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Trump’s Obnoxious Nuclear Bombshell

As expected, Trump pulled the U.S. out of the JCPOA earlier this afternoon and announced the resumption of sanctions on Iran:

President Trump declared on Tuesday that he was pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, unraveling the signature foreign policy achievement of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and isolating the United States among its Western allies.

Trump’s statement on the withdrawal was filled with the usual false and discredited assertions about the agreement that its opponents have been using for years. Opponents of the deal have never have credible arguments on their side, and so they have had to resort to lying about the deal’s provisions, changing the goalposts for what the deal was supposed to do, and confuse the issue by bringing up issues unrelated to the agreement. Trump repeated some version of all three of these attacks in his unpersuasive bid to justify an obnoxious and irrational decision.

The dishonesty of Trump’s statement began with the opening sentence: “Today, I want to update the world on our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” Iran isn’t pursuing a nuclear weapon, it definitely hasn’t been pursuing one for at least 15 years, and it cannot pursue one so long as it complies with the requirements of the JCPOA. Iran has been complying with the terms of the deal from the start. Trump could not cite a single Iranian violation of the agreement to justify U.S. withdrawal because it doesn’t exist. Iran can’t acquire a nuclear weapon as long as the deal is in place, and the only effort Trump is making is to try to destroy the very thing that ensures that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful. By reneging on U.S. obligations and withdrawing, Trump is trying to wreck the most rigorous and significant nonproliferation agreement in decades. If he succeeds in wrecking it, he would make Iranian nuclear weapons more likely than if he had done nothing.

Trump then brings up irrelevant and tangential issues that no nonproliferation agreement would ever address. He complains about Iranian missile development and foreign policy, and bemoans the fact that an agreement specifically focused on the nuclear issue failed to include things that could never have been included in it. Trump faults the JCPOA because it has not ushered in regional peace, as if any arms control or nonproliferation agreement has ever achieved such a thing:

The fact is, this was a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made. It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.

The deal was fairly lopsided in favor of the P5+1, since Iran was the only party making substantial concessions while everyone else was agreeing to lift sanctions in return. While it might have created an opening for reducing regional tensions, that opportunity was squandered almost immediately. Regardless, it was not the purpose of the agreement to “bring calm” or “bring peace,” but to resolve an outstanding dispute over Iran’s nuclear program so that it did not lead to a larger conflagration. The deal could not have brought other conflicts to an end, but it helped to prevent one. Scrapping the deal doesn’t fix any of the regional problems that Trump thinks it should have magically solved, but it is likely to increase tensions with Iran and make the region’s problems worse.

Trump tells one of several transparent lies about the agreement here:

At the heart of the Iran deal was a giant fiction: that a murderous regime desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program.

If the P5+1 believed that this was all that the Iranian government desired, there would never have been any sanctions or negotiations. The rest of the world would have taken the Iranian government at its word that it did not want to build nuclear weapons, and that would have been that. It was because the P5+1 did not believe this that they negotiated the most rigorous and intrusive verification process in existence in order to make sure that Iran would not be able to get away with any cheating. The only “giant fiction” here is Trump’s obvious lie about the agreement.

Trump asserted:

If I allowed this deal to stand, there would soon be a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Like everything else in the president’s criticism of the agreement, this is illogical and absurd. Iran is adhering to the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, and in a few years it will ratify it to make the intrusive inspections that go along with it permanent. If the deal stands, Iran won’t be able to build nuclear weapons, and so there would be no pretext for anyone else to acquire them. The best way to encourage Iran to build nuclear weapons is to punish it with sanctions after it already complied with demands to limit its nuclear program, so of course this is what Trump wants to do.

Trump continued:

As we exit the Iran deal, we will be working with our allies to find a real, comprehensive, and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat. This will include efforts to eliminate the threat of Iran’s ballistic missile program, to stop its terrorist activities worldwide, and to block its menacing activity across the Middle East.

Thanks to the agreement that Trump is trashing, there is no nuclear threat to be “solved.” If the president gets his way and the deal collapses, the solution that had been found to the nuclear issue will be undone because of his pique and stupidity. U.S. allies will have no interest in working with an administration that has just reneged on an agreement that they spent years negotiating. They couldn’t be certain that the U.S. would honor any future agreements that they made. Iran would have absolutely no incentive to cooperate when the U.S. has completely isolated itself by pulling out of a deal that all of the other parties support.

The final insult in Trump’s announcement was the pretense of support for the Iranian people:

Finally, I want to deliver a message to the long-suffering people of Iran.

The people of America stand with you.

The people of America might, but the Trump administration certainly doesn’t. It isn’t credible to bar Iranians from coming to the U.S., threaten the resumption of sanctions that damage their economy, and violate commitments made to their government and then pretend to be on the side of the people of Iran. Trump may want to dress up his hostility to Iran as being focused solely on the government, but his policies and rhetoric prove otherwise. Trump’s announcement was especially obnoxious because it is a prelude to more aggressive policies against Iran across the board.

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.

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