Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: OK, we end the Iran deal. Then what...?

"The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into," President Trump told the United Nations this week. "Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it -- believe me."

That threat to the world is merely the latest in a long series of such complaints by Trump. While he is forced to concede that Iran has lived up to its responsibilities under the nuclear deal -- there is simply no evidence to the contrary -- the president has taken to whining that the Iranians somehow aren't living up to the "spirit" of the deal. That too is a weak way of admitting that he has no legitimate grounds for complaint. Nonetheless, with an Oct. 15 deadline looming, Trump seems to be trying to back himself into a corner with his rhetoric, giving himself no choice but try to walk away from the deal.

It is hard to fully describe how deeply foolish and destructive such a step would be, but let's try a few angles.

At the time the deal was consummated, Iran was estimated to be two to three months away from producing a nuclear weapon. It had the technology; it had the highly enriched nuclear material. All it needed to do was to meld the technology with the material and it would join the nuclear club, totally transforming the strategic balance in the Middle East. Only a united, sustained diplomatic effort by the most powerful countries in the world -- the United States, Germany, Russia, China, France and Great Britain -- succeeded in first imposing harsh sanctions on Iran, then in convincing it to back away.

As part of the deal, Iran gave up almost all of its highly enriched uranium, which was shipped out of the country. It shut down 14,000 nuclear centrifuges. It has converted what was once a military enrichment facility to small-scale peaceful uses, and it has opened itself to ongoing, intrusive inspections. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has kept every commitment of openness and transparency.

Look at that record, then look at the trouble that North Korea is causing with its stockpile of nuclear weapons, on its isolated little peninsula on the far fringes of Asia. Then imagine the mischief that a nuclear-armed Iran might achieve in the highly strategic, volatile Middle East.  Avoiding that is success, by any realistic measure.

Now, did the nuclear deal turn Iran into a model citizen? Did it force the overthrow of the clerics who rule the country, or convince it to stop pursuing what it sees as its own interests, in its own neighborhood? It did none of those things, nor was it designed to do so. Short of invasion and the attempted installation of a U.S. puppet regime -- not a wise idea, by the way -- we have no short-term means to attain such goals.

And if Trump now walks away from the nuclear deal, what does he propose to replace it? He proposes ... nothing. Time and again, he has proved himself quite good at complaining about what he doesn't like, but quite incompetent in thinking through and attempting to create alternatives.

That's why the other five major countries that joined in forcing Iran to the bargaining table have made it quite clear that they will not join Trump in abandoning it. They would instead take the side of Iran, and it will be the United States that is considered the rogue nation, the nation that refuses to live up to its obligations.

“Renouncing it would be a grave error; not respecting it would be irresponsible, because it is a good accord that is essential to peace at a time where the risk of an infernal conflagration cannot be excluded,” as French President Emmanuel Macron told the United Nations Tuesday.

Trump professes not to care about such things, and he honestly may not. It's hard not to see Trump's "America First" approach to foreign policy as merely an extension of his "Donald First" approach to his personal and business life. The narcissism and innate selfishness that drives one also drives the other. And just as his "Donald First" approach to his personal life means that he has no real friendships -- apparently because he can't think of a use for them -- that also seems to be his approach to foreign policy.

In fact, his United Nations speech was striking for its repeated, sustained militarism. He bragged about America's military power, wielding it as a cudgel against all who dare defy him, while here at home he dismantles and disarms the State Department. In the post-WWII-era, the United States was instrumental in attempting to create a world order in which disputes and disagreements would be settled through diplomacy rather than brute strength, and it's tragic to see all that work come undone at the hands of a preening fool.




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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.