Home/Daniel Larison/The JCPOA and War with Iran

The JCPOA and War with Iran

Trump speaks at Washington rally against the Iran deal back in September 2015. Credit: Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA/Newscom

Curt Mills has written an interesting profile of Rep. Matt Gaetz for the current issue of TAC:

Gaetz also has not feared checking the administration on Iran, a more controversial stance in the Republican ranks. Gaetz told me he did so because he knew the president would not be offended, as the occupant of the Oval Office is out of step on this matter with even many of the people he hired.

The checking that Mills refers to here is Rep. Gaetz’s co-sponsoring of the amendment to prohibit the use of funds for an unauthorized war with Iran that I have discussed before. As his co-sponsorship of the amendment with Ro Khanna shows, Gaetz has been good on the matter of Congress’ war powers. For that reason, he has been one of a small number of House Republican critics of U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen as well. Gaetz’s opposition to unauthorized wars is welcome and an encouraging sign that some newly elected Republicans understand their constitutional responsibilities and duties.

On the rest of Iran policy itself, however, Rep. Gaetz is about as wrong as can be. When the president reneged on the JCPOA, Rep. Gaetz applauded and said this:

The Iran Nuclear Deal struck under the Obama administration essentially paved a yellow cake uranium brick road for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. From its inception, the JCPOA was a fatally flawed deal that should have never been made and has never served the best interest of the American people or our allies. I fully support President Trump’s decision today to withdraw the United States from the Iran Nuclear Deal, as well as his ability and foresight to build a new structure that will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Nothing in this statement about the nuclear is true. Opponents of the deal have been repeating these same false claims ad nauseam for more than four years. Gaetz’s support for reneging on the nuclear deal is not an isolated example of his hawkishness. Early in 2017, he delivered remarks about Iran that were an echo of the most hard-line talking points:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMrgej13GJ4&w=1013&h=570]

In this speech, he denounced the JCPOA as “irresponsible and catastrophic,” and he recited the false claim that Iran was “given” $150 billion. In fact, Iran gained access to much less of its own money than that, and it was given nothing. He falsely claimed that the “deal is structured to mask Iran’s inevitable noncompliance.” In reality, the deal ensures that any Iranian noncompliance would be immediately detected by the most rigorous inspections in the world. He erroneously referred to recent Iranian “nuclear tests” when there had been and could have been nothing of the kind. Gaetz predictably declared Obama’s policy “appeasement” and likened it to Chamberlain’s appeasement of the Nazis in a clear nod to the most extreme opponents of any and all diplomacy with Iran. He went on to assert that Iran acts as a “neo-Persian, neo-Ottoman empire,” which is as confused as it is wrong. All of this is what we would expect to hear from any hawkish Republican, and it is also what we would expect to hear from a supporter of the president, since the president’s hawkishness on Iran predates his election and has so badly warped his foreign policy for the last two and a half years.

Trump’s decision to break the deal last year has had nothing but negative consequences for both the U.S. and Iran. Tensions are arguably the highest they have been in decades, and our governments were on the brink of a shooting war just a few months ago. None of that would have happened if the president had not violated the agreement and reimposed sanctions. Had it not been for the decision to renege on and violate the JCPOA, there would have been no danger of an unauthorized war with Iran earlier this year. As important as it is to have members of Congress that oppose unauthorized foreign wars, it is no less important to have members of Congress that understand the consequences of undermining major international agreements. If you want to avoid unnecessary and unauthorized wars, it makes no sense to celebrate the demise of successful diplomatic agreements that make war less likely.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

Latest Articles