nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.
It is tempting to dismiss an argument this full of holes and leave it at that, but the position they are staking out in this op-ed is unfortunately the one that the Trump administration appears to be adopting. We are probably going to hear these lousy hawkish arguments many more times in the months to come, so it is important to understand why they are so wrong.
Common sense would dictate that scrapping a nonproliferation agreement with another government at the outset of negotiations with North Korea is counterproductive at best. North Korea will take it as one more piece of evidence that the U.S. cannot be trusted, and it will keep pursuing development of its nuclear weapons and missiles. It is not possible to win the trust of an authoritarian pariah regime if you have just broken all your promises to the last regime you negotiated with. There is no chance of winning any concessions from North Korea if the U.S. breaks its word with Iran.
Reneging on the JCPOA can only hurt diplomacy with North Korea, but the more pressing problem is that it will blow up a nonproliferation agreement that was working exactly as intended for no good reason. Iran hawks don’t care that the JCPOA is working, and they have been looking for pretexts for sabotaging it for years so that they can stoke tensions with Iran. No one should trust these hawks when they claim that giving them what they want is good for the rest of us. The people that normally obsessed over damaging U.S. “credibility” have no problem with trashing our reputation if it helps them get closer to the war they want.
Goldberg and Dubowitz pretend to address this objection, but it turns out they have no answer for it:
Former Obama-administration officials warn that if Mr. Trump abandons their Iran nuclear deal, North Korea will view the U.S. as an untrustworthy partner. The opposite is true. The North Korean dictator wants to talk because the Trump administration’s campaign of maximum economic sanctions pressure is working.
Whatever Kim’s reasons for extending an invitation to Trump, this is not “the opposite” of what supporters of the nuclear deal are saying. Reneging on the nuclear deal calls into question U.S. reliability as a negotiating partner. Sanctions don’t make the U.S. more trustworthy in the eyes of our adversary, and they don’t make the sanctioned party more likely to believe promises of sanctions relief. That is especially true if the U.S. backs out on a deal in which sanctions relief is the only thing it offered Iran. In order to think that reneging on the JCPOA helps U.S. diplomacy with North Korea, you would have to believe that North Korea would trust Trump more because he proved that he would not honor an agreement made by his predecessor. When we restate the hawks’ position clearly, we can see just how stupid it is.
Regardless, it is downright absurd to think that reneging on the nuclear deal with Iran will stop Iran from “following North Korea’s path.” It doesn’t guarantee that Iran will follow North Korea’s path, but it makes it much more likely than it would otherwise be. North Korea took the path it is on now after the Bush administration blew up the Agreed Framework. North Korea’s first nuclear weapons test and its withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) were direct consequences of the Bush administration’s blunder. Blowing up the JCPOA would be a senseless repetition of that blunder, and it could end up leading either to war with Iran or an Iranian nuclear weapon. The JCPOA makes the latter practically impossible and makes the former completely unnecessary, and so the only people that would want to see it destroyed are those interested in creating conditions for starting a war with Iran.