Charles Krauthammer’s analysis of Trump’s Saudi visit and his foreign policy is as wrong as you would expect it to be:
That progress began with Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, the first of his presidency — an unmistakable declaration of a radical reorientation of U.S. policy in the region. Message: The appeasement of Iran is over [bold mine-DL].
Barack Obama’s tilt toward Iran in the great Muslim civil war between Shiite Iran and Sunni Arabs led by Saudi Arabia was his reach for Nixon-to-China glory.
Iran hawks have tried to spin Obama’s regional policies as “appeasement of Iran” for years, but this was never true. Mind you, these people think any form of diplomatic engagement is appeasement, since they are satisfied with noting less than total capitulation of the other side. As they see it, if Obama negotiated with Iran he must have also appeased them, but that’s a ridiculous way to think about these things. That doesn’t tell us anything about what actually happened during the Obama years, but it does remind us of the hawks’ knee-jerk rejection of diplomacy.
In order to appease, one party must make a costly concession to another in order to avoid an attack. If anyone was being appeased during the nuclear negotiations, it was the U.S. and the rest of the P5+1. To believe that Iran was the one being appeased requires forgetting that it was the one that had to make the most significant and lasting concessions to gain relief from punishing sanctions. All that the U.S. conceded was that Washington would stop some of the sanctions our government imposed on them. No honest observer could call that appeasement of Iran, but then Iran hawks haven’t been honest about most things during the debate over the nuclear deal.
During the so-called “appeasement of Iran,” the U.S. imposed extensive sanctions on the Iranian economy and persuaded many of its major trading partners to do likewise. The U.S. also armed Iran’s regional rivals to the teeth, and Obama set a record for selling more weapons to the Saudis than any president before him. On top of that, Obama backed the forces opposing the Syrian government for most of his second term, and supported the Saudi-led coalition in their delusion that attacking Yemen had something to do with combating Iranian influence. Everything Trump has done to date has represented a continuation of Obama-era policies. That is not a reorientation, much less a “radical” one, and that’s the problem.
Trump’s regional policies are awful in large part because he is continuing what Obama was doing and compounding Obama’s errors with more of his own. The main and perhaps only meaningful difference is that Obama occasionally offered mild criticisms of the Saudis, and Trump won’t shut up about how great they are. The policies are quite similar and similarly horrible, but for a partisan and ideologue like Krauthammer that is unimaginable. So we are treated to the fantasy that Trump has engineered a “reversal” from Obama policies that he is adopting.
Krauthammer misleads again when he claims that supporters of the nuclear deal promised that Iranian international behavior would improve. Hardly anyone in favor of the nuclear deal thought it would alter Iran’s foreign policy, and virtually no one made that part of the central argument for the deal. The Obama administration often argued that they hoped the deal might do that, but didn’t expect that it would. Indeed, most supporters of the deal made a point of distinguishing between what the deal was supposed to do–restrict Iran’s nuclear program and subject it to a verification process–and what it couldn’t possibly do (i.e., change other Iranian government behavior for the better). It was opponents that were desperate to link the negotiations over the nuclear issue with everything else in the region as a way of derailing the talks and sabotaging the deal. They failed then, and so now they’re concocting a false story to try to bring discredit on the agreement now. The Iran hawks’ problem is that the deal is working as advertised, Iran is complying with its obligations, and the nightmare scenarios they painted about how it would fuel Iranian power have not come to pass (nor as they likely to). Even the Trump administration has conceded that Iran is complying with the deal. Some “radical reorientation.”
Unfortunately, U.S. policies in the region could do with a genuinely radical reorientation, but Trump isn’t going to provide it. He and his advisers bought into the nonsensical D.C. conventional wisdom that Obama had been too “soft” on Iran and too “hard” on our clients. Trump may think he is making a big break from Obama, but in reality he is just doing more of the same. The people of Yemen in particular are continuing to pay for our shameful indulgence of the Saudis and their allies. The sick thing about all this is that Trump is likely to be celebrated in Washington expanding on Obama’s worst policies, and Krauthammer’s absurd column is probably just the first of many to do so.