Back during the campaign, Donald Trump told an audience of conservative American Jews what they wanted to hear: If elected president, “My number-one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”
"I’ve studied this issue in great detail — I would say actually greater by far than anybody else," Trump bragged, a claim that drew mocking laughter from the crowd. So Trump doubled down.
"Believe me,” he begged. “Oh, believe me."
If you believe him, you’re a damn fool. The Iran nuclear deal runs to 159 pages, and if Trump had ever attempted to read or study it, he wouldn’t have gotten past the first paragraph before switching to “Fox & Friends.” He has no real idea what it does, why it is important or most crucially, what is going to happen after the United States withdraws from it.
You know who did study it? Gen. James Mattis, now the U.S. secretary of defense, recently told Congress that he has read those 159 pages three times, in addition to the classified material supporting it, and he came away impressed. When asked whether the United States should honor the deal, Mattis declined to answer directly, in deference to Trump. But he did tell the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was reassured by the tight inspection protocols that Iran was forced to accept, calling them “actually pretty robust as far as our intrusive ability to get in."
Other U.S. generals have made similar statements. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned Congress a year ago that as long as Iran is abiding by the deal, the United States ought to do the same. If we break our word and drop out of the Iran deal without cause, he said, other nations will deem us untrustworthy, including our allies.
“It makes sense to me that our holding up agreements that we have signed, unless there’s a material breach, would have an impact on others’ willingness to sign agreements,” Dunford said, mentioning the case of North Korea in particular.
Indeed, put yourself in the position of Kim Jong Un. He is watching a U.S. president cavalierly break an international deal that had been negotiated under previous American leadership. He is seeing Iran, a country that had agreed to surrender its nuclear ambitions in return for the lifting of American sanctions, now being punished with renewed sanctions despite the fact that by all accounts, it is fully complying with its side of the agreement.
What would you conclude, if placed in Kim’s position? Indeed, the provisions that Trump calls "disastrous" in the Iran nuclear deal -- the surrender of its highly enriched nuclear material, the intrusive inspections, the permanent closing of major nuclear facilities -- would be considered an enormous achievement if Trump were able to duplicate them in his upcoming talks with North Korea. But he has pretty much guaranteed that he won’t.
As to Iran, the other parties in the deal -- France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China -- have already made it clear that they intend to honor it and won’t cooperate with U.S. sanctions. They are even more resolute against the Trump administration’s goal of forcing regime change in Iran, recognizing that the only means of achieving that goal would be through military intervention and occupation.
No worries, though. I’m sure Trump has studied the implications of such intervention with the exact same diligence and care that he put into studying the Iran deal in the first place.