« Best Reads on Iran Nu… | Home | Next Week, Vote for D… »

Some Mores Reads on Iran Nuclear Deal Withdrawal (that I start to disagree with)

Yesterday, I tried to link to some of the of the good articles that inspired thoughts about President Trump withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. Today, I go to some of the posts that I either disagreed with or that angered me.

Matthew Karnitschnig says the EU will cave to Trump, they always do.

I sort of agree with Karnitschnig on this even though it seems harsh and really strong on first blush. Here’s the harshest part, towards the end

“As Trump made clear with Merkel at his side last month, Europe needs the U.S. more than the U.S. needs Europe, both economically and in terms of security. Or as Trump might say, he has Europe over a barrel. That’s why once the cacophony of shock and horror across the Continent subsides in the coming days over Trump’s latest affront, Europe will revert to type and do what it always does when challenged by the U.S. — nothing.”

Trump understands the power the United States could potentially wield. Combined with his narcissistic disregard for other humans/nations and inability to focus on issues, Trump exerts U.S. power in ways that upsets the traditional foreign policy establishment. As a result, predictions of disaster so far haven’t been realized. Most countries end up capitulating back to the United States. Consider his track record:

- Trump announced tariffs on steel and aluminum, and every country bent over backwards to get them removed (except for China).

- Trump threatened to go to war with North Korea, now they are negotiating.

- Trump threatened to leave NAFTA, now Mexico and Canada are negotiating to save the deal.

- Trump left Paris Climate Accords, nothing bad happened to the United States.

Now Trump leaves the Iran deal, and there is a high chance the EU countries will--instead of fighting the U.S.--help Trump reimpose secondary sanctions. How does he pull it off?

Again we’re powerful. My caveat is it may only be in the short term. And devastating in the longer term.

Take leaving the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, that I didn’t mention above. The same process was happening, that Trump announced he was leaving because it was an Obama deal, and now he wants to consider rejoining because he needs a leverage point against China on trade. Except the rest of the countries don’t want America back in, unless it is under worse terms.

I think the same thing could happen here, despite Karnitschnig’s prediction it won’t. As he himself notes in the entire article leading up to this, Europe values peace over all else, having born the brunt of two disastrous world wars. The whole continent was involved in negotiating this deal, and they don’t have a “loyal opposition” who reflexively tries to destroy their accomplishments, like in the United States. So they may finally view this as the time to ignore President Trump and stand on their own, to protect their legacy.

Or they won’t. Honestly, I don’t know what will happen.

The Trump Doctrine: destroying Obama’s legacy

Anytime a President gives a major foreign policy speech, the first thing the media wants to do is anoint it a “doctrine”. So we have a Bush doctrine, an Obama doctrine and so on. Trump seems to have eluded defining a Trump doctrine just because he changes his mind so often on so many topics. (Take Syria, we’re leaving but not going to cede it to Iran, so we’re not leaving, but we’ll be out soon.)

So how do we box Trump into his own “doctrine”? By looking for the few things where he won’t immediately change his mind. And with Trump finally leaving the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) we’ve confirmed the one true Trump doctrine: “Anything Barack Obama did I oppose”.

Ryan Bort in Rolling Stone said Trump was “torching the legacy of Barack Obama”. The BBC said he was “shredding the legacy”. Zack Beauchamp in Vox said Obama was one of the biggest losers in this whole thing, again because of his legacy.

And indeed that’s why Trump is leaving nearly every foreign policy deal agreed to or signed by President Obama: the Paris Accords. The Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Iran deal. Thawing relations with Cuba. The New START treaty. And the one deal Trump wants is with North Korea because Obama wouldn’t agree to sit down with Kim Jong-Un without preconditions. Trump doesn’t care; he’ll do it because Obama didn’t. (Syria is the same way: Trump wants out just because Obama sent some troops there.)

This isn’t a logical position or even well thought out, and America will suffer the consequences of a foreign policy not driven by ideology but by personal vendetta.

What are the electoral consequences?

Here’s an article I haven’t read yet: how will this affect the Democratic electorate?

A lot of people who voted for President Obama switched to Trump. Or they didn’t vote for Clinton because they weren’t as energized. And we know Democrats don’t traditionally show up in force for midterm elections. How will Donald Trump making it his sole mission of his Presidency to destroy Obama’s legacy change this?

Speaking for myself, this move made me more angry than almost anything else Trump has done. It would be one thing if I believed Trump held sincerely different positions than Barack Obama, like say Paul Ryan does on health care and taxes. But Trump making it his mission to simply undo good policy because of the man who put them in place ensures I’ll make it to the polls next November. Or maybe even volunteer in the meantime. How will this presidency of destruction play in the next election?

Eli Lake and Raymond Tanter say the next step is regime change!

I just had to put a sarcastic exclamation point because this just seems like the next logical step, doesn’t it?

As I said yesterday, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of good options for the United States going forward. This doesn’t seem to have been thought through though, because honestly President Trump doesn’t have a plan B, as Dan Drezner wisely pointed out. Neither does his Secretary of State or John Bolton or John Mattis.

So to fill the gap, some conservative commentators have said that the best way to permanently disarm Iran is to remove the government. That’s why at least two articles--one by Eli Lake in Bloomberg and one by Raymond Tanter in The Hill--couch this move by arguing that the United States should support “pro-democratic elements”. Lake uses the euphemism “fight for Iranian freedom” while Tanter uses the euphemism “reform Iran”. In other words, the goal is regime change, which is what started all the problems with Iran so many decades ago.

A few other commentators have noted, in my opinion correctly, the echoes or rhyming or similarity to the situation in Iraq in the early 2000s. Peter Beinart laid out his case here. Michael Krepon laid out his case here. I find them persuasive. Having removed ourselves from the deal--and already disavowed the work of inspectors--the next step is Iran forcing inspectors to leave the country. Without inspectors, Israel, John Bolton and Saudi Arabia will claim that Iran is building a bomb, because we don’t have inspectors on the ground to prove they aren’t. Then comes calls for military intervention.

I would add Lake and Tanter are always so concerned with the undemocratic regime in Iran, whereas Saudi Arabia doesn’t have voting of any kind--and one of their princes was recently feted by all of Washington D.C.--and Israel is well, too complicated to summarize quickly. But it has undemocratic elements.