Trump delivered one of his usual rambling performances at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, and during his remarks he said a number of bizarre and untrue things. Many observers marveled at his weird revisionist argument for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but fewer people seemed to notice his demonstrably false claims about Iran:
When I took over two years ago, Iran was going to take over the Middle East and who knows where, and they were going to have all the nuclear weapons they wanted in a very short period of time, because of that stupid deal. When I terminated that deal and then did what I had to do, Iran is a much different country today than it was 19 months ago.
This isn’t the first time that Trump has promoted the fantasy that he prevented the supposed Iranian takeover of the entire region, and it definitely isn’t the first time that he has lied egregiously about what the nuclear deal permitted, but it serves as a good example of how completely deluded the president is about all things related to Iran. That might explain the presence of a poster reproducing the cruel “sanctions are coming” meme Trump tweeted out last fall. The president is so far removed from reality that he thinks strangling the economy of an entire country is something to be proud of.
Trump has been saying that Iran is a “much different country” or words to that effect for months, but there is nothing to back that up. No Iranian policies have changed to satisfy the administration’s demands as a result of sanctions. Iran wasn’t about to take over anything, much less the whole region, when Trump took office. As usual, Iran hawks exaggerate both Iranian power and vulnerability when it suits their purposes. In Trump’s case, he overstates Iranian power in 2017 to take credit for something that never happened, and now brags about Iran’s transformation when his policy has already failed on its own terms.
Iran remains in compliance with the JCPOA despite Trump’s decision to renege on it, and even if they weren’t they would still be obliged as members of the NPT not to develop nuclear weapons. The nuclear deal has made sure that Iran’s nuclear program is and will remain peaceful, and Trump’s boundless hostility to a successful nonproliferation agreement would be laughable if it didn’t have such severe consequences for the Iranian people. The reimposition of nuclear sanctions is unjustified, and the sanctions hurt the population much more than they are hurting the regime. The Iranian people are certainly worse off now than they were before sanctions were reimposed last year, but this has worked to strengthen the regime, stymie political change, destroy the middle class, and impoverish ordinary workers and businessmen. To the extent that Iran has changed at all because of administration policy, it has changed for the worse.