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Best Reads on Iran Nuclear Deal Withdrawal (and My Thoughts)

So I’ve been doing a lot of “quick thoughts” on various topics to try to get my opinions out there in a bit more timely fashion. President Trump actually leaving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPCOA, as the Iran Deal was officially known) definitely fits that bill.

I couldn’t stop reading about this subject. Of course, even in our always on world, there wasn’t a ton of fresh news from the immediate fall out. But there was a lot of good analysis.

I will say before I get into it that, though we thought this might happen, it is news that it did finally happen, that President Trump did officially blow it all up. Unlike past tariff announcements that keep getting pushed back, he is implementing the sanctions within 90 days and then more sanction in 180 days. This is happening.

So on to good reads.

Kevin Drum says this makes a North Korea deal more likely.

This is the counter take to most other initial opinions that assume this Trump move makes the North Korea deal harder because it will scare Kim Jong-Un. Drum disagrees, and I see the logic. Kim is smart enough to realize that Trump ripped up the Iran deal out of hatred for Obama more than anything. It also leaves Trump desperate to look good by getting a “win” in North Korea, something Obama couldn’t do.

That desperation is key. And Drum acknowledges this at the end of his post, though I wish he was more up front about it: a deal with North Korea won’t necessarily be a “good deal” and will likely be a “bad deal”. Trump is a man who isn’t good at making deals, and now he’s negotiating the most important nuclear deal since the one he just ripped up.

Vox (Zack Beauchamp) says Israel and Saudi Arabia are winners (and he gives 5 more losers).

This is the best summary of how all parties fared. But I did disagree with one part. In his introduction Beauchamp wrote this:

“It’s a massive victory for Israel and Saudi Arabia, which have been pushing for the US to confront Iran more aggressively.”

I agree with him in that the foreign policy apparati of Israel and Saudi Arabia both wanted this. That said, even observers in Israel who weren’t in the government opposed the United States unilaterally leaving the deal and destroying its credibility in the region. I would add, for this particular call of who is a winner or loser, a lot will depend on what happens next. If Iran stays in the deal and the EU, Russia and China fight additional US sanctions, than it just further isolates the United States while not hurting Iran. If Iran leaves the deal (with Russian and Chinese support even), they will rapidly build the capability for a nuclear weapon, unless the United States/Israel goes to war to stop them.

Worse, the main animus driving Israel and Saudi Arabia is in the desire to keep Iran from ever joining the larger world.

“For [Israel and Saudi Arabia], this comes down to: The only way to keep the United States engaged in the region, and provide a security blanket for Saudis and Israelis ... is to make sure Iran is not normalized through this set of international and regional agreements,” Hussein Banai, an expert on US-Iran relations at Indiana University Bloomington, tells me.

Yes, Iran does a lot of bad things in the Middle East, often counter to Saudi Arabian and Israeli interests. But we should desperately want “normalization” of all rogue regimes. In the long run, it makes us all safer. The solution is more diplomacy, not less.

Fred Kaplan has a paragraph that presages the next big decision.

I loved “decision trees” in business school, but honestly I don’t think I’ve ever seen a business use them to make a real world decision. I mean, decision trees require thinking through a lot of options and you need a lot of data to make them accurate. Who has the time?

I don’t know if the National Security Council has decision trees for major decisions. I assume they don’t. Again, takes a lot of time. But I would love to be proven wrong.

If you were decision-treeing out the future (to turn that noun into a verb when “game planning” is probably more accurate), one big decision is whether or not Trump would leave. That’s now firmly the tree branch we are traveling down.

So let’s look to the next key move, which is how the EU, China and Russia respond to “secondary sanctions”:

"And the U.S. withdrawal from the deal means the deal is very likely dead. Reimposing sanctions on Iran would also entail reimposing “secondary sanctions” on banks and other enterprises that do business with Iran. Most foreign companies, faced with the choice of forgoing deals with Iran or ending deals with the United States, would choose the former. (Russia and China might prove exceptions, in which case Trump’s move would benefit them."

In the above paragraph, Kaplan predicts the EU ultimately backs down from fighting the US on sanctions, especially “secondary sanctions”. But he goes on to say that the EU could push back against these secondary sanctions if they still wanted the deal to work. The EU has done this for other sanctions it disagreed with, like the U.S. unilateral Cuba sanctions To me this is the key decision. If the EU aggressively fights the sanctions, than a major rift in the Atlantic will have opened up, and the deal will be saved. The result is mainly further isolation of the US, Israeli and Saudi Arabian alliance. If the EU capitulates, then Trump will likely have isolated Iran, while they will aggressively pursue a nuclear weapon, possibly with Russian help.

On their face, neither option looks good for the United States, which might be why this was such a bad decision.