The Trump Administration’s Many Iran Lies
Since Trump took office two years ago, one of the main themes of his foreign policy has been a destructive and distorting obsession with Iran. From the very first week of his presidency when he imposed the first of three travel bans, he has targeted both the Iranian people and their government with unwarranted punitive actions. The president followed this up by refusing to certify Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in October 2017, and that led to the decision in May 2018 to renege on the deal and to violate U.S. commitments made to the other six parties to the agreement. Two rounds of illegitimately reimposed sanctions followed that decision, and they have already had significant, harmful consequences for the tens of millions of Iranians affected by the administration’s policy of collective punishment. In 2018, administration officials issued preposterous demands that no government would ever accept, and Secretary Pompeo started the new year by repeating these demands in a widely-panned, terrible speech in Cairo. The administration is now putting together a conference that was originally presented as an anti-Iran gathering in Poland. The Trump administration already has an Iran policy of regime change in all but name, and all signs point to the Iran obsession getting worse in the second half of Trump’s presidential term.
Throughout all of this, the president and administration officials have routinely made false and dishonest claims about Iran, the nuclear deal, Iran’s missile program, and its imagined interest in nuclear weapons, among many other things. Perhaps because the president lies and makes things up so frequently, the Iran lies have been lost in the mix, but for whatever reason the administration has been allowed to use false and misleading claims to promote their irrational and bankrupt Iran policy. Such is the warped nature of the debate about issues relating to Iran that one side in that debate can continuously lie and make things up of thin air without paying any political or professional price. The danger is that lies told so often and allowed to go unchallenged so frequently can and do become the basis for major policy decisions, and those decisions in this case put the U.S. on a collision course with Iran that could result in another costly, unnecessary war.
Just last week, Pompeo falsely asserted that Iran’s failed satellite launch violated UNSCR 2231, the resolution that endorsed the JCPOA:
In defiance of the international community & UNSCR 2231, #Iran’s regime fired off a space launch vehicle today. The launch yet again shows that Iran is pursuing enhanced missile capabilities that threaten Europe and the Middle East.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 15, 2019
This comes on the heels of multiple false claims by Pompeo that Iran’s other missile tests have been in violation of the same resolution. These false claims are intended to distract from the fact that the U.S. is the only party to the nuclear deal violating UNSCR 2231 when it reimposed sanctions, and they are meant to create a false impression that Iran is working on building the means to deliver nuclear weapons when they clearly are not doing that. The dishonest attempt to portray a harmless satellite launch as part of a program to develop an ICBM is an important part of that effort at distraction and deception. Michael Elleman exhaustively explains why the satellite launch vehicle that Iran tested earlier this month doesn’t violate UNSCR 2231 and can’t be used for developing an ICBM:
The Simorgh, as discussed above, is designed and optimized for use as an SLV, not as a ballistic missile, let alone one for delivering nuclear weapons. It could certainly be transformed to perform as a ballistic missile, but this would require a new design and configuration, and then it would have to be subjected to a flight-trial program to validate its military utility. Clearly, the Simorgh SLV does not violate the word or intent of UNSCR 2231.
The president and other administration officials also want to spread false information that Iran possesses or will soon possess the ability to acquire nuclear weapons. Bolton recently seized on a recent report from the think tank ISIS about Iran’s nascent nuclear weapons work before 2003 and sought to spin this as proof of Iran’s ongoing “nuclear ambitions.” Peter Jenkins spells out why Bolton is completely wrong:
Another curiosity is that Bolton referred to the IAEA as a “nuclear disarmament watchdog.” In as much as the IAEA has any canine features, it is a nuclear non-proliferation watchdog. It verifies the non-diversion of nuclear materials to uses incompatible with Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations. It would be surprising if Bolton, for all his limitations, were unaware of this. So presumably the reference to disarmament is intended to mislead. It conveys the impression that Iran possessed nuclear weapons and is being deprived of them. This is the sort of alternative reality usually associated with Bolton’s current boss.
Bolton’s reference to Iran abandoning nuclear ambitions is similarly off base. It seems improbable that Bolton has in mind Iran’s civil nuclear energy program. Almost certainly, he wants readers of his tweet to believe that Iran still harbors an ambition to be a nuclear weapon possessor-state. If so, he is ignoring that for more than a decade the U.S. national Intelligence community has judged Iran’s decision-makers to have abandoned a nuclear weapon program in 2003 and to have no plan to acquire nuclear weapons.
Last week, Paul Pillar called attention to one of the biggest whoppers of all to come from a member of this administration, and this one came from Trump himself:
On the first work day of the new year, President Trump held a cabinet meeting that was open to the press and consisted mostly of a rambling monologue by the president about border walls and assorted other topics. Toward the end of the proceedings, Trump castigated anew the “horrible Iran nuclear deal” and asserted that the agreement “in eight years, gives Iran the legal right to have nuclear weapons.”
No analysis or research by fact checkers is needed to see the bald-faced nature of that lie.
It is a measure of the boundless bad faith of Iran hawks and nuclear deal opponents that they are desperately trying to promote the falsehood that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons at the same time that Iran remains in compliance with an agreement that prevents Iran’s government from being able to build them. The nuclear deal deprived Iran hawks of their biggest pretext for conflict with Iran, and so while they do everything they can to destroy the deal they are also doing their worst to create a fantasy world that suits their aggressive and destructive goals. Almost nothing that the administration and its allies say about Iran and the nuclear deal is true, and we should all judge their future claims about Iran, the nuclear deal, and Iran’s ballistic missile tests accordingly.