Opinion |

On Iran, It's Trump's Detractors Who Are Divorced From Reality

Iran's regime was enriched and empowered by the nuclear deal. Trump is right to shake it up

Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin
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U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the White House about the Iran nuclear deal in front of a portrait of President George Washington. October 13, 2017
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the White House about the Iran nuclear deal in front of a portrait of President George Washington. October 13, 2017Credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin

Congress may thwart him, and America’s allies want no part of it or him, but Donald Trump’s effort to refocus the world on ending the Iran deal’s sunset provision and lack of restraints on Iranian missiles and terror is actually correct.

President Trump’s announcement of a new policy on Iran last week has been greeted with dismay by most of America’s allies, Republican critics, as well as the Democratic resistance.

Given Trump’s intemperate nature, his lack of detailed policy knowledge on most subjects and his contempt for diplomacy, the assumption - on the part of most people outside of his loyal base of supporters - is that he’s as wrong about his desire to end the nuclear deal with Iran as he was about violent racist marchers in Charlottesville.

IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari (L) and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at a coordination meeting for the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Tehran, Iran. October 9, 2017Credit: HANDOUT/REUTERS

But in this instance it is Trump's detractors who are divorced from reality.

Despite Trump’s desire to find a way out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it won’t be as easy as he originally thought. The refusal to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal will only be translated into action if Congress heeds his request to pass legislation deciding when and how to implement new sanctions.

Since the Republican majority can’t seem to get out of its own way on issues that are even a higher priority for the GOP, and Democrats are eager to defend Barack Obama’s legacy as well as determined to resist Trump, the odds of that happening are slim.

If, as is likely, Congress does nothing, the "adults" in the administration, who persuaded the president not to take any immediate steps to blow up the deal, will continue to be able to act as a brake on his impulses.

Yet Trump’s position is not irrational. As the deal’s critics feared all along, Western silence about Iran’s willingness to push the envelope on illegal purchases of nuclear equipment also raises questions about whether these governments are too committed to the deal’s preservation to effectively respond to violations.

But even if the assumption that Iran is technically in compliance with the terms of the JCPOA is correct in the most limited sense, there is still good reason for the West to begin the process of strengthening a fatally flawed agreement.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard troops parade to mark the 36th anniversary of Iraq's 1980 invasion of Iran, in front of the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran. Sept. 21, 2016Credit: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

The justification for the deal was that any pact - even one that legalized a heretofore illegal nuclear program, whose restrictions begin to expire in a decade and also ignored Iran’s terrorism and missile development - was better than nothing. But the price for Iran’s assent to even these generous terms was steep, in terms of the collapse of international sanctions and the release of frozen assets up front, even before Tehran demonstrated good faith.

Despite President Obama’s promises, the threat from Iran is still real. The sunset provisions, combined with the international seal of approval given to both Tehran’s nuclear program and its advanced research efforts, mean the date when the world must reckon with an Iranian bomb still looms in the not-so-distant future.

Rather than taking advantage of what Obama termed an opportunity to "get right with the world," Iran has continued to behave like a rogue nation. It remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and its military adventures in the region and continued political intrigues have enabled it to create a functional land bridge via Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, where its Hezbollah auxiliaries rule. Its renewed alliance with Hamas also should raise suspicions.

It is dereliction of duty on the part of Western leaders to simply sit back and rest on Obama’s faux laurels while Iran not only gets closer to a nuclear option but works toward its goal of regional hegemony. Yet that is exactly what the supposedly wiser heads - attacking Trump for stirring up a hornet’s nest on Iran - have been doing.

Trump’s decision to increase sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the group that not only runs Tehran’s terror network, but also controls a large slice of its economy, was a move in the right direction. The same can be said of any effort that that will put Iran on notice that the U.S. will insist on the removal of the sunset clauses and an end to Iran’s terror funding and missile building.

An Iranian student holds a caricature of U.S. President Donald Trump during a protest against Trump's decertification of the Iran nuclear deal. Tehran, Iran. October 14, 2017Credit: HANDOUT/REUTERS

Nor, despite the claims that Trump has no concerted plan in mind, is it true that the U.S. won’t be able to act on its own. Should it be necessary, the U.S. can declare that no entity that does business with Iran can legally interact with the American financial system, and it can therefore drag the Europeans and even the Russians and Chinese back to a position in which Iran will again be effectively isolated.

Worries about Trump’s capacity to understand this issue and stick to a coherent position are not unreasonable. But, as was true when Obama was making concession after concession to Iran during the negotiations, the choices before us are not limited to the deal as it is now, and war.

Trump is right that the West must start thinking about how to restrain an Iranian regime that was both enriched and empowered by the JCPOA. Hard as it may be for non-Trumpists to admit, his speech should push the international community to undertake a discussion that is long overdue.

Jonathan S. Tobin is the opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer for National Review. Twitter: @jonathans_tobin

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