Why Iran Hawks (and Trump) Hate the JCPOA
John Glaser and Emma Ashford respond to Trump’s latest attack on the nuclear deal:
Iran is clearly abiding by the deal’s requirements, as President Trump himself has twice formally acknowledged. But the President appears determined to ignore U.S. allies, his own intelligence community and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has affirmed eight separate times in detailed reports that Iran is in compliance with the deal.
This desire to withdraw from the JCPOA is difficult to explain. Whatever his reasoning, this much is clear: All of America’s options outside the JCPOA carry unacceptably high risks and threaten to exacerbate the very behavior Iran hawks hope to forestall.
If the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is judged on its merits and on what it actually does, I agree with them that wanting to renege on it makes no sense. Iran hawks don’t judge it that way. They have always judged the JCPOA against an absurdly high standard (Iran’s complete abandonment of its nuclear program and sharply curtailing Iran’s foreign policy) that no deal could ever meet, and so declared it to be unacceptable. When the fanatics say “no deal is better than a bad deal,” this is what they mean. They regard any compromise with the Iranian government as inherently discrediting, and so they denounce anything that doesn’t result in Iran’s total capitulation as “appeasement.” This is the only way one can understand Trump’s deluded description of the JCPOA as “one of the worst and most one-sided” agreements that the U.S. has ever made. It can only seem that way to those that want the other side to give up everything in exchange for nothing.
The JCPOA certainly is one-sided, but it is entirely in favor of the U.S. and the rest of the P5+1: Iran has agreed to restrict its nuclear program significantly for at least a decade and a half far more than it is required to by the NPT, and in exchange it will cease to be punished severely by other states only on this one issue. The nuclear deal is one of the most unambiguous “wins” for U.S. diplomacy in the last twenty years, so it is more than a little amusing that a president so obsessed with winning regards it as a huge loss. The simple explanation is that he has no idea what he’s talking about, but the better explanation is that he is simply echoing the hard-line rhetoric of Iran hawks.
Glaser and Ashford pick up on a weird line in Trump’s speech that shows how fixated he and other Iran hawks are on getting rid of Iran’s entire nuclear program:
We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles, and we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program [bold mine-DL].
This betrays the false main assumption that many Iran hawks hold. Iran’s nuclear program was never going to go away. The deal doesn’t “provide cover” for the program’s eventual construction. It restricts a program that already existed so that it is not used to develop nuclear weapons. It may seem like a small distinction, but it is a crucial one. It confirms that the problem Trump and other Iran hawks have with the deal is that it hasn’t achieved the impossible. Abolishing Iran’s entire nuclear program was never in the cards. Complaining that the JCPOA hasn’t done something no agreement could ever do is absurd, but this seems to be why Trump and other hard-liners are so eager to scrap a successful non-proliferation agreement.