President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the nuclear weapons deal that President Obama cut with Iran brings with it a number of negative ramifications.
First and foremost, this unilateral act of reckless brinkmanship increases the chance of war. That’s unconscionable. By the way, Iran isn’t like Afghanistan or Iraq: it’s a big, modern country, half the size of Europe, with a real military and an air force that can defend itself.
Second, like many of Trump’s actions, the pullout is a policy decision based on a lie: by every reliable metric, Iran was keeping up its end of the agreement.
Third, the American decision will hurt the Iranian economy. Sanctions make ordinary people suffer. And they will increase, not decrease, support for that country’s religious establishment and the sectors of the government it controls. Ask the people of Cuba if sanctions and economic deprivation lead to regime change.
But there is an aspect of this “I’m taking my toys and going back to my yard” action that may have even broader implications than war and peace, yet receiving short shrift by the American media: Trump just put Iran on a higher moral plane than the United States.
That’s especially true in international diplomacy, the art of mitigating and resolving conflicts between nations that often don’t share a common language, much less cultural or religious attitudes. When a nation as powerful as the United States, which has done more to shape the postwar international order then any other country – there’s a reason that the United Nations is in New York — behaves dishonorably, it establishes a precedent whose repercussions will reverberate long after the crisis at hand is a distant memory.
A core principle within high-level dealmaking is that regime change does not erase treaty obligations. A revolution can overthrow a government or a shah, an ancien régime may wind up on the trash heap of history, but other nations expect each successor regime to honor deals signed by its predecessor. Border lines remain intact, embassies respected, peace deals honored. In the real world, of course, stuff happens, as when Iranian students seized the US Embassy in Tehran during the 1979 Islamic revolution and held staffers hostage for over a year. Still, the ideal remains. And the duty to live up to that ideal falls hardest on the biggest and most powerful nations.
One important aspect in which the Islamic Republic of Iran has respected the international order has been its commitment to honor the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty even though it was ratified by a government it opposed and violently replaced, led by the deposed Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, in 1970.
Since the revolution the International Atomic Energy Commission has never found Iran in violation of the NPT. Iranian officials have repeatedly stated that the country does not want to develop nuclear weapons. In 2005 Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei even signed a fatwa banning the “production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons.” Most reasonable people believe the Iranians do not want nuclear weapons, only nuclear power.
Yet the West, led by the United States, has often accused the Iranians of using the pretext of nuclear power development and medical research as a cover for such a proscribed program. But positive proof of Iranian noncompliance — which admittedly would be difficult to obtain — has never been presented publicly. In 2014, Iran agreed to the Obama Administration’s “Joint Plan of Action,” which increased inspections and reduced the country’s stockpile of enriched uranium in exchange for gradual easing of economic sanctions.
Again, there is no reason to believe that Iran hasn’t kept its end of the deal.
Now here comes Donald Trump, killing the JPA for little apparent reason other than the fact that it was put into place, not by a previous government with a completely different political orientation as was the case for the NPT ratified by the Shah and maintained under the Islamic Republic, but merely a different president, a Democrat, Barack Obama.
Trump’s announcement was long on red herrings, pretzel logic and silly smears, and woefully short on evidence, much less proof, that there is any justification to gin up yet another crisis in the Middle East. Contrary to the facts, Trump even cited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s clownish presentation of obsolete 15-year-old Iranian documents as “definitive proof” that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Netanyahu’s bluster proved nothing of the sort.
Trump says he wants to make a new deal. But who can trust him, or the United States, if the terms of an agreement can be changed on the political whim or after the election of a new president? Credibility and trustworthiness are hardearned; fecklessness destroys in an instant what it takes decades or even centuries to build up.
Now we are facing the ludicrous request by the leaders of Great Britain, France, and Germany that Iran continue to keep up its end of the deal despite the #USexit. Germany and Britain urged Iran to “continue to meet its own obligations under the deal.”
Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. Whatever happens next, though, the Iranians are not the ones tarnished by the dishonor of failing to adhere to an agreement negotiated by their own government.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)